The World Endurance Championship (WEC) returned to the Circuit of the Americas track near Austin, along with the arrival of the TUDOR United Sportscar Championship, which formerly operated under separate guises as Grand-Am and the American Le Mans Series.
Touted as the "Lone Star Le Mans," the events promised better fields of cars and racing into the night — a first at the track.
Pictured: The class-winning SRT Viper GTLM driven by Jonathan Bamarito and Kuno Wittmer getting its post-race inspection.
The first race of the day was the TUDOR United Sportscar Championship Lone Star Le Mans. The amazing thing about this series is that the fans can get so close to the cars as they prepare to race, without special access.
Here, the two Porsche 911 RSRs run by Porsche North America queue in a line down the middle of the paddock, waiting to get to the grid before the race.
Last-minute preparations for the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 458 GTLM. We previewed the Houston-based team a couple of weeks before the race. They ended up finishing fourth in class.
Teams usually have "rollers," used-up tires used just for getting the car around the paddock. They put the race rubber on at the last possible moment.
The OAK Racing Ligier/Honda put on a strong performance, but came in second overall to the Ganassi Ford/Riley driven by Scott Pruitt and Memo Rojas.
Porsche had an elaborate display near the Austin360 Amphitheater, consisting of a Porsche 918 hybrid supercar, a 911 RSR and this 919 WEC LMP1 prototype.
For a lot of people, especially kids, the cars themselves are the entry point into following the series. Seeing them up-close like this is what brings people out to the track. Even in the paddock, most spectators can't get within 50 feet of a WEC LMP1 car, so Porsche stepped up the game with having one so accessible.
The 2-hour and 45-minute Lone Star Le Mans race came to a close during the hottest time of the day.
After a break between the races, the second event of the day geared up: The Six Hours of the Circuit of the Americas. The race began at 5 p.m. and ended at 11 p.m.
The spaceship-like Toyota TS 040 Hybrid LMP1 prototypes qualified fifth and first on the grid. This was the scene moments before the grid was cleared and the cars rolled off for the flying start.
In WEC, even the safety car is serious business. This is a V10 Audi R8 LMX.
WEC personnel await the start of the grueling six-hour endurance race.
As the sun set, the storm clouds rolled in. Rain started falling near Turn 11 and then across the entire track. In the chaos, multiple cars spun off track and the race was red flagged for 50 minutes until the conditions dried up.
When the shortened race resumed, night had fallen.
Seeing cars race through the night at COTA was spectacular and serene. And the rained cooled down the temperatures too.
Drivers in closed-cockpit cars had to fight fogging on the windscreens.
Seeing the rapidly-moving cones of illumination from the headlights gave the crowd a new sensation of speed. Seeing the lights changing direction through the bends was remarkable.
In the paddock, it was mostly quiet, as teams and drivers focused intently on the status of the cars racing on track.
The Extreme Speed Motorsports Patrón team made their FIA WEC debut and came away third in the LMP2 class — a fantastic result. After the race, the team announced it will be entering the next WEC race, the Six Hours of Shanghai.
After tuning in to the 24 Hours of Le Mans for years, wandering through the paddock at night was a spectacular experience. Just by being there, you feel as if you are a part of something.
When the checkered flag fell after 11 pm, the winner was the No. 2 Audi R18 e-tron Quattro driven by Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler, having completed 157 laps.
The event drew a two-day attendance total of more than 50,000 people. Now it has me wondering, how many other races can be run at COTA at night?