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.