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.

Driver helmets looking very stylish for Sunday‘s Indianapolis 500

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If it’s spring and time for the Indianapolis 500, the best-dressed man and woman are sporting the newest fashions – on their heads, that is.

There’s a number of fascinating liveries on helmets for this year’s race. Some are tribute liveries, some homages to the race itself and some just switched up for the sake of it.

Here’s some of the more interesting helmets drivers will be wearing in the 100th running of the Indy 500 this Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

 

It’s a dog’s life: While ‘dad’ Simon is away, Norman Pagenaud will play

simon pagenaud and norman
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Current Verizon IndyCar Series points leader Simon Pagenaud — who comes into Sunday’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 riding a three-race winning streak — has a new addition to the family: Norman Pagenaud.

The newest Pagenaud already has his own Twitter account and while ‘dad’ was in Detroit Tuesday during the annual NASCAR cross-country media tour day, Norman REALLY got to know his new home away from home: Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Check out some of Norman’s best tweets of the day, as well as a few from Simon.

Oh, and did we mention that Norman is a puppy? He’s sooooooo cute!

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Cross-country IndyCar media tour pumps up excitement for Indy 500

indycar media tour nyc 2016
(Photo courtesy Mike Kitchel, IndyCar)
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To further pump up the excitement of Sunday’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 – which is officially sold-out – all 33 drivers in the race field spent Tuesday flying to various cities for a number of media opportunities.

Some went to baseball games, others to the zoo, and all had countless media interviews as a prelude for Sunday’s milestone event.

The media tour, which began in 2011, scattered the drivers to a variety of markets, from New York City and Chicago to Miami, Phoenix, Toronto, Buffalo, St. Louis and even Bethlehem, Pa.

Pole-sitter James Hinchcliffe kicked off things by taking a bite out of the Big Apple (New York City), along with 2014 Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, 2014 Verizon IndyCarSeries champion Will Power and two-time series race winner Marco Andretti.

Here’s where the contingent of drivers visited, followed by a number of social media posts related to their visits:

Bethlehem, Pa.: Jack Hawksworth, Bristol, Conn. (ESPN): Tony Kanaan, Buffalo: Josef Newgarden, Charlotte, N.C.: Juan Pablo Montoya, Chicago: Helio Castroneves, Cincinnati: Sage Karam, Mikhail Aleshin, Cleveland: Pippa Mann, Columbus, Ohio: Charlie Kimball, Dallas: Graham Rahal, Dayton, Ohio: Stefan Wilson, Detroit: Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Sebastien Bourdais, Fort Wayne, Ind.: Bryan Clauson, Buddy Lazier, Louisville: Matt Brabham, Alexander Rossi, Max Chilton, Spencer Pigot, Miami: Oriol Servia, Carlos Munoz, Gabby Chaves, Milwaukee: Conor Daly, New York: Will Power, Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Townsend Bell, Phoenix: Scott Dixon, St. Louis: JR Hildebrand, Toronto: Takuma Sato, Alex Tagliani

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Form and history against struggling Hamilton at Monaco GP

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MAY 15:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP before the drivers parade ahead of the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 15, 2016 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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MONACO (AP) Lewis Hamilton heads into this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix with form and recent history against him as he bids to close the gap on championship leader Nico Rosberg.

Five races into the season, the defending Formula One champion trails Robserg by 43 points and needs to start pressuring his Mercedes teammate.

But Rosberg has won the past three races here, while things have been more problematic for Hamilton – whose only win in Monaco was driving for McLaren in 2008.

“I’m approaching this weekend with only one result in mind,” Hamilton said. “I’ve not had the best run of results in Monaco in recent years, but last year showed I have the pace to do the job.”

Hamilton has clearly not forgotten what happened in 2015. His team’s panicky decision to call him back to the pits after the safety car came out crushed his momentum, handing victory to Rosberg, with Hamilton placing third behind Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel.

The previous year, Rosberg was the source of Hamilton’s irritation as the German driver appeared to deliberately go off track near the end of qualifying – thus prematurely ending the session and denying Hamilton pole position.

Tensions escalated between Hamilton and Rosberg in 2014, so much so that team management intervened, and the friction was still apparent at times last year as Hamilton raced to his second straight title and third overall. He won the title with three races to spare, but has not won since.

Relations between Hamilton and Rosberg had mellowed until two weeks ago, when an extraordinary start to the Spanish GP saw them crash into each other.

“I was gutted after what happened in Spain,” Rosberg said. “I know how hard everybody works to make these amazing cars, so for us to leave them both in the gravel is the worst possible scenario.”

That both drivers failed to finish meant neither directly gained any advantage from the other’s misfortune, which probably prevented another bout of finger-pointing between the fiercely competitive pair who raced karts against each other as teenage friends.

But it has caused serious commotion within Mercedes, with non-executive chairman Nikki Lauda blaming Hamilton for the incident, while head of motorsport Toto Wolff scolded both drivers.

“The team is responsible for giving them the best possible cars and they are responsible for getting the best out of them,” Wolff said. “When we let them down, we apologize and the same goes the other way.”

The lost points in Barcelona played to Red Bull’s advantage as 18-year-old Max Verstappen became the youngest driver to win an F1 race, while veteran Kimi Raikkonen grabbed another podium to sneak past Hamilton and into second place overall behind Rosberg.

“It’s clear that we are under attack from more than one angle,” Wolff said. “We must remain united, remain strong and hit back hard this weekend.”

Pole position is crucial in Monaco, almost as much as it is Spain and Hungary, with overtaking extremely difficult on the tight and twisting street track that weaves around millionaires reclining on their yachts and climbs up past the famed casino.

“I have memories from every corner going right back to my school days,” said Rosberg, who grew up in Monaco. “I’m feeling confident, so bring on the battle.”

Vettel tasted victory in Monaco only once – driving for Red Bull in 2011 – and celebrated by somersaulting into the team swimming pool. Ferrari’s drought stretches way back to Michael Schumacher’s victory in 2001.

Meanwhile, all eyes will be on Verstappen – whose late crash undid Hamilton last year in Monaco – after his winning drive two weeks ago in his debut for Red Bull.

Verstappen’s win is a wake-up call to teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who won three races in his first season with Red Bull in 2014, but has not finished on the podium in 11 races.

“It’s definitely a good motivation,” Ricciardo said.