Race against the Machines

Trip Start Apr 02, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Spain  , England,
Sunday, May 10, 2009

We got up for our second and final day in Barcelona with the butterfly feeling of nervous excitement. It was Grand Prix day and Ed and I were lucky enough and crazy enough to buy General Admission tickets for the day. We met Wally and Patricia and went to a nearby cafe for a spot of coffee, croissants and ham and cheese toastie for us (strangley called a 'Bikini' - is this a Spanish quirk I've missed?!). As we settled down to our Bikinis, I noticed many of the other people frquenting the cafe wer nursing beers or large drams of whiskey and chain-smoking. It was like we had stumbled into last night's activities, at 9am. Nevertheless, we gulped down the food and badly-needed coffee before repeating the previous day's stroll along the port front. The boats creeked as they rode the gentle current and we quietly strolled, passed only by the occasionally early-morning jogger.

The activity picked up as we neared La Rambla, and Ed and I decided it was time to head towards the race-track, a 30-minute train-ride outside of Barcelona. The train was filled with GP team colours and fans eagerly migrating towards the little town Montmelo where it racetrack is sited. On the train, I realised I hadn't printed out the bit on the ticket that said 'Print your tickets here', and prayed that an internet cafe would be open in the small town when we arrived (and that Ed wouldn't string me up by my ankles in the meantime :$).

So we arrived and ran around frantically hunting down an open internet cafe where we could print our tickets. We found one and it was eventually done, to my great relief and Ed's you-got-lucky-this-time glare. We ran up the road to enter the race track, perusing the hundreds of stalls selling Ferrari t-shirts and Renault caps as we passed, almost giving in to the temptation to buy a souvenir, but resisting.

However, wntry to the circuit itself got tricky, not least thanks to the incorrect directions given to us by the stewards directing traffic. We ran up and down the lenght of the road which engulfed the track, then forgot to read where we were meant to pick up our entry bands from, then ran back again and finally entered the track with no more than 20 minutes on the clock before the race was due to start. We got lucky at the gate though, as the marshall who checked our tickets said we had to dump the one tin of beer that could be seen in our picnic bag - but failed to check Ed's rucksack where we had another 7!!

The edge of the racetrack was fringed by groups with their sun brollies and picnics and we picked our way through to a corner and popped our bums down. Cars were alreay whizzing around the track on their warm-up lap and the roar of their engines utterly filled your ears - it was difficult to even hear one another shouting a few centimetres apart. After a loo break, Ed suggested taking a walk to find a better spot, and we eventually settled on a grassy bank where we could see in the distance the long stretch of the track up to the first corner, where the track disappeared and the cars looped around behind us, coming around a tight corner in front of us once again. It meant we could constantly see some action, and saw it all when Driver 2 (Barichello) overtook his team mate and race leader (Button). Everybody cheered, whooped and jumped for the first few laps, but eventually sat down and took more interest in their drinks and picnics than which car was where.

The atmosphere of race day was amazing, though Ed and I both later said one wouldn't go to actually watch the race as its difficult to really understand what's going on without Martin Brundle's commentary or the omniscient view of the track provided by hundreds of tv cameras. Nonetheless, we got tiddly, sunburnt and took lots and lots of photos and generally had a really good time. Until I broke Ed's snap-happy camera at the end (because he'd wandered off, I had thought I'd got away with dropping it until it started going all blinky :$) as we walked towards the grandstand and watch Button cross the line to take pole (well done, Brit!!). We sat on the hot and sweaty train back exhausted and wincing with the day's heat locked in my shoulders. We chatted away to other race-goers, comparing our experiences, before dismounting at Passeig de Gracia, Barcelona's main shopping street, and walking to meet Wally and Patricia.

We did a lot of walking. My feet were hurting and when we finally met Ed's parents we were happy to wolf down pizza before embarking on the long trip back to the airport, flying and landing in London late and then driving back to mine. All in all though, the Grand Prix WAS a once-in-a-lifetime that I'm grateful to have experienced and would highly recommend to anyone who has an interest in racing or just seeing the mother of all cars. And honestly, wear earplugs!!
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