The bedside alarm reads 7:16am. I lower myself, fully dressed, onto the florally bondaged top sheet of a California King parked perfectly inside the grand suite of a golf resort outside Austin Texas. I calculate whether I have to get up in 12 minutes or 14 in order to make the helicopter that will be extracting me from the lawn outside, to transport me in ‘Grand Prix chic’ to Austin’s inaugural F1 race. To quote actor and author David Thewlis “My head was pounding and I felt like I had swallowed a hot bicycle chain”…
Twenty four hours before, I arrived at LAX’s private jet terminal, still tasting the tannins of the previous night’s Amarone and feeling as excited as hot mustard. If you’ve never experienced private air travel then you will be pleasantly surprised, as I was, to find that instead of a mild sexual assault and misery; you are instead invited to sip gourmet coffee and peruse luxury magazines, on a leather chair until you’ve decided it’s time to depart. The only thing that could possibly make this trip any better, would be if an old friend walked in and announced that he would be joining us….which just so happened in the form of Falcon Motorcycle designer, Ian Barry. We instructed the pilot to spark up the Gulfstream for our twelve hundred-mile jaunt to what can only be described as, the sexiest social event on the motorsports calendar. High jinx ensued.
The only memorable moment on the plane was looking down at the footwear of all four passengers: automotive designer Chip Foose; editor-in-chief of Cycleworld, Mark Hoyer; Ian and myself. A cowboy boot, a casual motorcycle boot, weathered Chelsea boots and spritely colored Adidas Dragons, collectively. We couldn’t be any more different but collectively excited as boys, about the prospect of a weekend infused with high-octane race fuel and high-octave engines.
The weekend’s race routine in F1 closely reflected our own beverage consumption strategy. Friday practice, Saturday qualifying and Sunday Race Day. Pirelli, the world’s sexiest rubbersmiths, would be providing the hospitality in the form of a private suite, overlooking the start-finish line straight-away in the main grand stand, which is really the only way to take in an F1 race in person. This is where all the socializing takes place. During the race, the cars are passing at such a high rate of speed that one is hard pressed to keep up with the field, without a television – or a gin and tonic.
I stepped out thought the tinted glass of the suite onto the tiered balcony for the first time to look down at qualifying taking place on the 20 ft thick virgin asphalt of the $250 million dollar Circuit of the Americas. A McLaren Mercedes piloted by Lewis Hamilton enters the straight-away and pierces past at close to 200mph, before getting hard on the brake for a little left hander at 4G’s. For the moment I felt like an emperor.
Coincidently we also noticed that the delightful woman assigned to mix our drinks was a true maharini of the Bloody Mary. Qualifying ended with Red Bull’s sweaty-haired wunderkind Sebastian Vettel at the front of tomorrow’s start line; and my much beloved gentleman of racing and fellow Englishman, Jenson Button, starting at a mere 12th.
After dinner, some off-duty Austin police detectives had been given the task of ferrying us downtown and getting us back to the hotel. First stop was a party hosted by some old friends from the Bullrun Rally. We were made comfortable at a table elevated just enough above the dance floor, to give one the appearance of importance, prestige and totally lacking in taste. Our band of rogues found it difficult to settle in, as the dancers started shaking their scantly-sheathed bottoms inches from our faces; and the music was too loud to talk cars. Ian, in particular, has a low threshold for Euro trash. The man that creates the world’s most beautiful and exclusive motorcycles has little tolerance for anything but the truly refined, and we decide it’s best to get him out before he makes good on his threat to bareknuckle someone or us. It was a tough choice to leave a table, covered in astronomically marked-up (free) booze. We decide to take a chance on an unsanctioned speakeasy around the corner, which required the password “white rabbit” to look up a “local lady friend” of a Parisian womanizer I told I was coming to Texas the previous night.
I was expecting she would be easy on the eye, and wasn’t disappointed by my Frenchman’s introduction. Our password was accepted at the door and we were led onto the set of some 90’s Robert Downey Jr. movie about cool people. My gamble was either going to pay off big or the chaps would blame me for all eternity, for their shite night in Austin. Luckily within minutes the warm people of Austin had engulfed us, as we became very well acquainted with the house specialty – a tequila based drink called El Diablo. High jinx and moxie ensued.
I cannot go into too much detail about the way the rest of our witching hours played out; but I will admit to running up and down a suburban street, shirtless in my dress pants, looking for a street address to book a local cab, at around sunrise.
I reappeared at the hotel in true Eddie Murphy fashion – by sneaking up on the cops that were meant to be keeping an eye on us, only to tap them on the shoulder from behind. Both were impressed I made good on my threat of having an interesting evening in Austin.
The local detectives warned me that I have 25 minutes before the chopper leaves for the race. A friend from past rallies, Claus Ettensberger, owner of CEC Wheels and ambassador of all things fast and Deutsche, along with his delightful sidekick Matt LeBlanc, had an equally interesting evening and had only just made it back too. Unlike me they failed to make it to the makeshift helipad on the lawn of the hotel. Like a swanky war zone with people in crisp, white denim jeans and sockless Todd’s, waiting for a bird to take them in country. Unlike my last helicopter ride to see the F1 at Silverstone in England, I decided against provoking the pilot into doing some unorthodox maneuvers, as I feared El Diablo might decide to make a sudden reappearance.
The start of an F1 race is like nothing you will ever experience. You would come close by cutting the wings off twenty F16 fighter jets and having them all race at full throttle, toward a tight left-hand corner. A welcomed sonic violation. Nirvanic turbulence that speaks to me like no god ever could. I considered biting through the glass rim of my third Bloody Mary, as twenty-four of the world’s finest racing drivers dove into that first, handsome, uphill hairpin just to the right of where we were sitting.
Photo Credit: © FOTO ERCOLE COLOMBO
The race then settled in for 56 laps of incredible competition and boozing. Jenson Button miraculously fights his way up to the front to lead the race for a while, but pit strategy puts him back to 5th by the time the checkered flag is brandished to Lewis Hamilton. I had managed to win another contest taking place in the grandstand by procuring the number of the most attractive women in attendance – a move which involved my brashly climbing over and through George Lucas’s private balcony, to single her out amongst the big watches and Latinos occupying the suite.
With the Sunday sun setting, we lifted off with two more passengers onboard – German Claus and Matt LeBlanc. Stories were told that had to be sworn to secrecy, plans for future misadventures were hatched. Champagne and light snacks were shared.
Photo Credit: Michael “Skiny” Power
If you want to enjoy the drama of the race action of Formula One – stay home and watch it on your television. If you want to meet interesting people and make new friends then I suggest you make some suitable arrangements for 2013. The next F1 race scheduled for Austin is on November 17th at 2:00pm (ET).