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San Jose Diary:
Day One
No Way Out

San Jose, CA, July 29 — Someone has to say it—and apparently no one else really is—but don’t believe what you hear about Champ Car qualifying being cancelled due to safety concerns at the new street course. And, don’t believe what you hear about the track only missing the “finishing touches” as of Friday morning. That’s a load of you-know-what.

The simple truth, my friends, is that when it came time to get this track ready for the weekend, someone who works for the SJGP f----- up big, really big, and failed to have the facilities ready to run this three day festival of speed. It’s sad; it’s tragic; it’s a shame, but that’s the truth. San Jose was not ready for the Champ Car show as it roared into town, and there is no way to gloss this over.

Maybe if I didn’t work for one of the greatest event planners who ever drew a breath, maybe then I could ignore all I saw today. I had heard by the time I arrived at the track in the late morning that there were no cars out and, yes, it was—still. Now, the schedule wasn’t just dreamed up overnight.

The next thing I noticed was all the overflowing trashcans. Not a terminal problem, but indicative to me of a serious lack of planning. One would hope that tomorrow, staffing will be increased so that trash can be emptied quickly and frequently. Next, I noticed that one of only two bridges over the track was still not put together … yet … and in fact would not be ready all day.

Thus, 40,000 race fans were kept as virtual hostages, as upon entering the track, there was no way out. Or, if you walked several miles around the perimeter fencing, you might be able to cross the track on foot—but it was iffy business at best. Julie Andre and I spent about an hour trying to exit the track. Two miles in intense heat later, we took a risk and went back again to the non-existent bridge and were blessed with the good fortune of the foot crossing opening for a moment or two.

Obviously, serious work needs to be done to the Grand Prix’s timeline for next year. When I heard an official say they were one day off on their installation, I could see why there were so many problems with logistics here. My boss—who has produced major events since many of these drivers were someone’s blessed event—would have insisted on the bridges being done days before, if not a week.

Considerable thought needs to be given to making the track more accessible to everyone—participants (Paul Gentilozzi, who is a “stakeholder” here on at least three levels, was reportedly unable to move around the track as he needed to), media, and most importantly, to the ticket buying public. While it may be acceptable to hold people against their will in places like China, here in California, it doesn’t play too well. Because San Jose is far mellower than say, LA, there’s only a moderate amount of grumbling, but if I were the GP, I would nip these problems in the bud.

We were finally able to get back to the business of racing by around Noon. But, it was decided that there would be no qualifying today. As there was virtually no grip on the track, this was probably not such a bad idea. In defense of the San Jose Grand Prix, they did a brilliant job of not only selling tickets, but also packing the day full of race activities. Not only is Champ Car here, there’s also Atlantics, Trans-Am, Drifting, Touring Car, and Historic Stock Cars. We at Deep Throttle have to decide who we're going to cover—and we opt for Champ Car, Atlantics, and Trans-Am.

We’re pleased to see Boris Said take the Trans Am pole for Saturday’s race. Veteran racer Greg Pickett is running with Cytomax (looks to be a Gatorade competitor) sponsorship, and we’re sure the series will do their part in laying down enough rubber to help with the aforementioned grip problem.

Julie and I sit on the pit wall in Katherine Legge’s pit and are able to have a great vantage point for Atlantics practice. Katherine seems to be attracting reasonable press interest here, and she’s running close to the front today. We also spot Al Unser walking with his sister, Cody, who is in a wheelchair due to developing Transverse Meyelitis during her childhood.

Sebastien Bourdais is trackside before the first Champ Car practice. To me, he looks like a caged tiger, pacing back and forth, and observing the new track. There is tremendous excitement as Paul Newman putts through the pits on his Vespa-like scooter. San Jose is still the kind of place where celebrities are a big deal, and more than one fan mentions to me how exciting it is to have him here at the race. On track, it's all about Bourdais, although Glock and Phillipe both surprise with greater than usual speed.

At dinner at The Grill on the Alley, Jeff, Julie and I all pick our drivers of the weekend. Julie and I both think that Bourdais is going to be pretty unbeatable if he’s on. Jeff thinks the home town advantage is going to help A.J. Allmendinger finally bag that first win. I think that this may be a race for a surprise winner—maybe Timo Glock, who was second quick during second practice.

At any rate, now I’m off to the races again!

Copyright © 2005 by Lisa Davidson and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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