Across the whole of Austin, Texas you’ll see bumper stickers and T-shirts proclaiming the slogan: ‘Keep Austin Weird.’ It’s a city that certainly lives up to that adjective. In the conservative Texan state, Austin is known for its liberal-thinking attitudes, green credentials, technology industries and live music bars populated by college students. And in keeping with that philosophy, the city is set to embrace F1 racing — the high-octane, global motorsport we’ve discussed in our Introduction to F1 Racing feature that certainly has its fair share of quirks.
Speak to anyone involved in F1 and they’ll tell you that the Nov. 16-18 United States Grand Prix in Austin will be a success. The popularity of the event will be more akin to the races held in Melbourne and Montreal — with huge, knowledgeable crowds ready to embrace and support the drivers and their technologically-advanced machines. F1 has yet to gain a successful foothold in North America, as previous attempts have fallen flat, but this year’s race could change everything.
Photo Credit: hyku – flickr.com
F1 has not visited the U.S. since 2007, when races took place at the fabled Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A 2005 problem with Michelin tires that left just six cars able to race contributed to the decision to not schedule F1 racing in 2008 at Indianapolis.
Prior to Indy, there were unsuccessful F1 attempts on the streets of other American cities. A round of the championship in downtown Phoenix inspired nobody. Races in the early ’80s in the car park of the Caesar’s Palace hotel in Las Vegas were insipid. The Grand Prix never truly had a place it could call home in the U.S.
Until now, that is. The recent construction of the $200 million Circuit of The Americas, the first truly spectacular state-of-the-art F1 facility to be built in the U.S., is set change the course of F1 history. The original investor for the venue was Red McCombs, a billionaire NBA and NFL team-owner, who teamed up with Texan promoter Tavo Hellmund (no longer associated with the project).
Photo Credit: mrlaugh – flickr.com
The sleek 3.4-mile, 20-turn, anticlockwise undulating circuit was designed by German engineer and auto racer Hermann Tilke. It took 18 months to complete at a site known as Wandering Creek, situated close to the airport and just five miles southeast of downtown Austin.
And what a circuit it is. Turn 1 is the showpiece corner, where drivers must navigate a 113-foot incline, braking from over 200 mph and in just two seconds slowing to just 40 mph, before accelerating again for a sequence of corners that mirror the thrilling Becketts and Maggots complex found at the historic British Silverstone circuit.
Turns 16 to 18 will mimic the famous high-speed Turn 8 at Istanbul Park in Turkey — testing both driver and car.
Nothing was left to chance in the Circuit Of The America’s construction. A soil doctor was commissioned to study the drainage and landscape design for the top two inches of asphalt, and he was just one of 500 workers who helped ensure the track was ready for its official opening on October 21, when the legendary Mario Andretti completed a demonstration lap of the COTA Tarmac at the wheel of a Lotus F1 car.
“It’s everything I expected and more,” Andretti said afterwards to CircuitoftheAmericas.com. “It has all the features that you are looking for, giving you the opportunity to overtake, while negotiating some tighter corners. You can tell a lot of thought has gone into it.”
Over 120,000 fans will be able to pack into the track’s permanent and semi-permanent grandstands during Grand Prix weekend. The venue will also feature a state-of-the-art medical facility, a conference center, a 250-foot observation tower, 14 executive meeting suites, a banquet hall and an expansive outdoor live music space that will hold free concerts throughout the event. Music-loving Austin locals are sure to be satisfied.
The local green community is also pleased that the 900-acre site complies with the city’s environmental standards. Circuit of The Americas is a member of the Green Sports Alliance and has appointed its own sustainability director.
When it’s all said and done, the upcoming United States Grand Prix will thrill millions of F1 enthusiasts watching around the world, as well as the diehard fans who will overtake the Texan capital to enjoy the spectacle of the race in person. We can only hope these spectators will do their best to keep Austin weird.
Cover Photo Credit: jwunrow – flickr.com