Saturday at the USGP
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On Saturday I arrived at the media center at 7:30 am, stopped
on the third floor for coffee and a blueberry muffin, and climbed
the stairs to an almost deserted press room. I sat for about
an hour making notes of conversations the day before. Then I
walked out to the infield turns to watch the first practice session
scheduled for 9 am.
This photo looks from Turn 11 back toward the Pagoda on the
main straight. This was where the REAL FANS hung out. Compared
to the intense boredom of the denizens in the paddock and garage
areas, these fans exuded happy enthusiasm. Some of them had paid
$5 for a big can of Fosters and were indulging themselves in
a wet breakfast.
The same grassy berm in the first photo curves around all
the way from Turn 8, in this photo, to Turn 11 in the first photo.
The berms give a great view of the corners. I took some photos
of cars in the corners but the fence messed them up and the light
When the practice session started I had to get a mini-program
out of my pocket so I could indentify the helmets because each
team has the cars painted almost indentically. After the installation
laps and some time in the garages the cars began to pick up speed.
Grins appeared on all faces! People talked among themselves about
the cars and drivers and the conversations were extremely knowledgable.
Turn 8 is a 90 degree left at the end of the back straight.
They brake from about 180 mph to 80 for the corner in 100 feet!!!!
They go down two gears during the braking and then two more at
the entrance to the corners. It's extremely impressive to watch.
Television just can't show the reality of these cars.
I was surprised at the differences in the cars and drivers
I could see and hear. The engines varied in the crispness of
the exhaust sound. The Minardis sounded rough and the McLarens
and Ferraris sound clean and crisp. The downshifts were different
also. I could hear the control system blip the throttle to speed
up the engine during downshifts. Not so the Ilmor engine in the
McLarens. During braking and corner entry I could hear a rumbling
note that varied but no blips.
Turn 11 has a fast exit which leads to the last turn in the
infield and then onto the oval. I heard the traction control
systems working out of Turn 11. Some drivers had to lift off
the throttle to get the front end to stick but others, Montoya
and Hakkinen, just tossed the car into the turn and got on the
gas, letting the traction control system take care of power oversteer.
Michael Schumacher looked more smooth than anyone else.
I thought the second practice session started at 11 am so
I went onto pit lane at 10 am to take some photos. The gate guard
should not have let me in because my credential was only good
15 minutes before and after the sessions. So there I was at 10:15
when the cars started going on course. I took photos until a
pit marshall asked me to leave. That's Ralf Schumacher above
coming out of the Williams garage above.
And Juan Pablo Montoya. The stands weren't full but there
were many signs with happy birthday greetings for Mika and Juan.
Patrick Head, Williams Technical Director, keeps an eye on
That's a lot of front wing area on this Jaguar. Mark
Handford, ex-Lola, ex-Swift, is the aero guy now at Jaguar.
This is a BAR Honda. Notice the bulkhead at the front of the
monocoque. I think those bolts in the top corners are the ends
of the torsion bars they used as springs.
The McLaren garage. The teams bring those hanging lighing,
power, etc. systems with them.
Mika Hakkinen sits in the car getting ready to go out on course.
Some teams have these cloth panels, probably carbon fiber,
to hide the innards while they work on the cars.
Going to some effort to lower the CG of the unsprung weight,
McLaren places the brake calipers on the bottom of the upright.
I'm sure everything we see here is either Titanium or carbon
fiber reinforced plastic.
The top three qualifiers in the Saturday afternoon press conference.
That's Bruce Martin, espn.com writer, sitting in front of me.
Chris Economaki of National Speed Sport News sat to my left.
Mika, Michael, and Ralf. These guys are intense even in a
press conference. The Schumie boys joked and laughed among themselves.
I don't know how you tell if Mika is having fun.