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Stewart compared some of the rolling topography and the challenging nature of the course to sections of the old Nurburgring in Germany. The first turn at the Circuit of the Americas is a hairpin left at the top of a 133-foot rise. Two-time defending champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull has called the circuit a “fun track.”

The Circuit of the Americas is the first facility in the U.S. designed specifically for Formula One, and the track has won high praise from officials and drivers all week.

“It’s the first time the U.S. has had something like this. I’m very impressed,” Stewart said.

Stewart said the return of the U.S. Grand Prix makes him optimistic for the future of the sport in the country it left for five years.

“It’s a great thing for Austin and for the U.S.,” Stewart said.


CELEBRITY SIGHTINGS: The first U.S. Grand Prix since 2007 brought out some of the world’s most famous and wealthiest.

“Star Wars” creator and filmmaker George Lucas strolled the paddock, where he stopped and shook hands with actor Patrick Dempsey before ducking into the McLaren team tent. Dempsey stopped to take pictures with fans before qualifying, as did actor Matt LeBlanc.

Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim was in the pit area during qualifying. The race is expected to draw several thousand fans from Mexico to support Mexican driver Sergio Perez, who is 10th in the driver standings and will jump from Sauber to McLaren in 2013.