AUSTIN (KXAN) — You can pay a whole lot of money to sit at the best turn or in the fanciest suite, but you’re still not going to have a view like 16-year-old Austin native Ryan Shehan has of the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix race weekend.
Shehan is racing at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) for the Formula 4 United States Championships. He’ll bump elbows with the best drivers in the sport.
“It’s amazing,” Shehan told KXAN after wrapping up a qualifying race Saturday afternoon. “The first time I came here (COTA), before I even started, I saw a sports car race and was like ‘yeah, that’s what I want to do.'”
Shehan’s dad Doug remembers sitting in the stands at the very place Shehan was racing this weekend when his young son looked over and said “I want to be a racecar driver.” Unlike most kids, he meant it, and he was willing to put the work in to get there.
That conversation with his dad at COTA led Shehan to go-kart racing during his elementary school years. Last November he got the call and transitioned to Formula 4 which is designed to help junior drivers accelerate through the ranks to Formula 1.
An Austin audience
Over the past few years, the fan base for open-wheel racing has overwhelmingly gone up. In 2019, Netflix released a documentary series called ‘Formula 1: Drive to Survive.’ It drew significant attention to the sport, particularly in the United States.
Shehan says that uptick in love for the sport is something he is hoping to capitalize on as more American drivers like him enter the field. And as racing in Austin becomes more popular, he hopes he’ll have more support from local companies and Texas fans.
“Americans recently have been making more strides in F1,” Shehan said. “I think it’s amazing, more F1 fans means more people sharing my love for the sport.”
Making Austin a hub for racing is something COTA Chairman Bobby Epstein has been trying to do for the better part of a decade. COTA opened its doors in 2012 with an eye towards F1.
“I’m sure they called us a lot of things at the time but we knew we had the right city for it,” Epstein said Friday.
COTA says the race this weekend is sold out. Throughout the course of the weekend, they anticipate just under 400,000 people will be there.
For Shehan, that’s sure a big stage, but one he hopes will only get bigger as he works towards his ultimate goal of being one of the F1 drivers hundreds of thousands of people came out to see this weekend.
“You just gotta go and not really look at the crowd but it is cool,” Shehan said.