Adam Cooper's Friday diary

Friday kicked off in low key style with a triple whammy press conference featuring Tony George, Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley. This was a golden opportunity for the latter pair to disprove some popular theories cherished by the American press, but they failed to grasp it. Bernie in particular did not come across too well, and the fact that the questioning from the regulars quickly drifted on to subjects such as Silverstone traffic jams and Tony Blair did not do much to help.

Nevertheless it was an interesting diversion before the real stuff finally started. At 11am engines began to fire up, and cars began to head towards the pit exit for the first time. The stands were already well manned, and the first signs of action brought rousing cheers, especially when Michael Schumacher's V10 burst into life.

Heinz-Harald Frentzen had the honour of being the first man out of the pits, but he blew his chance to make a little bit of history by following normal installation lap procedure and coming straight in. Immediately behind him Johnny Herbert carried on round to become the first man to complete a lap of the new track in an F1 car. Eddie Irvine followed, but like Frentzen everyone else came touring back in, with the exception of Schumacher.

Even these first cars through the last corner looked mightily impressive from where I was standing at the pit entry, and it really did send a tingle down the spine. It got even better, for Michael stayed out on a five-lap run - highly unusual at the start of a session, but a sign of Ferrari's confidence in its preparation and Fiorano shakedowns. That led to a quite spectacular moment as Michael came upon Frentzen in Turn 13. The Jordan man had returned to the track for his first flying lap, but Michael had more momentum, and passed him on the outside as they ran round the corner two abreast. Wonderful stuff.

As practice wore on so we got used to the speeds, but nevertheless there was no question of this becoming routine. The cars looked and sounded so good round the banking that I could have watched them for a week without getting bored. Apparently it wasn't quite so interesting from the inside. Most drivers reported that Turn 13 was a doddle, and the speed far less impressive than they had expected.

Off the track, the buzz continued the build. The crowd was probably the biggest we've ever seen on a Friday, and all day folk hung out at the gate behind the paddock, where they could grab VIPs as they headed to and from the car park. Most obliged with an autograph, but I would imagine that this little loophole in public access will be closed for next year.

Those who managed to get into the inner sanctum included what seemed like half the CART field, and Juan Montoya, Mark Blundell, Roberto Moreno, Tony Kanaan and Gil de Ferran were among those evidence. Not seen yet but apparently in town were such as Prince Andrew and Antonio Banderas, as guests of Tommy Hilfiger. The local papers marvelled at how much money was being spent on their entertainment.

A nice touch late in the afternoon was a display of historic cars. For the past couple of years the Hockenheim organisers have rounded up a rather ropey collection of old F1 machines for a Sunday lunchtime display, but this made the German effort look like a little pathetic. Some wealthy American and Japanese motored round in some amazing machines. What was most impressive was the range of seventies cars in immaculate original liveries; somehow they looked a lot better than the cars we see racing in Europe. One Lotus 49 even had its original driver, none other than former privateer Pete Lovely. They ran for about five laps in a closely knit bunch, albeit behind the safety car, but at times it looked like one mistake might lead to a multi-million dollar pile-up.

Late in the day I bumped into Sid, an old pal from England. Sid has been a rock roadie for three decades, working with everyone from Paul McCartney to Frank Sinatra, but racing is his real passion. Having just finished a tour with AC/DC he managed to stop off at Indy on his way home.

While walking around the infield he inadvertently slipped through a gate he should not have been allowed through. He found himself in a tented area, and was pleasantly surprised when uniformed waitresses began offering him food and drink, so he decided to stay and enjoy the pleasant hospitality. Some hours later, as clearing up began, someone asked him why his £1000 Paddock Club pass was not on display. The answer was simple. He didn't have one...

Later we went to the Slippery Noodle Inn, supposedly Indiana's oldest bar and a legendary venue for live blues music. Downtown was buzzing, and the streets were jammed with stretch limos and couples taking rides in horsedrawn carriages. This wasn't just the race crowd, since a major country music concert was taking place at the basketball stadium and various street events added to the general buzz.

Sid knew someone working at the show, so we decided to check it out. As you might have guessed, he is a resourceful fellow, and by marching in and looking purposeful we got through layers of security behind the venue with no passes and no problem, all the way to the side of the stage. Very impressive...

We tend to forget that Indiana is farming territory, so country music reigns supreme. When I lived here in 1994 I can remember being dragged along to some bar to see 300 people line dancing. The concert was packed with 18,000 enthusiastic punters, most of them screaming females, and while I was not familiar with the bloke in the stetson at centre stage, they certainly were. Tim McGraw is apparently the new Garth Brooks, and he shared the bill with his other half, Faith Hill, whose name seemed vaguely familiar. Not my cup of tea really, but a jolly good show nevertheless.

We thought about staying to dig into the VIP food backstage, but Sid might have been pushing his luck. As it was getting late and an early start was required on Saturday, I decided to head home. All in all it had been a pretty interesting day, and nothing untoward had happened. Still, one felt that there were some questions to be answered about the suitability of the track. It was interesting to note that the cars ran right over the plastic white line on the banking that I told you about yesterday. It most definitely is going to be interesting if the cars have to run here in the wet...

Best regards,


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