Austin FP2: View from the ground

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AUSTIN – As last year, I spent the majority of today’s second 90-minute free practice session at Circuit of the Americas perusing the grounds and scoping things out. My MotorSportsTalk colleague Luke Smith has the details on the latest Mercedes 1-2 practice sweep on-track. A few observations to follow, after the changes from last year:

THE SOUND CHANGE

I’m really torn after this session. When you’ve had a taste of the visceral, screaming, blow-your-eardrums-out V10s and V8s, it’s impossible not to feel a little bit disappointed after hearing the softer, quieter V6s. Yet at the same time, there are positives.

You can carry on a couple conversations while the session was ongoing. If you’re thinking of catering to families, particularly young children, the V6s are brilliant… because that noise is no longer something that is jarring and affects their ears at a young age. You’re also still aware there is mind-blowing technology currently in the new V6s, they’re in their first year of a several-year development process, and F1 remains on the cutting edge.

But a comment I heard from IMSA prototype veteran Guy Cosmo, here in Austin coaching in the Ferrari Challenge this weekend, I would tend more to agree with: “You want this to be a spectacle in every way, shape or form. The sound right now isn’t that.”

Hear hear, Guy… and of course I heard him so much better because the sound was that much quieter.

SPEED AND DIRECTION CHANGE

The noise change affects the visceral, on-the-ground perspective because even though the cars are faster than other series here, and appear faster, they oddly don’t feel faster.

Allow me to explain. A year ago, pairing the noise of the V8s with the intense, rapid-fire change of direction through the esses was just mind-blowing. It was surreal to witness.

And although the change of direction and speed was evident again this year, it didn’t feel as intense as it did some 12 months ago because you don’t hear the shrieks coming at you – you hear more of a whistle. It’s an intense, cool whistle more than a ground-pounding whistle, if that makes sense, of an Audi, Toyota or Porsche hybrid.

The speed of course is still there. Although the fastest lap in COTA history was recorded by Sebastian Vettel – with that pesky V8-powered Renault in the back of his Red Bull in 2012 at 1:35.657 – times are down thus far this year to the 1:39 range. Lewis Hamilton was fastest today at 1:39.085 in FP2, in the all-conquering Mercedes W05. That was on Pirelli’s medium and the times will go down once they get onto the softs.

By comparison, the WEC pole this year was a 1:48.993 from the Toyota TS040 Hybrid; the TUDOR Championship saw best times of 1:57.808 (P2-spec Ligier JS P2 Honda) and 1:58.643 (DP-spec Corvette DP) in qualifying.

CROWD GAUGE

I think there’s a good chance the Friday crowd numbers are down from last year’s announced total of 58,276, but I hope I’m wrong.

Judging from a walk through from the paddock across the bridge at Turn 3, up to Turn 11 and then back down to Turn 1, it was noticeably lighter on the grounds and definitely lighter in the grandstands. Notable here too is that at the west side of Turn 11, a grandstand has been removed and vendors in the area have been reduced.

The upside for COTA? If they can get more than 50,334, which was the announced total for the Lone Star Le Mans WEC/IMSA weekend in September, the Friday of the Grand Prix weekend will have outdrawn an entire sports car weekend for the second straight year.

Overall though, the passion and intense knowledge of the fans was there, and there were some great costumes given it was Halloween. One that stood out to me beyond the obvious was a young kid in a McDonald’s French fries suit, except instead of the McD’s “M” it had a Scuderia Ferrari Prancing Horse. Brilliant stuff.

NBC/NBCSN SCHEDULE FROM UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX

Supercross: Husqvarna’s Jalek Swoll and Malcolm Stewart out with injury

Swoll Stewart injury
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media
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Jalek Swoll and Rockstar Energy Husqvarna teammate Malcolm Stewart sustained injury in separate crashes late last week. Stewart missed Anaheim 2 and Swoll will not mount up for the 250 East season opener in Houston on February 4.

“Spent all of yesterday in the ER and today getting surgery so haven’t been able to make an update post,” Swoll posted on Instagram. “Spiral fractured my humorous yesterday and was lucky enough to get into surgery today. Absolutely heartbroken that I couldn’t show all the hard work me, [Mike Brown], [Aldon Baker], and [Joel Perez] were working on truly felt like this year was going to a big one with massive improvements we made but I guess it just wasn’t my time.”

The team announced on Instagram that Swoll underwent successful surgery to repair a broken bone in his arm, sustained in a practice crash on Friday. After missing the division opener, no further timeline has been given for his return.

Swoll made eight starts in the 250 West division last season with a best finish of fifth. In 2021, he scored his first SuperMotocross win in the outdoor Pro Motocross season at High Point Raceway in Mount Morris, Pennsylvania.

Stewart missed Anaheim 2 due to a practice injury. Likewise, the team did not announce a timetable for Stewart’s return.

He showed a lot of speed in the first two rounds before accidents eliminated him from contention in both rounds. He finished 16th at Anaheim 1 and 15th in San Diego, putting him in a points’ deficit that was already going to be difficult to overcome.

Stewart entered the 2023 season with a ton of confidence and believed all he needed was to stack his chips the right way to get this year’s championship.

Husqvarna is now represented by RJ Hampshire in the 250 West division and Christian Craig in 450s.

Hampshire had a rough weekend in Anaheim 2 and finished 11th in the overall standings after scoring a last place result in Race 2 with a bike sidelined by crash damage and a 13th in Race 3 after another fall.

Craig has not yet scored a top-10 on his 450 with a best of 11th at San Diego and Anaheim 2.

The news of these two injuries comes on the heels of the Pro Circuit Kawasaki team losing three of their four 250 riders.

Last week, Pro Circuit Kawasaki announced Seth Hammaker would miss the season opener with a wrist injury. Almost immediately, it was announced Jo Shimoda would also miss the 250 East opener with a shoulder injury.

Chris Blose will serve as a replacement rider in the 250 East division with Carson Mumford scheduled to replace the injured Austin Forkner in the West.