WEEHAWKEN, N.J. – It isn't often that you get to speed through northern New Jersey at 100 mph and stop to pull a few screeching doughnuts in the middle of the street, all while a police escort hovers nearby to make sure no one interrupts your fun.
Proving that it is indeed good to be Formula One world champion, Sebastian Vettel took several spins, some with goggle-eyed passengers aboard, Monday around the roads of Weehawken and West New York that will serve as next year's Grand Prix of America course.
Cars are expected to reach speeds of 200 mph at next year's race. Vettel topped out at between 85 and 100 Monday, according to people who rode with him in an Infiniti IPL G Coupe provided for the occasion. Vettel's race car sat on the podium next to the Hudson River, with Manhattan as a backdrop.
The 23-year-old German immediately gave his blessing to the winding, 3.2-mile route that passes along the waterfront in front of the Port Imperial ferry terminal before going uphill and looping back down.
"It's a pretty steep uphill and there are some nice corners up there, which makes it really fun to drive," Vettel said. "It's truly unique. And this," he added as he pointed behind him to the Manhattan skyline, "is unreal."
Formula One racing returns to the U.S. this year after a five-year absence with a race in Austin, Texas. Indianapolis last hosted a race in 2007; before that, Phoenix hosted three grand prix from 1989 to 1991, while Watkins Glen in upstate New York hosted the F1 from 1961 to 1980.
Auto racing officials and Gov. Chris Christie last fall announced a 10-year agreement with the F1 series to hold the Grand Prix of America in New Jersey. Organizers expect 100,000 people to attend all or part of the three-day event.
Though construction has begun on a welcome center across from the ferry terminal and other preparations are ongoing, the race has yet to receive official confirmation that it has been added to the Formula One schedule for next June. A recent British report cast doubt as to whether organizers would pull it off.
Leo Hindery, a founding chairman and former CEO of the YES Network who is promoting the race, scoffed at the report and said he expected to get official confirmation later this month or by the first week of July.
"I don't know where these rumors are coming from, but this race is going forward," he said. "If we had any doubt we wouldn't have brought Sebastian and all these people here today."
Vettel sounded eager to tackle the course, which will be resurfaced over the next several months to conform to F1 standards. He said he envisioned possibly going faster than 200 mph on some stretches.
"Certainly the up and down aspect, with the elevation, that's something the drivers always enjoy," he said. "And you still have bumps built in even if you resurface, and that gives a little bit of soul to the course."