By day 3, we have gotten wise. After 2 days of going to get the truck and re-park before dinner and the after race concerts this time we try to just park in the final lot across from our grandstands. It works; the truck is in a closer spot in a nightclub just across from our grandstands.
Hopefully the truck is still there this evening.
Chad, our party-crashing lookout, has to work. So we upgrade to Susan. She is here at the insistence of her racing fan husband back in the states.
At the entry point there are 8 uniformed security guards. Six of them are just standing around. They make one guy walk through the metal detector four times without wanding him. They must have been trained by the TSA. But even with the slowest security team ever, we are in our seats by 10. Just in time for GP3 qualifying. The stands are deserted.
The Porsche Cup guys are lining up. The late Sean Edwards is still in the points lead. They start at 10:55 and I elect to move around my grandstands to watch. I love the experience of being right on the track, but up high affords a view of the entire back of the track, including turns 18 and 19 under the Viceroy.
Before the start of the Porsche Cup, employees mark the high points of the three turns with tires banded together. They don’t last 20 minutes. Here is one being “adjusted;”
They have to stop the session too be them back into place. The Porsche Cup gets another few minutes of practice.
We pop into the paddock club for our third straight day of subsisting on pizza…and beer. I’m OK with that. As we approach our seats, the AMG Wagon safety car is making a lap. It is awesome. The Gullwing follows. We get to see the spoiler retract and deploy as it runs the esses in front of us.
12:10 the first GP2 race starts. We are in place for the warm-up lap. The popping sounds like distant fireworks. It’s a false start and they roll by again. The track has wisely removed the tire markers at the corners.
It’s a disastrous start, but we watch the big screen and they make it through the first corner. The 2nd corner is another story and it’s a full course yellow. Lap four is the green flag. Two separate groups of back markers come in three wide immediately in front of our seats.
This is racing.
Rossi is chasing Palmer and they both run away with the lead. But the mid pack folks make dating passes and blocks right in front of us. 45 minutes in, a group of five approaches the turn, two are side by side. The inside car coerces the second onto the painted stripe from the secondary pits, forcing him to lock that tire and lose the position. , he flips the first driver off.
Rossi pits first, and when Palmer follows two laps later he takes the lead.
With 5 minutes left, a car kisses the wall and that sends out the safety car. For all the aggressive racing, the contact is kept to a minimum and the two incidents have been minor.
The safety car comes off with 4 laps remaining. Rossi and Palmer pull quickly, but the rest are bunched up. 2 cars lockup in front of us, another is forced into the safety runoff.
On the final lap, another car hits a wall. The driver is fine, they keep the safety car in and Rossi wins. The least gear head among us is impressed.
We have a break until the F1 practice session and hit the beer garden. They have a live musician. He is performing a melody of folk tunes. Suddenly he breaks into the theme from Ghostbusters. When he sings folks- like “Who Ya Gonna Call?” We answer. He is pleased and segues into “Dock In The Bay.”
My lack of F1 knowledge is bugging me, so I breakdown and buy a $22 program. It actually helps. I learn the difference in tire colors. I learn the antenna is the best way to distinguish between the primary and secondary cars (black ones for the lead driver, yellow for #2). I am a much better spectator now.
Walking back we see the autograph session for the GP3 drivers has no line. Cool! I get them all.
F1 practice is awesome. The stands are at 70% capacity and they won’t let us lean on the fence anymore. It’s the last practice before qualifying at five o clock, but they only get an hour.
I sneak off early and get in line for the GP2 autograph session. I am not smart enough to recognize him, so I listen for Rossi’s accent (He’s an American). I tell him he drove a great race and he seems genuinely grateful. In fact they are all really nice. Our Brit friend Sian sees us and rejoins our group.
We get to our seats as the Porsche Cup racers are finishing the warm-up lap. They are racing next and I am not missing this, no self-respecting P-Car driving D Bag can. In fact, several obvious P Car D Bags have moved into our front row seats along the railing. I move up a row and brush it off. There is another reverent mention of Sean Edwards.
The tire barriers are back on track and our group gives them 6 laps before they get bumped. The grandstands are now fully shading this turn and much cooler. It’s a sprint race and I am betting on something interesting.
I am right. See this video;
The leaders are obviously skilled. The mid pack guys are even more vicious than the GP2. Quite a few blown passes end up in the runoff area in front of us. But the back runners are clearly boardroom heroes who wanted to add “Race Driver” to their resume’. They clearly bought those seats. I know that’s arrogant, but if I can hear you coasting between turns, you need some driving instruction.
Jack, you are missing a golden opportunity; Executive-Level Haute Couture P-Car Driver’s Instruction. I’ll build your business plan and next year we’ll rent a yacht here. (That’s exactly how Sean Edwards got killed — JB)
Nicki Thiim wins with a brilliant pass, right in front of us, on the last laps. He cries on the podium. This win has propelled him to the points lead over Edwards, who he had memorialized on his helmet.
But we were wrong. The tire barriers at the high point never budge.
At five, actual F1 qualifying starts. The stands are packed. The boats are packed. Two executive luxury helicopters are on final approach for the helipad at Yas Marina. This is why they are here; the crowd for tomorrow will be insane.
The sweet smell of burned F1 fuel and tire mixes with sun tan oil and perfume. It’s of course noisy, but the crowd is as stoic as pre-08 Red Sox fans in a pennant race.
Qualifying last for an hour. 20 minutes before it closes, we can hear techno baselines from the “Midnight 2” yacht in the harbor.
Across the track.
Over the wailing F1 cars.
While wearing earplugs.
The final session is both Red Bulls, both McLarens, one Lotus Renault and one Sauber. People are still trickling in because this the only part they want to see.
Sian is holding her head in frustration and anticipation. She squeals when Webber makes pole. Hamilton’s Mercedes breaks at the worst possible moment and the course goes yellow.
The crowd buzzes waiting for the final word.
Sian squeals again. Weber is on pole.
After three days of beer and pizza, we actually elect to get real food before the after race concert. We walk back to the marina and again at Star and Bars. Not pizza and beer for me means BBQ wings and beer. I still love Stars and Bars. Our table is a six top with Corbeau seats and Sebastian Loeb’s old racing suit under glass.
Tonight the free show is Muse. Score. We wander through the harbor, and our newbie Susan is now stunned by the opulence of the yachts. Each of the boast is in full swing with DJs lights and ladies dancing in dresses that would cover my mortgage.
We make it to Du Arena, under the giant awning of Ferarri World. Our efforts earlier in the day landed us back in the “Golden Circle” which is closest to the stage, less crowded and with easier access to the bathrooms and refreshment vendors.
If you have not seen Muse in concert, I highly recommend it. It is a full sound and light experience that cannot be put into words. They are very energetic and despite the very processed sound they have on their albums, are really good live as well.
Our evening ends in the same party we crashed on Thursday, but is now quite a bit less exclusive. An artist is displaying her wares and for the environment, they are quite reasonable. They average about $6,500 per painting. As an employee exits a side room, I see Bernie’s picture from Thursday inside. I find a floor manager and ask if I can buy that one.
Unfortunately the answer is no. Oh well, tomorrow is another day.
In fact, tomorrow is Race Day.