Austin and Australia appear to be a pretty good match. Especially for the Red Bull team.
Saturday the Australian V8 Supercars held their first two races in the United States at Circuit of the Americas, and both fans and drivers seemed to enjoy the novel event.
Red Bull teammates Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes certainly did. They made Saturday’s double feature look like an instant replay by finishing 1-2 in both races.
Whincup, who won the series four of the past five years, picked up the two wins.
Lowndes, who has finished second in the series the past two years, gave his second-place performances Saturday two thumbs up after the second race. Fabian Coulthard finished third — in both races, naturally.
“We would have liked to spice it up, but that’s the way it goes,” Whincup joked about the identical podiums.
“They have fast cars,” Coulthard said. “It’s quite hard to pass.”
Whincup wasn’t impressive in Friday’s four practice sessions and said, “I think I came out of the blocks the slowest this weekend.”
Saturday, however, he didn’t have to trade a lot of paint or pass a lot of cars to pick up the wins.
He qualified second, behind Coulthard, for the first race but quickly jumped into a lead. He relinquished it only when he made a mandatory pit stop and then reclaimed it when other drivers eventually pitted. Lowndes chased but rarely challenged his teammate.
“I had fresher tires and wasn’t able to do anything with it,” Lowndes said of that missed opportunity.
Lowndes was more pleased with the second 27-lap race on the shortened 2.4-mile circuit, but the results were the same.
Fans didn’t seem to mind the duplication all that much.
Before the event, no one was quite sure how it would be received. The Supercars are popular in Australia, where they can draw as many as 250,000 fans on the biggest weekends.
Here, however, they have only a niche audience on Speed TV. Before the race, circuit officials said only that attendance would be somewhere between the 26,648 for the two-day Grand-Am event in March and the 131,082 for the three-day MotoGP race last month. There’s quite a big gap between those numbers.
Lowndes said the trip to the U.S. was probably the most ambitious move the Aussie Supercars have attempted, but he and other drivers seemed pleased with the response from fans here.
Circuit officials did not provide attendance figures Friday or Saturday but said they would release the three-day attendance totals Sunday, as they have done for some other races.
The crowd Saturday was certainly larger than the one for the Grand-Am sports car series, and fans seemed to enjoy the easy access to the drivers and the pit area, something that requires VIP status for Formula One.
“I think it may be going better than we thought it would,” said circuit chairman Bobby Epstein. “I think the Aussies are having a blast.”
The main drawback to the day was the heat, which was in the mid-90s and affected both drivers and fans.
“It was probably top five as far as cabin temp goes,” Whincup said of the 140-degree heat in the cars. He later joked, “I think they enjoy people passing out.”
The circuit and the Seton Healthcare Family did not release the number of people who were treated for heat-related problems, saying only that it was “multiple” people. The circuit was handing out ice water to those who requested it and will allow fans to bring in sealed, individual bottles of water today.
There will be two more Supercar races today, beginning at 3:15 p.m. Qualifying will begin shortly after 11 a.m., and the popular autograph session at the paddock will be at 9:30 a.m.
Whincup said the other teams would make some adjustments to catch up today but added, “Hopefully we’ll be at the next step when they get there.”