F1 at COTA: Meet the superfans who haven't missed any of the 10 US Grand Prix races – Austin American-Statesman

Shannon Bruce and husband Dusty were living in New Mexico. When they heard a Formula One track was being built in Austin, they packed their bags and moved here.
Yeshica Rios lives in Mexico City but hasn’t missed an F1 race at Circuit of the Americas. This year she’s toting along her 71-year-old mother.
Nohemi Villarreal-Bonilla and fiancé Manuel Lechuga of San Antonio decided during a dreamy United States Grand Prix weekend in 2018 that they should get married.
Tracey and Ed Gross of Dallas also have been there since the start in 2012, sitting in grandstand 12, section 9, the former Kansas City residents even holding a high school reunion of sorts at COTA last year.
Longtime Austinite Randall Kies, 73, saw his first F1 race in 1978 in Spain, was instantly hooked and hasn’t missed a beat at Circuit of the Americas.
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COTA officials told the American-Statesman that 45% of U.S. tickets sold are from outside Texas and 11% are international.
The passion of F1 fans knows few boundaries.
“Dusty must be one of the best husbands ever,” Shannon Bruce, 44, said. “When plans for COTA were finalized, we sold our house in New Mexico and built one here just so we could be close to a Formula One track. Yeah, it meant that much to us. F1 gets our adrenaline pumping.”
Villarreal-Bonilla, a Mexico City native who moved to San Antonio in 2004, found love, literally, at Circuit of the Americas.
“We were sitting there on the Turn 1 hill, taking everything in, overwhelmed by it all, looked at each other and kind of said, ‘This is it. This is our special place,'” she said.
These fans watch all the races.
“We had a big group that met at Cool River (in Northwest Austin) when it was still open,” Tracey Gross said.
Kies said, “We always make a meal from the host country from the ‘Grand Prix Cookbook.'”
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These 10-year anniversary fans have their own tales about favorite drivers and teams.
“My favorite was Nico Rosberg,” Rios said of the 2016 world champion. “When the gates opened that year, I ran as fast as I could to get a place for an autograph. Waited for hours. Then the Mercedes drivers came out, and Nico stood in front of me for three to four minutes, signing autographs. I was so star-struck, kind of speechless. Nico shook my hand, and we took a selfie. That picture is like a treasure. I met my hero.”
A few years later Rios was at the tower, and Rosberg popped up next to her with his Sky Sports broadcast crew. “We did exactly the same thing. Another selfie,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
In 2017, Rios doggedly was able to secure all 20 driver autographs on her program.
Villarreal-Bonilla, an F1 fan since she was 6, and her fiancé are all about McLaren.
“Our house is all orange, McLaren colors,” she said. “I’ll never forget one year we got up close to Carlos Sainz, and he autographed my hat.”
Bruce said former F1 legend Ayrton Senna’s book “Principles of Race Driving” helped lure her in.
“I’ve always loved the aerodynamics and speed,” she said. “You can actually ‘feel’ the cars in your chest. I had Senna’s book and wanted to get Lewis Hamilton’s autograph because Senna was one of his favorites. I get (Sebastian) Vettel, but I tweeted, ‘I really wanted Lewis’ autograph.’ Well, he jumped down and mingled with fans. I got him to sign the front cover of the book.”
Some of these USGP regulars follow other motorsports.
“I watch Daytona every year,” Kies said. “But let’s face it: F1 is so much more sophisticated. If it was a board game, NASCAR is like checkers and F1 is chess.”
Rios said, “I’ve started following NASCAR and IndyCar, and I expect to come back to COTA for the NASCAR race next spring.”
Most have been to F1 races elsewhere, like Montreal, Mexico City, Miami and Suzuka (Japan). They are divided on COTA’s concept of a weekend festival vs. purely racing. The USGP offers 38 music acts, including headliners suh as Ed Sheeran and Green Day.
“The quality of the shows is something you don’t see at most other F1 races,” said Rios, who’s traveled extensively. “For me, it’s not just the racing; it’s the music, the entertainment — it’s everything.”
Yet that leads to bigger traffic jams. More than 400,000 are expected this weekend.
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“I’m not drawn to the race because of the music, I’m drawn because of the race,” Gross said. “My husband and I went to Miami’s first GP this spring. Their solution was to sit you inside the football stadium and watch the race on the big screen. Not ideal.
“COTA charges people $50 a day for the shuttle. It was free in Miami and worked like clockwork. COTA doesn’t allow ride share anywhere near the track. I sat in Lot F for two hours trying to leave as everything was funneled down to one lane.”
Kies, who sits in Turn 15, said, “During the 2015 mudfest it took us over 2½ hours standing in line to get on a bus after the race. But it’s the nature of the beast. You offer those big concerts, you give the ticket-buyer more bang for his buck, but you get the long lines. If that’s the way to fill the seats, I’m happy about it. I think other F1 tracks are copying COTA’s entertainment plan.”
All the fans the Statesman interviewed were relieved F1 made a new deal with COTA through 2026.
“If they didn’t get that contract extended,” Bruce said, “what would we do? Move to Europe or something?”
What: Formula One’s 19th of 22 race weekends
When: Friday-Sunday
Where: Circuit of the Americas
TV: ABC for Sunday race; ESPN networks for practices Friday and practice/qualifying Saturday
Tickets: Friday-only available for $59, Saturday sold out, Sunday general admission grounds $259 and limited reserve seating $293 and up. Limited three-day reserved $547 and up.
9:30 a.m.-12:25 p.m.: Masters support series qualifying
2-3 p.m.: F1 first practice
5-6:30 p.m.: F1 second practice
9:40 a.m.-1 p.m.: Masters support series races
2-3 p.m.: F1 third practice
5-6 p.m.: F1 qualifying
9:15-11:20 a.m.: Masters support series racing
2-4 p.m.: F1 U.S. Grand Prix race


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