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Smiling Through The Rain II: US fans’ resolve shines on Saturday

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Earlier this year, I wrote a piece following the British Grand Prix entitled “Smiling Through The Rain” after a damp weekend at Silverstone that saw Formula 1’s diehard fans stick it out and be rewarded with a breathless race.

So after Saturday’s washout at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, it is time for “Smiling Through The Rain II” (no ‘electric boogaloo’), looking back on one of the most bizarre days in the recent history of F1.

Following FP2’s cancellation on Friday and with worse weather due to hit Austin on Saturday thanks to Hurricane Patricia, most expected the day to be called off without a wheel being turned.

The FIA confirmed that a decision would be taken at 7am CT regarding the day, leaving those waiting to make their way to the track checking emails and refreshing Twitter for updates before braving the roads.

No decision came, though, prompting most to venture to COTA. However, the circuit told fans to stay away, saying that the gates would not be opened until midday – with practice due to start at 10am CT, a decision appeared to have been made.

However, much to chagrin of many of the fans in Austin who had hoped to see cars on track, FP3 went ahead as planned in front of empty grandstands, with conditions only just allowing for the cars to get out and complete some laps, knowing that it could have set the grid if qualifying was also rained out.

With the cars having gone out, COTA told fans to begin making their way to the track as qualifying was expected to start as planned at 1pm CT – when the worst of the weather was due to hit.

So we were left with the situation of fans having been kept out for FP3, be then told to come to the track in torrential rain, only to then have no cars on track and qualifying ultimately be postponed until Sunday morning. Memories of Indy ’05 came flashing back: another disaster for F1 in the USA.

What then followed was a show of F1’s human side, often hidden behind visors and race suits, that rewarded the fans who braved the conditions and kept singing away in the main grandstand donned in raincoats, clinging onto umbrellas that the wind kept trying to tug away.

We had breakdancing Force India mechanics, a Sauber tub rowing down the pit lane, a dance between Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat, and even Alexander Rossi throwing a football around. Nico Rosberg kicked a soccer ball around with Niki Lauda and the Mercedes mechanics. Jos Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Sr. donned Toro Rosso race suits and jumped in their sons’ cars.

All the while, the fans were still there, refusing to budge until qualifying was definitely cancelled.

And when the call eventually came through, in a gracious move from Bernie Ecclestone, circuit chairman Bobby Epstein and Mayor of Austin Steve Adler, they were invited to come into the pit lane to meet the drivers, pose for pictures and get something out of a soggy day.

Saturday had the potential to be another disaster for F1 in the USA, but it actually turned into a remarkably positive experience.

Think Americans don’t ‘get’ F1? Try telling the thousands of fans who stuck it out in the rain at COTA, knowing they may not see a car on track. Try telling those who cheered at every glimpse of a driver in the pit lane. Try telling those who will be back today for more.

Mother Nature is a cruel mistress, but even she couldn’t rain on the fans’ parade on Saturday, in spite of her best efforts.

For those not at COTA, you can watch qualifying for the United States Grand Prix live on CNBC from 10am ET. The US GP then follows at 2:30pm ET on NBC.

Kyle Busch happy with first stint: ‘Put me in the car, there’s excitement!’

AP Photo/Terry Renna
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Rolex 24 at Daytona debut of the “KB Show” was cut short by a strategy maneuver but still delivered drama and a positive result.

Kyle Busch got the No. 14 RCF GT3 Lexus back on the lead lap and back in contention for a GTD victory at Daytona International Speedway.

“It was good,” Kyle Busch said with a broad smile after a 42-minute stint. “Just, uh, shit, put me in the car, and there’s excitement around! Drove all my way back to the lead lap and everything.

“Overall, we’ve had a good experience and hell I only got one stint in, so I’m ready for more. Sign me up, coach!”

The two-time Cup champion was expected to drive for at least 90 minutes, but the first full-course caution of the race (with 19 hours and 16 minutes remaining) caused AIM Vasser Sullivan to change up its drive plan. Busch was called to the pits in favor of Parker Chase.

“With all the strategy and the way the wave-bys work here, it’s quite different than what we’re accustomed to (in NASCAR),” said Busch, who likely will drive longer now later in the race. “That wasn’t bad. To get ourselves back on the lead lap and back to a position where we can start scrapping again hopefully is what we needed.

“So I got one stint in, but I’m trying to save myself and (teammate) Jack (Hawksworth) for a little later.”

Busch climbed into the car shortly after 6 p.m. as the last of the No. 14’s four drivers. He complained a few times on his radio about traffic, which he said was his biggest challenge.

“There were a couple of instances we ran down a smaller car, and (it was) just mirror driving in front of us,” he said. “That was pretty bad. We lost probably 2 seconds on that. Overall, I guess that’s road racing.

The yellow flag was exactly what Busch’s team needed after being forced to start from the rear of the field when it missed qualifying because of an engine change. Hawksworth, who started the race, said the car was “quick in the wrong places and slow in the right places” after struggling with handling and speed in the first stint.

“I don’t feel we’re out of it,” Hawksworth said. “It’s a very long race. Still early days. We need to work on having speed for the end of the race. The position right now doesn’t really make any difference. We’ll need to find some performance at the end of the race to fight for the win.”