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.

Verstappen doesn’t want F1 season to end after recent run of form

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Max Verstappen says he is not ready for the 2017 Formula 1 season to come to an end after enjoying a run of strong form through the closing stages of the campaign.

Verstappen endured a rocky run of form through to the end of the European season that saw him suffer a number of reliability issues and score just a single podium finish, taking third in China back in April.

However, the Dutchman has rallied to score more points than any other driver in the last five races, including victories in Malaysia and Mexico, as well as a podium finish in Japan.

Verstappen heads into next weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix chasing a third win of the year to sign off, but joked he does not want the season to end just as he’s got into a good groove.

“We will, of course, try and end the season with a strong result in Abu Dhabi,” Verstappen said. “Last year was actually quite a good race after skipping a pit stop following a spin at Turn 1, it was hard to manage the tires to the end of the race but we did it and finished fourth.

“I would say that my favorite part of the track is at Turns 2 and 3, the fast left, right. It’s also very cool driving underneath the hotel and racing in the darkness with all the lights.

“The final sector at Yas Marina is actually quite technical so you have to be really precise there, but it should also be our strongest part of the track.

“There are quite a few overtaking opportunities to make the race interesting, before the long straight at the hairpin and then at the end of the straight under braking for the next chicane section.

“Abu Dhabi is the last race on the calendar, but I don’t actually want the season to end. I’m really fired up at the moment and I just want to keep going.

“The nice thing will be to spend some time with friends and family over the winter break and then I will look ahead to January and get back into training before it all starts again.”