Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

Karting in Las Vegas // A review of racing in the States, as F1 stars get back in their karts

Published by Jan Stahl

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I found out SKUSA was having a karting event in Las Vegas completely by accident - I don't follow the karting scene at all, though I enjoy racing one whenever I have a chance. As it turns out, I wouldn't have found out about it at all had no Formula One drivers been attending - the mention of the event on the official Formula One website is what made me look into it to begin with. Apparently SKUSA was happy with not advertising the event at all in any local Las Vegas media - the SKUSA website, and some karting websites and magazines were apparently the only two places where it was mentioned extensively.

As a result, my impression was that most of the people attending the event were either hardcore karting fanatics, or those who read about it in F1 circles and turned up to see Schumi - the prevalence of Ferrari gear was fairly impressive. What that also meant is that the event could easily have held way more people than actually attended - places in the grandstands were readily available, and you were never fighting the mob when looking at the team garages or getting around the racetrack.

As for the track itself, it was a 0.6 mile loop, built right on the back parking lot of the Rio Resort and Casino in downtown Las Vegas. Having the Las Vegas strip as the backdrop for the racing was fairly impressive, although most fans were complaining that none of the grandstands provided a full view of the racetrack - they chose retaining barriers that were so high, that even from the top row of the grandstands you couldn't see the karts on the opposite end of the racetrack. By the end of the weekend, some fans were choosing to watch the races from the top of the Rio parking garage outside the grounds, simply because it was the only spot you could see the entire track from!

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The races for some of the classes started as early as Wednesday, but the Superpro events - where Michael Schumacher, Seb Buemi, Nelson Piquet Jr, and IRL's Dan Wheldon raced, didn't start until Saturday (although some of them took part in the Thursday and Friday practice sessions). I unfortunately missed the Saturday qualifiers, but heard they were fairly entertaining, with Schumacher qualifying for the final race in 9th, and Piquet somewhere around 12th. Buemi missed out on the top 15 altogether, which was noteworthy in that his teammates racing Intrepid karts did a lot better, locking out the front row.

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Sunday's final race was thoroughly enjoyable, though I was disappointed Schumacher had an atrocious start - whereas some racers were picking up as many as 5 or 6 positions, he dropped to eleventh by the first corner, and fought an uphill battle for the remaining 25 laps to get back in contention. Incredibly enough, Piquet Jr did a lot better, managing to work his way up and actually slotting in right behind Schumacher by the halfway point of the race. Buemi stayed roughly where he started in the back of the pack, until he retired on lap 13. The second half of the race was exciting in that an intense battle for the lead broke out, but unfortunately neither Schu nor Piquet were in contention - they picked up some positions due to some retirements ahead of them, and ended up finishing 7th and 8th.

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I would say the highlight of the weekend for an F1 fan such as myself was how easy it was to get close to the Formula One drivers. Buemi and Piquet were by their karts in the Intrepid team garage for most of the day, which was not cordoned off! I was able to walk right in, and had a nice chat with both of them! What a contrast to a Formula One event, where this would have been absolutely impossible (though it has to be said that all F1 fans were crowding around Schumi's garage area all weekend)! Buemi seemed genuinely happy to chat to the handful of fans that came in and actually knew who he was. Piquet seemed less outgoing, neither talking much, nor seeming too excited to be there.

Schumi's garage area with the TonyKart team was somewhat different - expecting the place to get crowded, the team put up cordons around the entire place, along which fans started gathering right from when the gates opened in the morning. About two hours prior to the Supepro driver introductions, Schu fans were lined up three deep around the garage, although there was no sight of Michael himself (he spent most of the day in the Tonykart motorhome). He did finally come into the garage shortly before he was due out on track for the driver introductions, and was then escorted straight out to the track and back for the main Superpro race. He did come back about two hours after the race was over, and spent almost an hour signing autographs and exchanging some banter with the gathered fans (my favorite: "Hey, Schu, how's Ralf doing?" answer: "I have no idea, actually.") It definitely seemed impressive to me that he would devote that much time to spend with the fans - I overheard someone say he did the same thing during qualifying on Saturday.

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It was definitely an enjoyable event for a Formula One fan - nowhere else are you going to get so close to F1 drivers so easily! Not sure if they plan another event like this in the future, but if so, I'd highly recommend it!!!