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When the United States Grand Prix at Austin was announced last year, this was one of the first forum comments that I remember reading. More often than not, it seemed to come from people who either have never been to the Lone Star State or may have only visited one area where, very possibly, it could have been quite flat indeed. But if all of Texas is flat, then all Texans ride horses to work, saying “Howdy!” as we pass one another on the way to and from our daily cattle drives. And by the way, all of California is beachfront, all of New York State is one big skyscraper and every German can drive like Herr Schumacher. At least like Herr Schumacher used to.

Yesterday afternoon, as I stood atop the hill on which the newly christened Circuit of the Americas’ Turn 1 calls home, one thing was very clear; Texas is not all flat. I’m hoping that some of the pictures taken from this vantage point will do it’s exact height justice, but I really don’t think that they will. From it’s lowest point to it’s highest point, COTA will vary 133 feet (41 meters). Of current F1 tracks, this will be the third greatest elevation change behind only Spa and Suzuka. How’s that for flat? Okay, now that I’ve gotten that rant out of the way…

From the press conference just south of downtown Austin, we were loaded up on a shuttle and driven to the track’s construction site. I was under the impression that the circuit would be located some distance outside of the city, but this is really not the case at all. In fact, I think I read that the circuit is either 6 or 8 miles from downtown itself. In 5pm afternoon traffic, we were on site in half an hour at best.

Like those who claim that our state can be looked across from one end to the other with absolutely no vertical visual hindrances, there are more who, through their infinite knowledge of building timeframes and U.S. work ethics, state that a finished track in Austin will never see the light of day. I will never claim to be blessed with the ability to see into the future, or lack thereof, as some of my fellow F1 fans do, but I can tell you firsthand that, at least for one day, there were some busy people about that particular construction site.

Maybe it was for show, but I will leave that conspiracy theory to those who are so inclined. I personally was impressed with the progress that I saw yesterday. Please keep in mind that construction is just barely three months along and, should the race in Austin be paired with Canada in early June, then there are still fifteen long months to get the circuit and necessary amenities completed. Regardless of when the race is held, Tavo announced during the press conference that Bernie wants the track finished by June. So does that mean with Canada in early June?

For just being three months along, it appears that the several hundred acres that make up the circuit’s foot print have been completely cleared. Two large groups of construction vehicles were working along the front stretch/main grandstand area and what looked to be the Turn 12 and 15 area.

A general outline of the track was marked out with small wooden poles and, from this, I can tell you that the first turn is going to be very tight, much like La Source at Spa. From there, a short burst straight back down the hill will launch the cars before they turn right and head off into the distance.

I can only let the photos speak for themselves as much as they possibly can. I understand, I really do, that U.S. Formula One fans have been burned before, whether it be by way of tracks, teams or drivers. I’m sure, irregardless of what anyone tells them, there will be some out there who will still insist that they are right, they know everything and that this will never happen. Maybe one day you will be able to hold your head up high and tell everyone that you told them so. But having been on site yesterday, I left feeling good about the situation. Really, really good, in fact. Maybe one day next year, I will see those same pessimists in Austin, shake their hands and let them know that I hope they are enjoying their stay in Texas.

  • Ever since I was about 10 and read my first westerns – Including Zane Gray and his ilk I’ve known that Texas isn’t flat – and I’m from Ireland; never been to Texas, never seen the Alamo, the Rio Grande, San Antonio, The Badlands, Abilene, the Panhandle, the Great Plains, El Paso, the Pecos…

    And now a GP in Austin. Reason enough for a first visit to the Lone Star State? I think so!

    It’s very difficult to express elevational changes on camera though you’ve had a pretty good stab at it. I’ve got pictures which I took from the bottom of Eau Rouge and they just cannot even begin to do justice to the slope. Hopefully Austin comes to pass and is a great success – If any US State can buck the US F1 trend it’s Texas, a state with a long history of trailblazing!

  • Williams4Ever

    Tony – Thanks for the first hand, onsite report.

    As for the elevation changes go while everyone else will buy that the elevation changes exists, two F1Bers Todd&Skid seem to have 2D vision and cannot see the elevation and camber changes on the current F1 tracks.

    Of course in case of COTA, all we need to do is put them in a barrel and let the Barrel roll down the T1 corner, for them to feel the elevation change :D

  • Jack Flash

    Thanks Tony for the ‘Turn 1 vista’ on the developing COTA track in Austin. There is so much to look forward to, when a new track comes along with some elevation challenges (not like the recent Arab state ‘billiard table tracks’ recently added to the F1 world tour). 133 feet (40.5 metres) of elevation change at COTA track is a welcome 3rd-dimension that has too often got lost in recent track developments. Yes – I am staring at YOU!… Bahrain and Abu Dhabi!

    Spa-Farncorchamps, Suzuka, Monte Carlo, Interlagos, etc all have that extra racing charater and driver challenges in their combination of circuit layout and corner sequencing, but ALSO the factor of elevation and camber changes to add to the mix. Eau Rouge -…. aaahh oooh!

    Now, just to whet Fanatics of Formula 1 even more on the elevation dimesion of tracks; there appears a Aussie Icon on the horizon. An icon that Vodafone McLaren visited this year before the Melbourne GP, with Jenson Button and a Macca F1 car. BATHURST – the Aussie V8Supercar series ‘Alter of Racing’. A track with a 574 foot (175 metre) elevation change from pit-straight to the top of the mountain.

    Check out this YouTube vid to see a Formula 1 flying lap from Jenson Button in a McLaren: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4XVF3jJL5Q

    I dare fans to watch this Video, and not be moved.
    Elevation changes and camber changes – the third dimension – are the mark of epic race tracks for fans and racers alike.
    JF

    JF

    • Williams4ever

      Just coz the 3rd world countries don’t drum the “Elevation Change” doesn’t mean there ain’t any. Abu Dhabi I have not done track walk so can’t defend, but Bahrain, Sepang enough elevation changes and camber changes.

      Of course everything these days is customized to safety needs of F1, so we don’t see F1 cars on this gem of circuit http://youtu.be/t-K5MTMKuPQ
      The rush that one gets when car climbs up a hill and then suddenly goes down hill cannot be matched by any roller coaster ride….

      • Brands nearly replaced Silverstone and I have to say I’m a bit disappointed it didn’t happen…

        This new Austin track looks interesting though, hope it’s finished on time.

        • Williams4ever

          True, barring variable conditions (rains, temperature drop etc) Silverstone races have mostly been processional, and pole winners have won the races flag-flag, how much so every the fans may cry and include it in the classic circuits.

          I look forward to see if the new start finish section actually changes the races.

      • Jack Flash

        Yeah. I’ll cop that W4E. Bahrain Internation Circuit in F1 full 2009 endurance track has 60 foot (18 metre) of level changes. Normal F1 track 50 foot (16 metre). SO, not a ‘billiard table’ – just Dead Boring.
        http://www.bahraingp.com/en/circuits/grandprixtrack

        Yas Marina Circuit is what I should have named. Flat, and runoffs to the horizon.

        Brands Hatch UK, is a good level and camber graded circuit. Enjoyed the JYS video lap in the Tyrell.

        Speaking of good level/camber lements of race-tracks – isn’t that the thrust of why Laguna Seca’s “corkscrew” (amongst other track features) gets good fan reviews.
        JF

    • The Imperative Voice

      I think Mount Panorama/ Bathurst should be on the series.

      All fairness boring Yas Marina has a faux corkscrew F1 won’t use — that V8 does — so perhaps some of the tracks could be salvaged by simply using a different, challenging layout at the same place.

      Central Texas is soooo not flat and they better use that.

  • nofahz

    From my visit some years ago to the Austin area, I’d say that the site IS one of the flatter locations. Which makes it pretty hilly by most standards

    • F1derbar

      It’s true, the western part of the area is where it’s really hilly; it would have been fascinating to see a track nestled into the topography out there but proximity to the airport made that impossible (besides, the area is already being over-developed for residential use). Our state is so big there are parts that seem to be super-flat forever but Austin isn’t one of them.

  • Tony,

    My appreciation to you for posting the images….. and story, There has been a nagging doubt in the back of my head that this was all hype and not a reality. Your single image on top of turn one blew that all away.

    F! in US, and in Austin, Life could not get any better.

    BTW: I think Tavo is doing his project a disservice by not posting weekly image updates on his site showing the progress………

    • Tony Greene

      Glad you brought that up! I do believe that they’re in the process of putting in a live camera, located exactly atop the hill behind where I was standing, which will remain on 24/7!!

  • Hiram

    Let me say upfront, I’m a born and raised Texan, so perhaps a little biased on this subject; but there truly is something about Texas. Maybe it’s the undeniable size of this State, or that old ‘wildcatter’ – go for broke – mentality; but something about Texas encourages one to “dream big dreams’ not bothering to take council from the fears and misgivings of others.
    Austin Texas and the ‘Circuit of the Americas’ may not succeed; but let no one say it was because they dreamed too small.