Tuesday, May 11, 2010


I like to drive fast. I like to drive fast on racetracks. Really fast. It's a problem. Like an addiction. This past weekend, on a track about 12 miles from the center of Barcelona, I got to spend a couple days watching others drive really fast on a what-looks-like-lots-of-fun race track. I'm not sure if what I witnessed makes this addiction go into a temporary remission or just makes it worse. I guess I'll see after a week or so.

For those who might not know, Formula1 is a type of car racing popular in many places around the world. The cars, tires, and fuel are mostly defined by and limited to the standards (the "formula") set by the race-organizing body. For example, cars must use a 2.4 liter V8 motor and cannot weigh less than 1,367 pounds (620kg) including the weight of the driver and all the fluids. Because of the relatively-light weight of the cars and the over 700 horsepower the motor puts out, the cars are really fast. As a comparison, my MINI Cooper S weighs approximately 2,500 pounds and has less than half the horsepower. Again: FAST!

To get to the track, I had to take the subway to the train and then walk about 20 minutes or so. It's a pretty tough walk and the entire trip takes about an hour-and-a-half (remember the 12 miles?). I did see and meet a bunch of interesting people on the way...

These guys had a whole bunch of props, including a blue-plastic inflatable cow (???), with them as well. I'm not sure what the deal was but they seemed like tons of fun.

Friday was a practice day for the racers. It's great because there are so few people that you pretty much can go and do what you want. It feels much more personal than on race day. I got this close-up of the tow truck taking a car that had broken down:

As you can guess, the people who show up on Friday are basically the hard-core fans. You can see in the photo of the group above and by the one below that they are definitely into the event. These guys (some are not in the shot) each had one letter of Fernando Alonso's name on their shirts. I was never able to get a picture of them lined up but you get the idea:

I didn't attend Saturday as I was tired from Friday's journey and full day in the sun. Sunday was a completely different animal. There were so many people everywhere--the official count was 98,113. What a difference. The added crowds did make it much more festive than Friday's relative calm but I'm glad I had the opportunity to roam around on Friday as there was almost no space anywhere.

The show opened with the drivers being driven around the track in vintage cars. Here's local-favorite Fernando Alonso (note the almost exclusively-red clad people in the'd think he was the only driver and Ferrari was the only team):

Next came a short airshow put on by the Spanish Air Force:

I learned a few things about using my camera in situations like this over the weekend. One: a photo of a race car driving really fast on a race track looks just like a photo of a race car parked on a race track...just blurrier. Two: you can tell who is faster than whom by how hard it is to get a photo of them on the track without it just being a blur. Slower drivers are easier to photograph but just aren't as exciting to watch. Three: videos taken with a small digital camera have a much-more limited perspective than what you have when you're there but they work better than still photos to express what you actually see.

Rather than show you a lot of slightly blurry photos of what looks like cars parked on a track, here are two videos that give you a hint at what I enjoyed. They both are shot from essentially the same location (a really nice spot) during the second lap of the race when the cars are still close together. (Note: they are both loud - you might want to check your sound before playing.)

Yes, I know. Shakey-cam and the sounds of cats in heat just don't make it look that appetizing. It was. I promise.

Mark Weber from Australia, who is on team Red Bull, won the race in 1:35:44 -- 24 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Alonso. I did manage to get a couple of decent shots of the eventual race winner.

And finally, as I mentioned, I like to drive fast on race tracks too. I'm not particularly good at it but I definitely enjoy and miss it. Here I am at Laguna Seca in the MINI last year with my Japanese co-pilot and part-time driving instructor, who, incidentally, got me hooked on Formula1 in the first place. Thanks Yo!

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