Alpinestars hosted a Formula 1 party outside its base in Torrance, Calif., last weekend, with a giant screen showing NBC Sports' debut as America's new TV channel for live coverage of the F1 Australian Grand Prix.
Despite the race starting at 11 p.m. local time and despite slightly chilly conditions, some 120 people turned out to eat burritos, drink coffee, talk racing and then get wrapped up in the start of the new F1 season (check out the photo gallery ABOVE). When Red Bull Racing's Mark Webber launched from the grid with the alacrity of a dozing snail, we all held our breath in anticipation of a nasty chain reaction further down the grid and, seconds later, there were worried murmurs as the field funneled into the first turn (aren't there always?). But the F1 drivers generally behaved themselves, and the crowd sighed with relief that no, the race was not going to get stopped, delayed and restarted.
Thereafter, you'd expect that in a group of 100-plus people, allegiances would be mixed and fan favorites would emerge. Yet, remarkably, every overtaking maneuver was cheered and approved, the brief battles between Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen, and also between Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, proving particular highlights. The NBC Sports commentary team's translation of what Alonso said over the radio after being balked by a Caterham driver – “We'll kill him later” – got the biggest laugh of the night, while Raikkonen's 20th F1 victory won pretty much everyone's approval. Despite his less-than-verbose dialog and less-than-animated demeanor, the Lotus-Renault ace is clearly as much a cult hero here as anywhere else in the F1-mad world; the fact that he's an Alpinestars-sponsored driver was the cherry on the cake, in the very early hours of Sunday morning.
During ad breaks – of which it must be said, there were too many in the first half of the race – the Alpinestars MC Chris Hull for the evening pulled attendees' names out of a drum, and they won free gear or free RACER subscriptions.
No official confirmation yet of when the next such race night will occur, but we'll keep you posted and urge you to come along if you're in the area. Watching exciting racing with a lot of people who have a pure love of the sport is a gratifying way to spend a Saturday night. Thank you Alpinestars… and, by proxy, NBC Sports and Formula 1.
David Malsher, editor, RACER