Thursday, July 06, 2006

Possibly the best day of my life…

An amazingly busy weekend – we celebrated Keith’s birthday on Saturday with friends round for a barbecue and drinks. It must have been a great party because both Keith and I woke up the next day with hangovers, something neither of us have done for a while. I was on g & ts which I know accounted for my fragile state the following morning. I really should remember that I can have a gin and tonic and then need to move onto beer or wine in order to maintain a decent level of sobriety. Anyway we passed a merry evening and Keith received some lovely pressies including a real English dartboard – of course now I’ll have to teach him how to play. Can’t be that hard right, you just aim for the middle of the circle. Well, probably very hard after three or four or perhaps five g & ts.
So as you probably all know Sunday we drove down to Indianapolis for the US Formula 1 Grand Prix. We left Fort Wayne to blustery storms and rain, (and returned to microbursts and gale winds) but enjoyed sunshine and weather in the high 80s, low 90s at the Speedway. I cannot tell you how exciting it was to be there. We had already received the lowdown on where to sit and which viewing mound was the best, from one of our friends, Wes, who attended last year. Thanks to my foresight and OCD planning I had got us a parking pass and we had a spot just opposite the main gate – very handy. I felt supremely self-satisfied as the police waved us on while all the other cars without parking passes had to veer off down unknown alleyways to find a parking spot.
The crowds were fantastic and truly, truly cosmopolitan. People must have flown in from all over the world to attend and judging from the licence plates driven from all over the United States as well. Apparently it is the largest spectator event in the United States; more than 130,000 fans turned up on Sunday.
As we climbed out of the car with about forty-five minutes to go until the start of the race, we were already swept away with the excitement and exhilaration of it. All the way along the road leading from the motorway to the Speedway fans were decked out in t-shirts and caps supporting their team and driver, many people waved flags, huge giant things that wafted back and forth like sheets on a washing line; stands lined the end of Crawfordsville Road and 16th street enticing race fans to buy more memorabilia and further tokens of support. We managed to hold off until we were inside the stands and then the rush of adrenalin and the sea of red and blue and yellow that surrounded us made us cave in and we succumbed to the atrocious cost of race merchandise and were soon purchasing a hat for Keith and I and a t-shirt for Jay. Keith, despite wearing a Ferrari red polo-shirt, opted to support Kimi Raikkonnen, (a good bet if it hadn’t been for the almighty crash at the first corner). I naturally went for the blue and yellow of a Fisico-signed cap and Jay, by default, ended up in a Renault t-shirt, again from the Giancarlo Fisichella Collection, (no kidding – it says that on the label!). As it turned out it was just as well Jay and I were all out for Fisi because Alonso was a bit of a waste of space. So, there we were, proud in our team colours, joining the throngs as we made our way across the Bridgestone bridge to the viewing mound just before corner 8. It was a perfect position. The cars came up the straight doing 180mph and then slowed down to 35mph around the corner. Just incredible. Seeing those machines that close was unbelievable, they’re like works of art with all the parts and pieces working in perfect symmetry and motion. It was loud but I have to honestly say that it wasn’t as loud as I thought it would be. I did call my brother and just as he answered the cars came hurtling down the track. In my excitement I forgot the phone and so all he heard was that unmistakable sound of very loud and very large angry bumblebees. When I redialed it was to Luc laughing.
The race itself was fantastic. To my surprise, although I shouldn’t have been as the Bridgestones have always run better at Indy than the Michelins, (hark back to last year’s fiasco), Alonso ended up fifth in the qualifying with Jarno Trullo fourth, Fisi in third and Massa and Schumacher second and first respectively. And I have to say for all my digging and dislike for Michael Schumacher he ran a superb race. And what was wonderful was that you could tell he was loving every minute of it. There was a moment later in the race, (he’d pretty much determined a win by this time) when he came up the straight, eased off the gas far earlier than necessary so that he was gliding by the fans, who naturally screamed in delight before he gunned the engine and zoomed off round the corner, Massa hot on his tail.
As the cars pulled away from the start Felipe Massa snuck in front of Schumacher somewhat disarming the Ferrari strategy. This was immediately put to the backburner as around the first corner six of the cars ended up in a huge pile-up, supposedly due to Montoya but who knows. There were a few scary roll-overs but thankfully no-one was seriously injured although the cars were rather totalled. Raikkonen, Montoya, Scott Speed (the only American – poor guy looked utterly crushed as he walked off the track), Heidfeld, Klein and Montagny were all out. Lap 5 saw Jenson Button retiring with engine problems and in lap 11 Monteiro left the race. Villeneuve’s race was over in lap 24 and Christijan Albers never came out of his pit stop to return to the track. In lap 64 Ralf Schumacher retired after a wheel bearing failure, leaving nine cars in the race. Ironically only three more than last year when the race was deemed a complete disaster and many fans demanded their money back; with the future of Formula 1 at Indy suddenly balancing very precariously. However the race this year was so exciting even with the turn of events at the first corner on the first lap that I think the US Grand Prix has managed to redeem itself. After the first pit stop Ferrari’s plan is back on and order on the track is restored once again as Schumacher took the lead for the remainder of the race to finish with a clear and outstanding victory. His team-mate Massa gave him a good run for his money and Ferrari unequivocally deserved their top two places on the podium that day.
Fisichella ran a great race but Schumi and Massa were well ahead of the game with an 11 second lead over Fisi. Fisichella performed some good driving and well managed to keep Trulli off his back although there were a few precarious moments when you know Briatore was telling him to step on it! It was clear that Fisi’s Renault was by far the lead car out of his and Alonso’s. At times it really seemed that Fernando was struggling to keep control. Michelin better get those tyres sorted by next year. But over all a bloody good race and an even better atmosphere. If I had the money I’d be flying around the world following the Grand Prix season. It is utterly addictive.

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