My overambitious 8:30 departure plan becomes nine-something. But we are parked and on the shuttle bus by 9:45. Unlike yesterday, the bus stops in front of our grandstands. As we clear security and proceed to the building, the GP2 cars scream by on their warm up. We all exchange smiles.
Our seats are freaking awesome. The south grandstands, at the end of the straight. The cars literally turn in front of us and accelerate away. We get situated to take some pictures and here they come. After 10 minutes, their tires are warm and the drivers start pushing it. They lock up on the gators. Overshoot the turn and drive into the runoff. They bounce and spin out. We all have earplugs and don’t use them. The little open wheel machines scream, then backfire and burble for the downshift, then scream away.
It is a glorious 45 minutes. I know less than nothing about GP2, the drivers, cars or series. I am the most knowledgeable of the group. But we are all entranced by the spectacle.
The GP2s pit and we head to the club level for refreshments. We paid a bit extra and have a shorter walk. The club is also indoors and air conditioned. Yes, it 11 AM (OK 10:50) but I still have a beer. We also grab some pizzas. When we hear the GP3s on their warm up lap, I finish the beer and head back to the stands.
These cars are a little louder, but more refined. Less of a wail, and while they are amazing, we use the earplugs this time. The stands are starting to fill up. As you would expect, the GP3 drivers are smoother, more polished, and the cars exhibit less drama. Of course they are faster, but they don’t elicit the same response as the GP2s. Maybe it’s us, but they seem more pop, less punk.
After the 45 minute session, we wander around the F1 village. We also get our passes for the after race concert and try the midway. I drive the Etihad Lotus simulator; and get a 2:06.
I also grab a hotdog, fries and coke combo. It’s $14. Not a bargain, but not gouging me either. The free water is gone, but it’s only $1.50. Even the pizza and beer was pretty reasonable. But to buy an official program it’s $22. Maybe after a few more $10 beers.
One o’clock is the first F1 practice. We are in place and they start on the nose. The stands are about 30% now.
If you have never heard an F1 car in person, it is almost indescribable. Even in practice they wail with high pitched fury, dive impossibly deep and turn. Then as they pull away, there is a lower bass sound as the traction control kicks in, like a hot wire on an amplifier.
Unlike the lower leagues, the F1s don’t stay on track the whole session. They are allotted an hour and 1/2. All of the cars run for around 5 minutes and return the pits for tuning. It’s quiet and the announcers have to make chatter. At 1:24 the Marussia-Cosworth car emerges for 2 laps. Overhead a Huey lazily circles with long camera shots of the track and Ferrari World being broadcast on the giant screens around the track and harbor. I’m thinking about another beer.
The McClaren-Mercedes comes out next. The track has been slightly changed since last year and it’s adding about 2 seconds onto the flying lap times on medium compounds, or so the talking heads in the announcers’ booth tell us. Button follows. Then the Lotus Renault and the track starts getting interesting again about 1:35.
The rest of the session is great. We watch like kittens in a YouTube video. It ends at :2:35 and we head downstairs for a quick bite and barley before I dash back at 3:15 for the Porsche Cup practice. No ear plugs required. Gentleman racers in their factory bought 911 cup cars hacking it out. This stunner ended up in my photo and to be honest, I love the composition.
Watch this video, and know that with each water cooled lap, Baruth dies a little inside.
After the Carrera Cup Gentleman racers, we have another break. The “Golden Girls” promotion team offer better access to the Jay-Z concert after the race for anyone with a tattoo and dance moves. Nick and John win a pair. I win nothing. They come to our section; I simply ask the young lady, she gives them to the rest of our group just as the 2nd F1 practice starts at 5 PM.
The sun is setting and the shadow of our grandstands has been on the track for some time. The brake zones have moved but not all the teams got the memo. Within 10 minutes we smell delicious burned rubber and a Ferrari uncharacteristically goes off the turn into the paved safety zone. The Caterham-Renault and Force India teams are smoking their inside rear every time.
We have spent our day leaning on the railing in front of our seats, but the stands are at half capacity now and we are asked to sit.
At 10 till Sain, our expert from yesterday joins us.
By 6, the cars have settled into a steady rhythm; the sun has set, the Viceroy is shining in the harbor. A perfect breeze comes from the sea, the heat is gone and the track is lit. Right now, this is the most perfect place in UAE. Closer to 7 two of our crew depart to the Jay Z concert, the rest stay for the GP2 qualifying. The stands empty so we resume our standing post. No earplugs. These are young guns, they are aggressive, have little fear and the track is cooler. This should be wild.
Even with the track lights, at night the brakes glow red. You’ve seen pictures, but it’s amazing in real life.
As it turns out, it wasn’t us. GP2 is more exciting. The cars are more raw, the drivers more aggressive and the noise more honest than GP3.
And no, I am not the guy who wants an accident. I want racing, and GP2 delivers, with no wrecks. But the session ends when one car loses a rear hub bolt, followed shortly by the wheel. He safely drives it off the course and a red flag appears. The drivers get 10 more minutes after the cleanup. So it’s almost 8 at the end, the track closes.
Tonight’s free Jay Z turns the place into a madhouse. The busses are poorly labeled and disorganized. It takes me 45 minutes to get to the parking area and get my truck. Several people were on for the concert and missed the stop. They are even more annoyed. I end up walking another 1/4 mile and driving on a sidewalk to leave and get my truck back on the tracks side of the island. My partners are holding court at Diabilitos a sidewalk cafe on the harbor. I drink a beer and watch parties on no less than seven million dollar plus yachts, including 2 for over 150 million.
I am officially out of adjectives to describe the women. They are dressed and on the prowl for money. This is not NASCAR.
The sky over the harbor is filled with lasers, the Viceroy now has a moving scroll proclaiming its name across its side and a DJ on board the “Happy Days” spins techno until 11:30. In addition to the mistresses in training, actual professionals are shuttled to and from various boats via extended golf carts.
The evening winds down early. Dinner and beer is moderate, but not cheap.
We wrap it up and head home toward midnight. Tomorrow is another full day.