Photo via Sutton Images

Sunday morning Austin notebook: Big crowd already

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Here’s several Sunday morning news and notes from the Circuit of the Americas leading up to today’s United States Grand Prix (LIVE on NBC at 1 p.m. ET, also on NBC Sports Live Extra).

GATE OPENING DELAYED A HALF HOUR

The opening of the gates was delayed slightly due to what track officials deemed a “suspicious incident.” But after a check, it was alleviated and the gates opened a half hour after the intended 7:30 a.m. opening, with fans already filing in in droves.

Here is the official release text from the track:

Circuit of The Americas™ in conjunction with local law enforcement officials today investigated a suspicious incident in the Turn 1 area of the racetrack. During routine security checks prior to the venue’s opening, public safety officials, including representatives of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), responded to the incident and found nothing wrong.

As a precaution, Circuit of The Americas delayed opening the entire facility to patrons until 8 a.m. CT while follow-up security checks were completed.  Patrons are now entering the facility and operations are proceeding as normal.

WBC PROTESTING

So that marked the “official interruption” of the morning. But there was an unofficial interruption, as well.

The Westboro Baptist Church, who picket against what they consider any “homosexual activity,” are doing likewise here to Formula One in Austin.

On my ride in to the track via shuttle, a fellow media member noticed them on the side of the road with signs that read “Formula 1” and a word very similar to flags. It won’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out.

BUT A BIG CROWD EXPECTED NONETHELESS…

Track officials announced 78,886 fans on Saturday after 58,276 on Friday, thus providing a two-day total thus far of 137,162. A number anywhere in the 110,000 to 120,000 range today – and it will be possible with one-day ticket sales available, unlike in 2012 – will give track officials the 250,000-plus weekend total they are anticipated. There’s already a huge crowd on the hillside in Turn 1.

OBLIGATORY GRID GIRL MENTION

Austin-based Rae Cosmetics, with CEO and founder Rochelle Rae, was announced as Official Cosmetic Partner for F1 and the circuit earlier this year. They are playing a major role with the Grid Girls for this weekend’s race.

“We were reflecting on last year’s Grand Prix and realized the culture of the Grid Girl globally was something that we were working toward, but hadn’t reached,” Rae said. “It’s surreal to be a part of a team that is shaping a tradition and concept that represents the United States and Texas to the rest of the world.”

More information is available at VeritasAustin.com. In the meantime, the lead photo to this notebook piece should suffice…

HAT TIP TO KATHY MALECK

A hat tip for one of the stars of the event behind the scenes, race F&C (Flagging & Communication) Chief Kathy Maleck. Her contributions were recognized by the FIA and Charlie Whiting in a surprise ceremony in race control, Saturday morning.

This weekend marks her 80th grand prix weekend, most for anyone from the U.S. in the role. She has also worked U.S. races at Dallas, Detroit, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, and Phoenix – just not Watkins Glen.

Her CV includes working F1 races in 12 countries on four continents, with the topper a 1985 ‘World Tour’ to Austria, Belgium, England, France, Germany, Italy, US, Canada, Australia and The Netherlands. Aside of F1, among her roles is Operations Coordinator for the Pirelli World Challenge Championship and Field Staff Manager for SCCA Pro Racing.

It’s an unpaid position and a volunteer assignment, but one where Maleck has earned much respect from her peers. To that, we say thanks.

Here’s what drivers said after Sunday’s INDYCAR race was postponed until Monday

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Here’s what several drenched drivers had to say after Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was postponed until Monday morning (11:30 a.m. ET, LIVE on NBCSN):

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, 2017 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama winner, 2018 pole winner): “It’s tough because we have so many people that come out here to watch us. We want to put on a good race. We want to put on a show. So calling the race, running around behind the pace car not running, it’s tough, it’s tough to do that. But I think it was the right thing in the end. When we started the race, the conditions were OK. You could run at that level of rain. Then, it intensified right before that first caution. I think when the caution came out, it got to a point where it was just too much. There was too much puddling and pooling of water on every straightaway. Then the rivers started flowing, high-speed compressions in Turns 1 and 2, fast corner, 12 and 13, fast corner where the river starts to form. Just tough. I mean, look, we love racing in the rain. It’s got nothing to do with not wanting to run in the rain, not being able to do that. It’s that this type of track with this water level was too much to race today. We’ve run here in the rain before, but it intensified to the point where you’re starting to get in a situation where it’s going to take it out of the drivers’ hands. What happened with Will (Power), I don’t think is a driver error. I don’t know how anyone is going to drive hydroplaning on the front straightaway. I think you would have had that for the rest of the track, too. A tough situation. Thanks for the fans that came out and supported us. Hopefully we’ll get some people back tomorrow and we’ll get the show in and put on a great event.”

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet):
“Tough day so far. We had some problems with our radio and fuel alarm, but otherwise the car was alright. It was just too dangerous out there, we couldn’t see anything, so I think they made the right call. Hopefully we’ll have a good race tomorrow.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “It’s just a real shame for everyone on the Verizon Chevy team. The car was good and we were doing our best out there, but it was really hard to see anything in front of me. The conditions were just so bad. As soon as I got to the frontstraight, the car just came around, and I tried to keep it off the wall, but it was hydroplaning and there was nothing I could do. I feel bad for the team and for the fans in this weather. Just too bad. Hopefully our luck can turn around when we get to Indianapolis.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Very difficult day for us. In the race we were 13th at the time and we had some electrical issues, so that caused us to pit and we lost a lap. Not the ideal situation, but we don’t give up. There’s still a race tomorrow and we’re going to go for the most points. Anything can happen.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda): “It was a tough beginning, but when we kind of got going it was OK and kind of fun to challenge for a while, but visibility was a major issue today, no doubt. I’m glad that the series postponed it. I would have like to get it in today, but that’s life. We will go racing tomorrow.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 Kerauno / MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda, Verizon IndyCar Series points leader): “I think definitely the right decision was made to red flag the race. It’s a very difficult position for everyone to be in. It’s never the result that you want, but safety is obviously a priority. I think everyone did a good job considering the conditions of looking out for each other. Not being able to see is not doing anybody any good. It is hard for everyone, but glad that we’re all in one piece and try again later.

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “As you could see on TV, if you couldn’t see the car, it was probably three times worse in the cockpit on the main straight or any straight. You had to completely trust the guys that they were accelerating. Never the less, I made good progress on the short stint and I made up a few positions.  The car was working well, but also was aquaplaning a lot, too, so I have to respect INDYCAR’s decision for everyone’s safety. Now we really need to concentrate on having a good car for tomorrow. I’m sorry for the fans that sat in rain all day, but thank them for their support.”

RENE BINDER (No. 32 Binderholz tiptop timber Chevrolet): “It was a short day. In the beginning the conditions were not that good, but afterwards the conditions started to improve. The race was stopped, then restarted, and I think the conditions were not too bad at that point. Unfortunately, it was red flagged again and then cancelled for the day. It would have been nice to get halfway, but we will come back and try again tomorrow.”