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Circuit of The Americas began the final countdown to the 2012 United States Grand Prix yesterday by officially christening its new, Grade 1 racing surface with a "first lap ceremony," featuring a collection of celebrity drivers, local dignitaries and VIP clients, and a sampling of the types of race cars that will compete at the Circuit during the 2013 season. The invitation-only event was presented by Pirelli and featured members of the Lotus F1 Team.
It was a day of exploration and celebration at the facility, which is nearing completion and will host its first F1 event next month. The Circuit's official ambassador-and former world champion driver-Mario Andretti cut a black-and-white chequered banner that crossed the starting grid before taking to the circuit in a Lotus 79 - the car in which he won his World Championship. The anticipation on the legendary driver's face was evident as he settled into the familiar vehicle, sped past the pit lane and raced up the steep, 133-foot climb leading to the Circuit's signature first turn.
"It's everything I expected and more," said Andretti after his first practice laps. "The track is phenomenal. It has all the features that you are looking for, giving you the opportunity to overtake, while negotiating some tighter corners. You can tell a lot of thought has gone into it."
Andretti, who is the last American driver to win the Formula One World Championship in 1978, relished the chance to check out the full circuit, which he did in numerous laps in a variety of cars. Andretti was originally scheduled to drive a modern Lotus F1 Team car, the R30, on the track; however, after technical issues were experienced during the initial laps conducted by test driver Jerome D'Ambrosio, the car was unable to run for the remainder of the day.
Following his time on the track, d'Ambrosio was also excited about the circuit and the forthcoming Grand Prix.
"It's been a great day today. There's a real buzz about the Circuit of The Americas and it was fantastic to get out on track to demonstrate the R30," said the Belgian. "It's a very enjoyable layout with a couple of really good places for overtaking, some long fast sweeping 'S' corners, and some really good high speed changes of direction like 'Becketts' in Silverstone. It was a shame not to get more laps, as an engine issue meant we were unable to continue running, but I had enough time to get a really good feel of the circuit. It's an enjoyable track for a racing driver and also fantastic for the fans as the viewing areas are very well placed; there should be plenty of action.
"The first corner is quite special and it will be interesting to see it when people are dicing for position in the race. Austin is a superb city with a great atmosphere, and I think the city will live around Formula 1 for the week of the Grand Prix and that's something we all can enjoy; it's really going to be something quite special."
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