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US Grand Prix Diary:
An Unexpected Pleasure

I had been to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway before. Twice. Both times for Pole Day back when the Indy 500 meant something. Thus, it was not with awe that I stepped onto the grounds of the Cathedral of Speed, but rather with wondering anticipation of what to expect for a road race inside the Speedway.

My first, and I was soon to learn every, sight wowed me. As we walked through Gate 10, which goes underneath the short chute of Turns 3 and 4 and onto Hulman Boulevard, we were able to right along side the track. There was the race surface, a little run off area, the wall and catch fence, about ten feet for the corner workers, and then the spectator fence. We were that close.

The infield viewing mounds, though a bit on the narrow side, were brilliantly designed and plentiful. There were many great viewing places throughout the infield where we spent the Saturday morning practice sessions. Unlike most other Grands Prix, or even CART races for that matter, there was no reserved seating till race day.

Thus, for qualifying we headed to the massive IMS grandstands on the front stretch. Too tired by now to move around anymore, we stayed put in our seats about halfway between the exit of turn 13 (or Turn 1 to the traditionalists) and the Start/Finish line. Watching the first cars scream through the oval turn was spectacular. Listening to them blast down the front straightaway simply took your breath away. Anyone who didn't feel their heart rate go up was simply not alive.

No matter how great CART cars are, and they are, nothing in this world is like a Formula One car in person. Nothing. 17,500 rpm's simply cannot be beat by a turbo muffled Champ Car or the pathetic rev limited normally aspirated IRL racer. And there is something about the design and look of a F1 car. It makes a statement of form, function, and beauty.

The atmosphere throughout the weekend was festive. International. Musical. The foreign tongues, the singing in the stands, the flag waving, the cheering. All of it unseen at any form of American racing. The bemused locals seemed to be enjoying it.

The best part of qualifying? Watching the McLaren team set up the quintessential oval drafting move to spring Coultard into second on the grid. Afterwards, we did the requisite visit to the Hall of Fame Museum. A must for any racing fan as it contains one of the greatest collections of race cars anywhere. At the end of the day, we walked around the track on 16th Street and Georgetown, checking out all the vendors. They were doing great business especially with US Grand Prix merchandise that were leaving shelves and hangers quicker than the cars themselves.

We tried getting to race day as early as our bodies would allow us to in order to stake out our infield spot. We made out okay -- at the end of the longest infield straight going into turn 8. Lots of action there. The rains came, the Ferrari Challenge raced in it, then we waited for the race. A pretty darn good race too. Not just because it is better in person where you can watch any battle on the track you so choose instead of the one that television picks for you, but because it was a darn good race.

The traffic to get out was ... well ... it took us a long time. It provided plenty of time to reflect on the inaugural US Grand Prix at Indianapolis. There was nothing we could find wrong -- amazing access that makes Montreal look like a prison camp and better than most CART races. A track that wasn't half bad. Ticket prices that were extremely reasonable. Absolutely everything done first class. Sure, there maybe some minor nits we could pick, but none really worth mentioning.

The bottom line? It was a grand success. From the spectator viewpoint, it may have been the greatest Grand Prix ever put on. I would love to go again next year.

It pains me to say this, but Tony may have actually done something right.

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