Eyewitness View of the 2005 USGP

Gabor Vajda posted a great write up on the 2005 USGP. I tried to post a reply and got Kinga’d. Figured I would have a better chance posting instead of responding, so here we go. My wife and I were there. What follows is my acount as posted a couple of days later to the chud.com forums. With 2015 being the 10 year anniversary of the event and with the USGP around the corner some of you may enjoy this. The account and photos are mine.

Yup, I was there. My wife and I flew in Wednesday evening. We did the pit walk Thursday and checked out the cars. We went to the interviews after the pit walk and heard Button, Sato and Speed talk. We got up early on Friday and got a few autographs as the drivers were coming into the track. We watched the first practice from the turn 10 complex. We then moved to the exit of turn 13 for the second practice. Ralf crashed just down from us and slid maybe 100 yards past us. He got out, was obviously pissed, kicked his car and pulled off his helmet. He was obviously dejected and frustrated. I’ve got some good pictures of the offending tire as they hauled the car away.

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Saturday was basically a repeat of Friday. We got up early, got some more autographs and went to various parts of the track for practice. It was obvious that something was up when the Michelin runners were going through the pits on every lap. We went down to the braking zone for turn one for qualifying. We were sitting at about the 75 meter point from turn 1. The crowd was really into it and it was interesting to see Trulli take poll.

Once again on Sunday we go down to get some autographs and Paul Stoddart walks up. Someone asks about what is going to happen with the race and is he happy to be with Bridgestone. He responds that after what went on last night he is awfully glad to be with them. I wasn’t sure what he meant so I asked the Formula 1 TV cameraman who was there what was going on. He said that he had heard that Michelin was in big trouble and he wasn’t sure of much beyond that.

We then went to our seats in turn 1. We watched the Formula BMW and Porsche Super Cup races. Around this time I start playing with my race scanner and I came across the ITV broadcast. As you can guess, with a scanner at one of these races you can hear the announcers and the producers during the broadcast and during the commercial breaks. The producers were in a panic. They didn’t know if there would be a race or what was happening. They were trying to come up with contingencies. The producer kept telling the broadcast crew to keep positive. I switched back and forth between ITV and Speed Channel and I start to get a bit of an idea of what’s happening. I let my friends know and they are shocked. The whole time Tom Carnage, the old guy who does public address work for the 500, is blabbing away, but they make no mention of any problems.

It keeps getting closer and closer to grid time and I’m pretty much glued to the scanner passing news to my friends. I hear Nick Fry tell ITV that they intend to take the grid, do the reconnaissance lap and then come into the pits. He says that Michelin has told them their tires were unsafe. I hear bits and pieces of other conversations and it really starts to sink in that these guys were not going to run. During the recon lap I was able to find Coulthard on the scanner. He was saying how he felt what they were doing was wrong and he wanted to race. The team told him that they had no choice and he had to come in.

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I was looking down at the scanner at this point and when I look up I see the onboard camera view from Alonso on the jumbo-tron. He was heading for the pits. At that point most of the people around us figured they were going to change tires and then start the race. Once I saw cars being pushed into the garage I knew otherwise. The six cars lined up for the start and by the time they made it down to turn 1 and no Michelin cars came out the rest of the crowd started to catch on.

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The booing started and a few people started throwing things. Our section was pretty well behaved. After about 10 laps people started to leave. We maybe lost 20-30% of the people from our stand left prior to the finish. About mid-race a numb nuts who was sitting near us decided to throw a plastic beer bottle. It didn’t make it to the track and hit a lady down below. I was looking down track at the time and didn’t see it. The security guy came up and looked at our row and asked who was throwing things. I looked at him blankly and he just stood there. At that point the rest of the crowd around us started yelling and pointing the guy out. The security guy pulled the guy out of his seat and gave him a warning. Everyone around was yelling for them to toss the guy out. That was it for the unrest in our stand.

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We watched the rest of the race in pretty much a numb state. I heard Ross Braun tell the guys to bring to cars to the end and reduce revs and I knew it was pretty much over. As the race worked its way to a conclusion, the guys on the PA kept asking people to be calm and respectful. I heard the ITV people interview the local police to get their input on what they were ready to deal with. They said they had troopers in riot gear ready to go. I heard the ITV producer tell his guys that French TV had cut away from the race to show a movie due to all the flack Michelin was getting.

Now for the opinion piece.

I had a great time aside from the race. The international atmosphere is amazing. Name any other event in the US that brings in so many people form around the world. Even though the race was disappointing it was still interesting being a part of motorsports history.

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I think running the race as they did was the only real option. The only other thing that would have really worked would be for Michelin to go to Bridgestone and lease the tires they had left and mount them to the cars. This would obviously been bad for Michelin, but the show would have gone on with more cars. The Indianapolis Star had a depiction of the chicane that was proposed and it was ridiculous and unsafe.

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I still support the teams. I especially support the teams that ran. The mood in the stands was pretty dark as it was. I hate to imagine what may have happened if there had been no race at all. I think Ferrari, Jordan and Minardi should be commended for putting on what show they could.

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Formula 1 has had some dark days. I don’t look on the race as a tragedy as some have called it. Tragedy would have been death. Death of one of the Michelin runners, death of one of the Bridgestone runners due to having an accident caused by running over fan debris on the track or a death of a course worker who was removing such debris. The USGP exposed the dark parts of Formula 1 and how it is run. I hope that something good will happen because of this.

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Even after the USGP I still think F-1 has the best cars, drivers, teams and fans. I want to go to Indy next year and shoot the breeze with people from Japan, Brazil, Columbia, UK, and Germany while waiting for the next practice session. I want to see the guy and gal with the huge Minardi flags. I want to see Coulthard smile at people when he gives autographs, I want to see Hobbs, Varsha and Matchett walking through the tunnel. I want to smell the mustard like exhaust of an F-1 car. I want to hear the scream of them going down the front stretch. I really hope that the speedway and F-1 can come to terms and we will have a USGP next year. I went to renew my tickets Monday morning before catching my flight and they took my information, but they would not run my credit card because the speedway didn’t know if there would a 2006 race or not.

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