This weekend the world’s eyes are on Austin, Texas as Formula 1 is in town for the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA). Though Formula 1 is considered to be the pinnacle of racing, the arguably better event to attend at this world-class racing facility was actually held about a month ago!
For the last three years, the FIA World Endurance Championship and IMSA SportsCar Championship have held the Lone Star Le Mans weekend where both series race on the same day. And thanks to our friends at Michelin, we were lucky enough to attend since this may have been the last year for this great event! IMSA has released their 2017 schedule with the COTA round now being held earlier in the year in March, with no word about future events.
We kicked off the weekend with some racing action of our own with a stop at K1 Speed for a private VIP track session. This facility has a good layout which everyone enjoyed, and it produced some close competition! When we lined up for the main race, the steward told us to lay off a little at the start, as most the time everyone piles up in turn 1. We did much better than that and didn’t crash into each other until about turn 3!
After a fierce battle, where the race had to be stopped no less than three times for kart-on-kart contact, we were able to cross the finish line first, and bring home the now coveted Michelin Grand Prix trophy. With some track time now under our belts, it was time to go see how the real racers do it.
When we arrived at COTA, there were golf carts waiting to transport us to the suites overlooking the main straight. Michelin had reserved a large VIP suite right above pit lane with every amenity that you could wish for, including a masseuse! First on the schedule was private meet-&-greets with BMW Motorsport veteran Bill Auberlen in the BMW Team RLL paddock and Porsche Motorsport in their LMP1 garage.
Both were excited to be able to share their passion for racing with us and it was great to be able to see behind the scenes. It’s always amazing to see how much time and effort goes into producing a successful racing program. We appreciate that they took time out of their busy schedule to answer all of our questions.
Manufacturers pump hundreds of millions of dollars into Formula 1 racing, with the rules as strict as they are, they’ve pretty much created the most expensive spec racing series. They currently race on 13 inch wheels. What do they learn from that since not a single car on the road has a similar setup?!
Smart companies race to learn, that’s why Michelin is in sports car racing, as that is the most relevant to their business. In IMSA GT racing and the WEC, teams are allowed to choose any tire manufacturer that they want, and almost all choose Michelin because they want to win. And they don’t just win, they dominate. What they learn in races like the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and here at the Lone Star Le Mans, leads to products like the Michelin Pilot Super Sport which has continuously been the top-ranked max performance tire. Now that’s true track to street technology!
Once we had watched Michelin equipped teams sweep qualifying, it was off to the famous Salt Lick to fill up on some of the best barbecue in the World. You’ve probably seen it on TV since they slow cook a wide selection of meats including brisket, beef and pork ribs, sausage, and turkey over an open fire pit right in the restaurant. With some amazing sides and freshly made pie and cobbler, this place is considered heaven by quite a few people!
Race day started for us with a private tour of Turner Motorsport as they pulled their BMW M6 GTDs out into the hot Texas sun and onto pit lane. One of the most popular teams, it was great to get up close and personal as they made us feel like we were part of the team.
When the green flag dropped for the IMSA SportsCar race, the heat had really kicked in and the thermometer approached 100°F. Plus, there was enough humidity to make it feel like a sauna! Unfortunately BMW Team RLL struggled and ultimately ended the race with the #25 of Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner in fourth and the #100 of John Edwards and Lucas Luhr in seventh.
As for Turner Motorsport, they charged through the field in the closing hour and ended up taking home the victory in the #96 BMW M6 GTD of Jens Klingmann and Bret Curtis!
The thing that makes the Lone Star Le Mans such a great event, is that not long after the IMSA race concluded, the WEC was making their way to the grid to start their six hour race into the night. The hour and a half long parade that has become Formula 1 can’t even compare.
Before we knew it, they were waving the green flag and the race was off and running. Once they had settled in, we made our way over to the Michelin tire compound where they were just starting to dismount the first sets of tires. After our tour, one of the Michelin technicians gave us a quick demo and then we actually got to jump in and pop the beads on some of the race tires. For all we know, one of the teams could have raced to victory on a tire that we helped mount!
As the sun set and the temperature began to drop, the aura that is night racing started to set in. Therefore, it was a perfect time to take a tour around this amazing track. But not just any tour would suffice, Michelin had reserved a VIP tour to take us along the inside of the track. We stood right at the safety barriers and peered through the photographer openings! It was euphoric to not only hear, but feel and smell the race cars as they flew by at full speed. We took as many pictures and videos as we could, but we will never be able to capture the true essence of those moments.
To put the finishing touches on this amazing weekend, our tour guide dropped us off at the base of the COTA Tower. The panoramic view which allows you to see every bit of action on track and all the way to Austin is breathtaking! As we looked down a couple hundred feet through the glass floors as race cars streaked by, we recalled that next year this amazing dual-race event won’t be happening. And that makes us sad since this is clearly the best race weekend at the Circuit of the Americas!