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Need for Speed: Vegas Gets Its Own GP During November’s F1 Main Event

Las Vegas Guide LA Times April 2023
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Crooners and Sin City legends. World famous rock bands. Even memorable movie characters (be they committing capers or piecing together a wild night out). There’s one thing they all had in common: All of them cruised the Las Vegas Strip.

Soon to be added to the list are Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc. Because Formula One motor racing is returning to Sin City, November 16-18, at the Heineken Silver Las Vegas Grand Prix.

It’s well-known that Formula One long coveted a return to the U.S. market after decades of promising-yet-lower-attendance events at various tracks (and even an entire decade when there was no race in the States). The lucrative 2012 resurrection of the U.S. Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin proved that Formula One could thrive (and survive) on this side of the Atlantic.

Success in Texas – and the popularity of the Netflix series “Drive to Survive” – sparked the birth of the 2022 Miami Grand Prix, which seemed to draw even more attention (and A-list celebrities) than the 2012 version. That in turn convinced the motor racing leadership that Las Vegas could be an even bigger hit.

As a prelude to last year’s Miami race, Formula One Group CEO Stefano Domenicali said the Florida city was an “ideal” venue for a grand prix because of its high energy and multicultural demographics. “The DNA of Formula One is all about entertainment,” he added.

As the “Entertainment Capital of the World” and a city that loves to party, Las Vegas has all that … in “spades.” Plus, it has the added advantage of being within easy reach of Los Angeles and the movie and music luminaries that Formula One adores. Thus, placing a race in the southern Nevada city was a no-brainer.

Plus, this won’t be the last. This year’s Grand Prix is the first of three straight Las Vegas races sanctioned by Formula One. Meanwhile, in more good news for the event’s future, the Clark County Commission that governs the area where the race takes place passed a motion in early February that grants official approval of the event until 2032.

The cars will speed along a 3.8-mile street circuit that includes Las Vegas Boulevard (a.k.a. The Strip), Harmon Avenue, Rochelle Avenue, Koval Lane, Westchester Drive and Sands Avenue. The start/finish line and pits, as well as the main grandstands, will be positioned along Harmon Avenue between Top Golf and the Harbor Island Apartments.

The street course layout elevates the Las Vegas event to the esteemed level of other Formula One urban circuits around the world, including Marina Bay in Singapore, Albert Park in Melbourne, and Baku City Circuit in Azerbaijan.

Unlike other Formula One races that normally take place on Sunday, the Vegas version will happen on Saturday evening. While there will be plenty of seating along the track, anyone who has booked a room on the race-side of hotels like Paris, The Bellagio, Treasure Island or the Venetian and Palazzo will have a bird’s-eye-view of the frantic action in the streets below.

Drivers will be able to push their sophisticated high-tech vehicles to speeds as high as 212 miles per hour on the straightaways during the 50-lap race.

Given his success over the past two Formula One seasons, Red Bull driver Verstappen will likely be favored. But other top drivers like Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) and Sergio Perez (Red Bull) shouldn’t be counted out.

Meanwhile, North Carolina-based Haas Racing – with cars piloted by Denmark’s Kevin Magnussen and Germany’s Nico Hulkenberg – will be looking to make a mark as the only American F1 team.

What’s lost in all the hype about the new Las Vegas Grand Prix is the fact this won’t be the city’s first rodeo when it comes to Formula One racing – in fact, they’ve done it once before!

The Caesars Palace Grand Prix of 1982 also navigated a street course that included The Strip. Legendary French driver and four-time world champion Alain Prost captured pole position in a turbocharged Renault. But it was Italian Michele Alboreto piloting a Tyrell-Ford who ultimately won the race.

They may not have made the podium, but the 1982 race also included a who’s who of legendary Formula One drivers including Nikki Lauda, Nigel Mansell, Mario Andretti, Nelson Piquet and Keke Rosberg.

The Caesars Palace race was never run again. But it set a precedent of racecars zooming down The Strip, and 40 years later, it is finally being realized again. ♠

-Joe Yogerst

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