Experience: A Vintage Racing Weekend with Zenith at the Circuit of the Americas. Simply an Unforgettable Experience. Part One of Two.

This past weekend, we were part of a select group of invitees —mainly collectors— invited by Zenith watches to be part of an amazing vintage racing experience at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. The Circuit of the Americas —COTA— is a FIA Formula One grade track with 20 turns, a length of 3.427 miles —5.515 km— and home to the Formula One United States Grand Prix since 2012. Additionally, the circuit also hosts the MOTO GP of the Americas, the Road Racing World Championship, the FIA Endurance Championship and the SVRA U.S. Vintage Racing Championship amongst others. This weekend's experience courtesy of Zenith, was far from average and one that we will hardly ever forget. Being the crazy Formula One fans that we are, setting foot in the actual track, was a long life dream that was about to come true. While the rainy weather wasn't optimal while riding on the Pace Car during the pace laps at the beginning of the race, riding inside a Jaguar F-Type R on this track, was simply unbelievable. As we prepared to take off for Austin we geared up with our Barbour and the new Zenith El Primero Sport released earlier this year and which we reviewed here. As soon as we landed in Austin, we headed straight to COTA and literally, without any time to even take a quick drink, we were already inside the Pace Car awaiting for the SVRA U.S. Vintage Racing Championship race to begin.

As regular attendees to Formula One Grand Prix races at COTA and other tracks, this was something we were yet to do. Riding in the Pace Car or the Safety Car at a major racing competition is a privilege and quite an experience. Once the Pace Car headed into the track, we knew this was going to be a very special weekend. As the Pace Car accelerated up the 133-foot climb up to the signature Turn 1 —located at the top of the starting line—, we only could think of names like Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel taking that first tight turn in their pole positions.

Perhaps the best part of the Pace Car experience was to feel the g-forces —relatively lower at the speed we were going— that drivers are exposed to while going two or three times faster than we were, while racing on this track. Below you will find pictures of the long straight between turn 11 and 12 —after the straight you come from a 150 mph to almost a stopping point at 35 mph—, turn 12, the the 13 and 14 's' going into turn 15 —our favorite spot in the track to watch the Formula One Grand Prix—, turn 15 itself and then 16, 17, 18 and 19. Seeing the racing cars following us on the mirror, was just out of this world.

After three pace laps and one of the most amazing experiences in our watch collecting life, it was time for us to get back to the Paddock and head over to a relatively short auto cross circuit —very Top Gear looking and feeling— to test drive the new 2016 Jaguar F-Type R. The new Jaguar F-Type R is an all wheel drive super machine that boasts 550 hp with its supercharged V8 5.0 liter engine, capable of reaching 0-60 mph in less than four seconds. Yes, ladies and gentleman, only 0.6 seconds slower than a Porsche GT3. As we drove the Jaguar with the pedal to the metal, our initial thoughts we that we could go from Porsche to Jaguar thanks to this car. We'll keep you posted on that front.

After bringing our adrenaline levels to the max, when then headed back to the Paddock garages to do some photography. As we got there, we were able to enjoy 145 classic cars to be auctioned thru the weekend during the Motostalgia Auction. Some of the automobiles that were in the paddock area included 72 American Classics from the Charlie Thomas Collection, a couple of Jaguar E-Type cars from 1969 —the same year Zenith presented El Primero, the first ever integrated automatic chronograph movement, capable of measuring times to the nearest tenth of a second, thanks to its 36,000 vph frequency—, a stunning 1964 Ferrari 250 Le Man —not for sale—, a 1960 Jaguar MK IX four-door saloon, a 1967 Maserati Mexico Coupe, a 1973 De Tomaso Pantera Coupe, a couple DeLorean DMC-12 and a Ferrari Testarossa from 1990 just to name a few.

After checking out all the classics that were on the back of the paddock, when then decided to head into the garages to check some of the vintage racing teams from the SVRA —Sportscar Vintage Racing Association— that were competing that day and the next day. Over the past two years, the SVRA U.S. Vintage Racing National Championship has grown to become one of the most popular vintage and historic racing events in the country. In 2015, more than 400 competitors from around the world have come together to compete for a National Championship in 11 different race groups.

Some of these vintage racing cars include classic vintage Porsches, old F1 cars like Gerhard Berger's Team Benetton from the 1990s, McLaren Can-Am cars, cars from the 24 Hours of Le Mans Classic, Indy cars, F3 cars and other open-wheel formula racing cars amongst others.

Afterwards, we headed to the Media Center of the Circuit of the Americas were some of the most legendary drivers of the SVRA U.S. Vintage Racing Championship were receiving their medals and nothing else than a Zenith El Primero Chronomaster 1969 as a memento for their racing accomplishments. Watches were presented by Cedric Laroche, Zenith's Brand Director for North America. At that time, we were ready to celebrate in good old Austin fashion with a Tito's Vodka straight up neat, but not before we could get our usual collective wrist shot with Cedric and the drivers.

As you all can see, the first day of this exciting vintage racing weekend was nothing but simply amazing and extremely memorable. After wrapping up the watch ceremony at the Circuit of the Americas, we then headed to our hotel to freshen up and hit the town as we watchlifestylers like to do it. That evening, we were treated by Zenith to a delicious special dinner at FIXE Austin, one of Austin's best new restaurants. This upscale restaurant, lead by Chef James Robert —a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute in Burlington, Vermont and with experience at Boston’s L’Espalier and Eddie V’s—, Keith House —front of the house at Atlanta’s Pano’s and Paul’s—, and Chef de Cuisine Zach Hunter —Chef de Partie at Mugaritz and R&D at Uchi and Uchiko—, brings the best of the Southern cuisine in an upscale and creative way. Besides amazing steaks and seafood, the restaurant also serves Southern classics likegrits, biscuits and even deviled eggs with fermented cabbage, smoked trout roe and grated ham. For more info on FIXE Austin click here. As the Negronis started to flow and a Campari cheers took place here and there, we were seated in one of the private dinning rooms at the restaurant. A delicious, well thought menu awaited us, and the night had just began.

As we left the restaurant, looking forward to finding out what Austin's party hype is all about, we took one last collective wristshot and let the night drift away, in preparation of the surprises that were in store the next day at the Circuit of the Americas. Thank you Zenith for such a unbelievable first day at COTA.

Part two of this watch experience, coming up tomorrow. Stay tuned!

To be continued...

For more info on Zenith click here.