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Old 05-15-2006, 12:04 PM   #1
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Default Review of the 2006 Grand Prix of Houston by Fred P. Phillips

I'm going to quote a good friend or mine, Fred P. Phillips. An older, wise gentleman with lots of experience at the races. I found his reviews entertaining and agreed with every single one so I'll just copy them and say +1. A long read but a good one.


Review of the 2006 Grand Prix of Houston by Fred P. Phillips

Day 1 (Wednesday)

Just as the last of the stragglers got all moved in and set up in the paddock, they got a good dose of Texas weather.

Temperatures around 1:00 PM were in the low 90's...humidity in the high 90's. Perfectly miserable. But then it got worse.

Around 3:30, the sky turned black and the radios blasted the warning schreech of the National Weather Service's alert tone...tornados sighted southwest (Ft. Bend county) and northwest (Montgomery county)...baseball-sized (2 1/2") hail...severe thunderstorms...converging on Harris county (Houston). Take immediate precautions.

It was a fast moving storm on its way to the Gulf and passed thru town in less than two hours. But boy, was it a gully washer for those two hours!

But with the storm came a blessed change in the weather...forecast for the three days of the event are high's in the upper 70's - overnight low's in the mid 50's - low humidity. Chamber of Commerce weather (well, yessir, it's always like this in Houston...yes, even in August. Sometimes its a little nicer, tho.).

I was out at the track checking things out around 6:00 PM...I got in with my blue parking pass.

The set-up crews will work most of the night, I imagine...which won't be a problem because of the event lighting already in place. Golf carts, pickup trucks, vans and Budget Rental box trucks were everywhere. Some crews were painting the kerbs - others putting up banners...some stands being bolted together...fire trucks and safety equipment being moved to their locations. The typical last-minute chaos of a temporary road circuit.

I put on my white hard hat and drove around the track in my white pickup truck looking quite official, I imagine. Inspecting, you know. The kind of work I do best.

I had a blast!

Practice and qualifying begins today (Thursday)...women's beach volleyball at 4:00 PM...and Miss Grand Prix finalist's autograph session at 7:00 PM. I suspect I'll be there 'til late in the evening. These things are important - and require inspection, you know.

Next report tomorrow.

Day 2 (Thursday)

My life is over. Hopes and dreams dashed upon the hard rocks of despair. They canceled today's Women's Beach Volleyball due to unseasonably cool weather...said the girls got goose bumps...or something like that.

And there was an error in the Official Program - the autograph session was actually for the GRANDMOTHERS of the Miss Grand Prix finalists...I think I went to high school with two of them.

Then I went to the Portocan and it smelled like you just left.

Maximum interest today for yours truly was the clever little bump right in the apex of turn 9 - where you have to get it right to hit max revs on the S/F straightaway.

Seeing the way the boyz and the girlz attacked (or not) this opportunity was an object lesson in wall...what wall? Of course, this is hot laps at 4:00 PM with a track temperature of 105 F or so. Not quite sure how much of that you can put in the bank at 9:00 PM with at least 20 degrees cooler track temp. Fun to watch, tho.

The Champ Car field is thin, as we knew it would be...and as usual on "street" courses, the few overtaking opportunities make tomorrow's qualifying a peak of excitement.

And speaking of thin...where were the crowds? You don't think attendance was in direct proportion to the promotion and advertising, do you? Just because they just started to advertise this two weeks ago wouldn't make you think precious few people took vacation days to show up, would you?

Hopefully we can put this down as the Thursday blues and the place will be packed Friday and Saturday.

The Atlantic cars were cool with their new package, including the most snarky nose I've ever seen. They sound great and go fast. Tons of fun to watch.

As was Star Mazda. More like Star Banzai. Great fun!

And tomorrow is the ALMS race...8:00 PM CDT. 4 classes/40+ cars on a twisty 1.7 mile track for 2 hours and 45 minutes. Pit stops...driver change...disparate car speeds...under the lights.

What volleyball?

Life is good.


Day 3 (Friday)

It was Branch Rickey, I think, who once answered famously..."you can't tell the players without a program".

...and he could have added - "in a 165 minute race with 4 classes and pit stops...you can't track the leaders without a leaderboard."

Honest to Pete, or Pedro, to be currently politically correct (aka Pierre in Canada), the giant screen real-time broadcast to the various stands NEVER ONCE showed positions or standings.

It never occurred to me that I couldn't track a little 23 car (more on that later) event for a couple of hours. Well, I didn't bring my clipboard - or my brain either, I suppose - because at the end I had Nish (R8) behind a Dyson car...the Corvettes half a lap behind the not-Enge Aston...and the Risi ahead of Rockenfeller.

Couldn't have got it more wrong. The R8 was 1st O/A...Beretta & Gavin were 2nd O/A in the #4 Vette ...Rockenfeller (Alex Job) was 1st in GT2, one of the Lizards was 2nd and the Risi Ferrari (with Mika Salo, no
less) was third.

See what I suffer being a spectator? It's tough, I'm tellin' ya.

On to the field: 4 LMP1 cars - 5 LMP2 cars - 5 GT1 cars - 9 GT2 - cars made the grid. 23 in total in Houston.

By contrast, the Grand Am series this weekend in Phoenix has 23 DP and
14 GT entries, for a total of 37.

Sound familiar? CART/IRL - ALMS/GRAND AM?

I guess Rodney King said it best.

I'm glad they came to Houston, tho - it was a hoot! Most of the crowd
(80%) left before the final half hour - when all the attrition began, as usual. The diehards saw both Penske Porches fail with 20 minutes to go (but when they ran, Boy, were they awesome!, kickin' the ass of the LMP1's )...and both 'Vettes taking a pit stop with 16 minutes left.

But the story line would have held much more interest for the casual (me
included) fan had the positions and standings been conveyed on the video screens. There was some real strategy going on out there and the guys sitting on the tool boxes were lovin' it - but they don't pay the bills.

Oh, well. Tomorrow the real racers crank up - the Star Mazda and Atlantic guys (I can say that now that Kathy has moved on). I just wish they had some Super Vees and FF's in the morning. Or maybe some SCCA events. Create some excitement. Generate some enthusiasm for road racing. Top speed doesn't sell...31.1 mph in a 30 mph turn sells. An 'impossible' pass on a tight right-hander sells (which reminds me of Jacob at Gulf Greyhound Park).

Did I forget to mention the Paul Tracy/ S. Bourdais series follows ?

Paul is gridded third and Sebastian fifth (both on the clean, inside to turn one on an anti-clockwise circuit) - but S. had the fast time of the day and Paul the second. Unlike F1 - I don't expect this battle to be won in the pits!

Highlights so far: I ran into Jay Marroquin bummin' around the infield
- and John Lionberger in the hospitality area of our stands section. Good times for old friends. Racers all.

Day 4 (Saturday)

Neil Hohlfeld said it right when he wrote: "77,000 households is something like the numbers you'd get if you televised a Zamboni going in circles around a skating rink for an hour".

So it was for the finish of the Champ Car race. The beer and hot dog stands quit serving at 9:00 PM, and the Champ Cars shut down 45 minutes later (for a series of extended yellow flags)...with 30 minutes (time was to be called at 10:15 PM) left to go on the time clock.

It had been hammer and tong until the final (of many) yellows, when Tag unintentionally parked a very wounded car hard into the tires...and brought to an inglorious end a potentially great battle between Bourdais and Tracy...with Dominquez, the Mexican-on-a-Mission,

sniffing at their tails. Mario would have stuffed Tracy to get at Sebastian (see below).

Incredibly, about 30% of the folks in our stand had already left (most at halfway point, when the going was still quite dicey) prior to the late event yellow delays. Another 20% left during all the late-race yellows...leaving the hardcore race fans (value seekers?) to witness the pathetic green/white/checkered parade to the finish.

Oh well, just the pass Bourdais put on Dominguez in turn 7 (in front of our group) was worth the price of admission.

Why is he not the lock for the vacant '07 Renault seat? It makes no sense. He's won (I think) 8 of the last 10 Champ Car events...he's French, for God's sake...his clean-cut image is certainly marketable...his English skills are close to flawless. Is it the dismal failure of Montoya and DiMatta ( and Michael Andretti before them) that has him cursed? Is that why Scott Speed went to GP2 rather than Formula Atlantic - to avoid the "American" series curse?

Speaking of Scott Speed - he's doing an incredible job in the Minardi. Red Bull has really turned that team around. In the right ride, he'll have some podium's in his career.

But I don't think he's the Great White Hope. Someone still driving Go-Karts today will hear the US National Anthem...but Scott Speed will have paved the way.

To close out my rant:

The Star Mazda boys were great - quite a clean event despite some really hard racing. Ryan Justice was awesome (Pole to P1), but this is his third year in Mazda, which shows the weakness in the open wheel farm system.

Matt Varsha (son of Bob) looked good also. He finished 4th to complement his 4th at Sebring, which probably has him close to 1st overall in points (Justice finished 24th at Sebring). As we know, his connections will move him further faster if he can keep up the pace and manage a P1 or so.

The Atlantic's were ridiculous - half the event was run under the yellow
- they were crashing into one another all over the place, but mainly in the chicane (between turns 1 and 2) that had been ad-libbed by Champ Car to make the end of the S/F straightway less treacherous.

Good intentions can have disastrous consequences.

Wirth may be the real deal. This is his second consecutive win. He just kind'of held back in 3rd and 4th, saving his brakes and tires, keeping the hotdog's in sight, and when the opportunity came, he was right there and checked out. Pretty impressive.

As was young Rahal, who was running a strong second until he suffered a temporary brain cramp. He looked good, tho. And he's very young (16 or 17).

The weather for the Big Event was perfect - low humidity and cool temperatures. The night racing concept for Houston in May was right on. Properly marketed, this event will catch on and perhaps even attract a Title Sponsor and some media attention.

Nancy and I had a great time. She is such a pleasure to be with at these events. Not only a real race fan but so supportive of the whole hospitality thing.

I imagine we'll do a different "deal" next year - this year our ticket package was less than 50% utilized. I think next year I'll try to leverage our buying power into twice as many tickets at half the price - but forgo the 'hospitality package'. That crap about cutting off the food and beverage 2 hours before the end of the event makes my blood boil. As does their offering of 'red meat only' on Friday night, when more than 30% of Houston's population is Catholic.

And then (!), Saturday lunch offered tuna fish salad and pasta. They just don't get it.

Jerry (brother-in-law from Ohio)) and I scouted out the entire area and stands on Thursday, and I think the S/F Grandstands, sections J or K, upper rows are the best bang for the buck.

You have a clear view of the entrance/exit of 9 - the S/F straightaway, opening and closing events, overlooking the race pits, right on top of a Video Monitor - and a clear view of the entrance/exit of turn 1.

Next best would be the turn 2/3 stands...where the chicane is (but no guarantee they will put it there next year).

There's no reserved parking...but the MetroRail is a 10 to 15 minute walk - and there's no catered food or beverages...but I could give our guests a $50 bill to cover that.

And our guests could feel free to bring their children into an atmosphere that is not "adult".

I hope your schedule allows you to join us next year.


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Old 05-15-2006, 12:18 PM   #2
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+1 on that
Originally Posted by samagon
Then I went to the Portocan and it smelled like you just left
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Old 05-15-2006, 12:33 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by samagon
I imagine we'll do a different "deal" next year - this year our ticket package was less than 50% utilized.

All that extra f*****g money on paddock passes and the best one (ALMS) was open to the public. That's what I get for buying tickets two months early. If only I'd known...

edit: though, they did let me into the champ car paddock: aka reliant arena where the REAL toilets are.
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Old 05-15-2006, 12:38 PM   #4
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Yeah well imagine doing a corporate package like my friend Fred did. 30-40 tickets plus food, etc...then have them stop serving early. I'd be pretty upset too.
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