Weehawken, New Jersey: Formula One racers compete against some of the world's fastest drivers. Now, they're taking on New Jersey roads.
Defending Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel drove a 3.2-mile (5.15-kilometer) course in Weehawken and West New York to demonstrate the planned route for next year's Grand Prix of America race.
Some roads were closed near the northern New Jersey waterfront as Vettel toured the route on Monday.
Race organizers say the roads weren't properly surfaced yet for Vettel to take the kind of car that can reach speeds of up to 200 mph (322 kph).
Vettel topped out at between 85 (137 kph) and 100 (160 kph) on 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 driver immediately gave his blessing to the winding circuit 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 Grands Prix from 1989 to 1991, while Watkins Glen in upstate New York hosted the F1 from 1961 to 1980.
The Grand Prix of America is expected to be held in New Jersey for the next 10 years, with organizers expecting 100,000 people to attend all or part of the three-day annual 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 rumours 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 (322 kph) 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."