Brent Bates has found the perfect spot at Circuit of the Americas — the Turn 15 grandstand, south end, top row.
From there, a fan can see motorcycles throughout almost all of the 3.4 miles of the track, including the riders making a high-speed, virtually horizontal turn just below his vantage point, with their right knees centimeters above the track.
“That’s awesome,” said Bates, a commercial photographer from Buda and a motor sports fan for something like three decades. “I love this stuff.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that Bates or his friend Jeff Harvey always knew what they were seeing Saturday during the MotoGP practice and qualifying runs. With riders zipping by at well above 100 mph, their bikes adorned with smallish, hard-to-decipher numbers, figuring out who was doing well or even who was passing by was mostly a futile endeavor.
“You’ve got to watch the pole,” Bates said, referring to the vertical digital signs that show how the riders are measuring up against one another. But those poles, and the video screens with close-up views of the racing, weren’t visible from many of the grassy berms along the track’s twists and turns.
“It does get confusing,” Bates said.
But maybe that’s why the organizers call it the “MotoGP experience.” For all but aficionados, Saturday was mostly about deafening noise, perfect weather and a hypnotic sensation of speed. Many spectators lay on the soft grass of berms above the tracks, staring up at the cloudless sky. Some dozed.
Thousands thronged the series of horseshoe turns near the Austin360 Amphitheater, an area that affords any number of opportunities to buy $8 beers, $12 personal pizzas and, for $14, the mysteriously named “frozen mixed drink.” Fans could wander through tents put up by racing team sponsors Ducati, Honda and Yamaha, and sit on any of dozens of expensive motorcycles on display.
Nearby, two stunt riders used ramps to perform flips and other tricks 20 feet in the air, just feet away from awed but queasy spectators.
Organizers won’t release attendance figures until Sunday, but MotoGP — motorcycle racing’s version of Formula One — does not appear to be drawing comparable crowds to this first-time event. Circuit organizers have removed some of the temporary grandstands in the tracks northern reaches, and near the first turn.
Given the smaller crowds, despite the absence of the shuttle buses used during F1 last November, the first two days haven’t produced any problems getting to and from the circuit. But there was a considerable wait to get into Parking Lot F on the grounds, available for anyone to park for $30. Track spokeswoman Julie Loignon said that people coming Sunday should be aware that three other pay-to-park lots — L, M and P — are available off Elroy Road east of the track.