Successful COTA Forum in Austin proves the importance of fan engagement in F1

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AUSTIN, TX – Ahead of this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, fans who had made the journey to Austin were treated to a special forum with three top Formula 1 drivers as the importance of fan engagement to the sport was driven home.

Following the demise of the Formula One Teams’ Association (FOTA) earlier this year, the fans appeared to be the biggest losers as the successful FOTA Forums that brought them closer to the drivers and personalities in F1 were lost.

However, for this weekend’s grand prix at the Circuit of The Americas, former FOTA general secretary Oliver Weingarten and the Grand Prix Investors Fund came together to hold an event at Gibson Guitar Texas.

At a packed venue, Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez and Esteban Gutierrez faced questions from the fans, ranging from safety in F1 to their favorite circuits, and even what their favorite road car was. All three drivers were given a Gibson guitar by the venue, and took time to sign merchandise for the fans.

American driver Alexander Rossi also made an appearance at the event despite Marussia not racing in Austin, taking time to chat with fans and pose for pictures.

Perez and Gutierrez proved to be particularly popular at the forum, with a large contingency of Mexican fans making the trip over for the grand prix weekend. Unsurprisingly, questions about next year’s Mexican Grand Prix were met with great approval and chants of “Checo! Checo!” and “Guti! Guti!”.

The drivers also spoke of their love for the United States Grand Prix in Austin, which has already established itself as one of the best events on the calendar after just three years.

However, what was most evident about the event was how the fans embraced the opportunity to speak with their heroes and get to see them in a less formal setting. In the pressure of the F1 paddock, drivers can often have their personalities suppressed, yet the trio that appeared in Austin on Wednesday night were all immensely relaxed, sharing jokes with each other and the fans throughout the event.

Although Formula 1 may not focus on fan engagement as much as it perhaps should, events such as the COTA Forum are crucial to ensuring that the sport can bridge this gap more and give the fans something back.

NBC/NBCSN SCHEDULE FROM UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX

Travis Pastrana leads flag-to-flag in Nitro Rallycross as the series returns to America

Pastrana Nitro Rallycross
Barry Chin / Getty Images
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Travis Pastrana waited until the final trip around ERX Motor Park to take his Joker Lap – a longer way around the course that all drivers must do at least once in a race – and came out cleanly to win his first Nitro Rallycross race of 2022. With this win, Pastrana is the third driver to visit Victory Lane in the first three rounds of the 2022-23 season.

“This is the closest to a motocross track,” Pastrana told Katie Osborne on Peacock. “Thank you so much for a beautiful facility. It’s been a rough start to the season and I’m so thankful to be back out here. We had a good run in the side-by-side and now for this. This is much needed.”

Another thing needed was the sense of improvement. And Pastrana earned that affirmation each time he completed a lap around the course.

“I get my lap times read out and they said ‘fastest time of the week,’ ‘fastest time of the week’ (each time around) ” Pastrana said. “This is really special. We’re a long way behind in the championship, but welcome to America.”

In a pre-race press conference, Pastrana said that as Nitro Rallycross heads back to America, it was time for an American to win and he made good on his promise. Pastrana took the early lead over Robin Larsson and let the back of his Subaru hang out, taking risks he might not otherwise take if not for his need to win.

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Larsson’s second-place finish completed a perfect sweep of the podium in three rounds. In fact, he has not yet finished worse than second after winning the opening round at Lydden Hill in the United Kingdom and finishing second at Strangnas in Sweeden.

Fraser McConnel rounded out the podium for his best result of the season. He finished fourth in each of the first two rounds.

Last year, Pastrana finished second in this race to Scott Speed before narrowly edging his teammate for the championship.

Andreas Bakkerud crashed in prelims, but rebounded to finish just off the block in fourth. Bakkerud won the second round ahead of his teammate Larsson.

Oliver Bennett completed the top five.

Minneapolis is the first of three rounds scheduled in the United States. Next on the schedule is Glen Helen, Calif. on Octo 30 and then Phoenix at Wild Horse Pass on November 12th. Nitro Rallycross will then head to Saudi Arabia in December to continue their 2022-23 season.