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Andretti lap opens Texas track

2012-10-22 08:50

'ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC' Former Formula 1 World champion Mario Andretti is strapped into his race car for the first official lap of the Circuit of the Americas..

Corrie MacLaggan

AUSTIN, Texas - Former Formula 1 World champion Mario Andretti has driven the first full lap around the new Circuit of the Americas and pronounced the 20-turn, 5.5km, just-tarred track "absolutely fantastic".

The purpose-built circuit will host the first US F1 GP since Indianapolis in 2007 on November 18 2012.

"It's very green, as you could expect," said Andretti, champion in 1978. "You get off-line a bit - it's a bit slippery but that's normal for a new circuit. Overall, my impression is ‘absolutely fantastic’." Watch the time-lapse video!

Which he would, being a Circuit of the Americas ambassador and in any case David Coulthard (or at least his car) did the first lap in a Red Bull F1 car back in September, 2011 - see the video below. And Circuit of the Americas is a but much - there's F1 racing in Canada and interlagos in Brazil.

'SIGNATURE CORNER'

Texas elected officials and actor Patrick Dempsey, who competes in the US Grand-Am sport car series, were on hand for the first-lap ceremony on a hot, sunny afternoon and Andretti ceremonially cut a ribbon of chequered flags from a Lotus 79 Cosworth racing car before zooming up a steep hill toward the hairpin Turn 1.

"That's my designated signature corner," said Andretti, who had initially been scheduled to drive a Lotus R30 Formula 1 car before that plan was aborted because of a mechanical problem.

"I think that's going to invite quite a bit of action there, a lot of overtaking for sure."

Andretti, who has won races in F1, IndyCar, World Sports Car championship and Nascar, said going up a hill and braking often gave drivers a false sense of security.

"So you're going to push the envelope," the 72-year-old added. "If you're going to challenge, that's the time you're going to do it. The track seems to be, in many of the braking areas, wide enough to invite that.

"If you somehow misjudge a situation, I think you can get out of it because of the width. I think you're going to see a lot of action because of that."

NEW JERSEY RACE POSTPONED

Construction workers in hard hats were busy at the site on Sunday and Circuit of the Americas officials said the work remaining involved landscaping and finishing building interiors.

"Everything is ready to host a race," circuit spokeswoman Ali Putnam said.

The planned 2013 inaugural Grand Prix of America in New Jersey has been postponed to 2014 because local organisers need more time to prepare, F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has said.

Andretti said he had spoken with some of those involved in the New Jersey race. "They have a few issues here and there, which I think pushed the project back, but they're still very much going for it.

"I know there were some negative comments but they're pressing on."

Having two races in the US would help build a fan base in the country, Andretti believed. "To me, the more the merrier. If there's going to be any country that would host two races and justify it, it would be the US."



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