F1 culture embraced in the Lone Star State
Austin, Texas has officially become a Formula One town, according to more than 15,000 racing fans that strolled through the Formula Expo Saturday and Sunday.
The crowd was a mix between passionate fans and interested newcomers, but even children left the center with a better understanding of the spectacle that is F1.
Close to 10,000 had visited the 2012 Formula Expo by Saturday evening, and Austonites are notorious latecomers, said Ian Weightman, Formula Expo founder and president.
People are leaving here with a different view of Formula 1, and it’s positive.
To Weightman, a 40-year-fan of F1 racing and creator of formula1austinblog.com, the event represents more than racecars and live music. He wanted fans to experience and appreciate all aspects of F1 culture.
"I didn’t think I was the one to do it, I was just saying it should be done," Weightman said. “I don’t think you can have just cool cars. You’ve got to educate people about the history of it, and you’ve got to have live music and a place to grab a beer while the kids play over there, or it just wouldn’t have engaged as many people.”
Weightman wanted the event to represent all the elements that fans could see at a race weekend.
James Lancaster and Ciera Brown of Wimberley, Texas drove nearly an hour to visit the expo. Lancaster grew up in Detroit, and his father worked for Ford Motor Company. He attended multiple Detroit Grand Prix in the 1980s, and has been a lifelong fan of racing. Lancaster said he was elated when F1 "followed" him to Austin.
"[Formula 1] is in my blood. I’ve got to go," he said of the Expo and the upcoming US Grand Prix.
Lancaster has been a longtime fan, but many in Austin are new fans of F1. Weightman felt an expo was the best way to introduce fans to the history, technology and passion that define the sport.
“People are leaving here with a different view of Formula 1, and it’s positive,” Weightman said.
He wanted fans to experience and find a new appreciation for F1 they cannot gather from television coverage.
Fans could feel Pirelli rubber and the weight of a Formula 1 wheel while changing tires. They could closely study the intricacies of every machine on hand, including championship winners 2010 Red Bull RB6, campaigned by Sebastian Vettel, 2000 Ferrari F1-2000, campaigned by Michael Schumacher, and the 1978 Lotus Type-79, campaigned by Mario Andretti.
The vintage F1 cars on hand were not show pieces, rather they continue to race, and they race hard, said Bud Moeller, driver of the 1980 Ferrari 312T5 on display.
“We call ourselves the world’s fastest rolling museum,” he said. “But, we get out there are run wheel to wheel…We’re pushing awfully hard.”
The cars have scarred bodywork, drip oil and balled up rubber from the last race sticks to the Avon tires.
Moeller said racing the cars is the best way to display the heritage and bespoke nature of the cars, but he admits he uses curbs liberally and races hard from green to checker.
Moeller's Ferrari and various other cars from the Historic Grand Prix series are slated to race sometime during race week in November. This is a points scoring championship, and Moeller said every driver is anxious to test the limits of their cars at COTA for a race win.
Representatives from COTA were on hand to field any questions regarding the venue and ticket sales, which have been selling at an astonishing rate, said Chase Buford, a sales consultant for COTA at Legend Sales and Marketing.
“They’ve been selling so quickly,” Buford said. “Our reserved grandstands sold out in just a few days and we’ll be adding more.
More than 15,000 grandstand seats could be added in the coming weeks to meet the demand for tickets, he said.
Formula Expo’s success and recent ticket sales figures show that Austin was the right choice for F1, but Weightman said more events and fan engagement are the key to F1 taking a major foothold in the U.S. He said that future expos will be held at COTA and there will be an even higher level of interest by teams, F1 personalities and fans alike.