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|Home of the world championships|
Aerial photo of the Circuit of the Americas.
|Location||Travis County, Austin, Texas|
|Time zone||UTC−6 / −5 (DST)|
|Broke ground||January 2, 2011|
Miró Rivera Architects
|Major events||FIA Formula One
United States Grand Prix (from 2012)
FIM Road Racing World Championship
Grand Prix of the Americas (from 2013)
FIA World Endurance Championship
6 Hours of Circuit of the Americas (from 2013)
Austin 400 (from 2013)
American Le Mans Series (from 2013)
Rolex Sports Car Series
Grand-Am of the Americas (from 2013)
|Grand Prix Circuit (2012-present)|
|Length||3.427 mi (5.513 km)|
|Lap record||1:39.347 (Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing, 2012)|
Circuit of the Americas often abbreviated as COTA is a 3.427-mile (5.515 km) motor racing circuit near Austin, Texas. It hosted the Formula One United States Grand Prix on November 18, 2012, the penultimate round of the 2012 season. The circuit will also host the Texas Motorcycle Grand Prix, a round of the Road Racing World Championship—commonly known as MotoGP—in addition to the Australian V8 Supercars series, the FIA World Endurance Championship, the American Le Mans Series, and the Rolex Sports Car Series, all of which will make their debuts at the circuit in 2013.
The circuit and Grand Prix were first proposed in the middle of 2010. The circuit was the first in the United States to be purpose-built for Formula One. The layout was conceived by promoter Tavo Hellmund and 1993 Motorcycle World Champion Kevin Schwantz with the assistance of German architect and circuit designer Hermann Tilke, who has also designed the Sepang, Shanghai, Yas Marina, Istanbul, Bahrain, Yeongam, and Buddh circuits, as well as the reprofiling of the Hockenheimring and Fuji Speedway. The Grand Plaza, Observation Structure, Tower Amphitheater, and Main Grandstand were designed by Austin-based architectural firm Miró Rivera Architects.
In a news conference on July 27, 2010, Tavo Hellmund announced plans to build the track on about 890 acres (3.6 km2) of undeveloped land in southeastern Travis County. The majority of the site was previously planned for a residential subdivision called "Wandering Creek". In the same news conference, Hellmund also revealed that Texas billionaire Red McCombs was the project's largest investor. McCombs wished to call the site "Speed City", but the owners originally anticipated selling the naming rights to various parts of the facility for $7 million. On April 12, 2011, the track's name was announced as "Circuit of the Americas" at a press conference. The circuit homologation design was submitted to the FIA in Geneva for approval on December 17, 2010. HKS, Inc. and Tilke Engineers & Architects designed the track and Austin Commercial, a subsidiary of Austin Industries, was the general contractor. Construction began on December 31, 2010, and was due to be complete by June 2012. Following a stop-work order in December 2011, the completion date was revised to August. The first tasks were building the silt fences, taking core samples, and shredding existing vegetation.
On January 21, 2011, a $900,000 check was posted with Travis County that permitted grading to begin. The money was to be used to restore the land if FEMA declined to allow the project to move forward because part of the site lies in a floodplain. FEMA issued a letter on June 28, 2011, stating the project meets its floodplain management criteria.
In January 2012, Travis County announced that Elroy Road—one of the two primary public access roads to the circuit—would receive an upgrade to handle the volume of incoming traffic, but not before the running of the 2012 race. At the time of the announcement, the unstable clay soils under the road surface had caused Elroy Road to gradually buckle and shift, necessitating the upgrade.
On June 13, 2012, Charlie Whiting—the FIA-appointed Race Director for Formula One—declared himself satisfied with the circuit's construction, scheduling a final pre-race inspection of the circuit for September 25, sixty days before the first race, which the circuit later passed.
The first layer of asphalt was completed on August 3, 2012. Construction began laying the final layer of asphalt on August 14, and was finished on September 21. The track was officially opened on October 21, with Mario Andretti running the ceremonial first laps in a Lotus 79, the car he drove when he became the last American to win the World Drivers' Championship in 1978.
In an episode of Speed TV's Wind Tunnel program broadcast on August 22, 2010, Tavo Hellmund revealed that the circuit would be 3.4 miles (5.5 km) long and would be made up of twenty turns with an elevation change of 133 feet (41 m). The final plan of the circuit was released on September 1, 2010, showing a design inspired by the European tradition of sculpting the circuit to the contours of the land. The design draws from several European Formula One circuits, including a recreation of Silverstone's Maggotts-Becketts-Chapel sequence, Hockenheim's arena bends, and a replica of Istanbul's Turn Eight. Other corners were loosely inspired by the Senna 'S' at Interlagos and the Österreichring's Sebring-Auspuffkurve. A feature of the circuit is a deliberate widening of corners, to encourage drivers to follow multiple racing lines. A similar feature was used at the Buddh International Circuit in India, where the circuit widens on the approach to certain corners.
The circuit will be one of only a handful on the 2012 calendar to be run counter-clockwise, the others being Marina Bay, the Korea International Circuit, Yas Marina, and Interlagos. Because of this, the circuit contains more left-hand turns than right-hand ones, placing greater physical demands on the drivers whose bodies, particularly their necks, are more adapted to the lateral g-forces of clockwise circuits.
From the start line, the cars will climb to the first corner—the highest point of the circuit—with the apex of the corner positioned on the crest of the hill. They will descend back down the hill to navigate a series of fast sweepers modeled on Silverstone's Maggotts-Becketts-Chapel complex and through a blind corner at Turn 10, taking them to the far end of the circuit and a hairpin at Turn 11. The cars will then follow a 0.62-mile (1.00 km) straight back towards the pit and paddock area before entering the final sector of the lap and weaving through a series of corners modeled on Hockenheim's stadium section. This will be followed by a downhill, multi-apex corner with limited run-off before the final two corners of the circuit, a pair of left-hand bends that return the cars to the main straight.
The reception from drivers ahead of the inaugural race was highly positive. Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton both praised the circuit, suggesting that it would be considerably more difficult to learn than other recent additions to the Formula One calendar. Jenson Button described the first sector as "spectacular", but remarked that he felt that starting second would be better than starting first as the placement of pole position put it on a steeper incline than the rest of the grid. Kamui Kobayashi, on the other hand, was less complimentary, claiming that he did not feel intimidated by the steep climb to the first corner as it was no different to Eau Rouge at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, and accusing the media of hyping it up without precedent. Mark Webber was also unimpressed, stating that while he enjoyed driving the first sector of the circuit, the second and third sectors were similar to other circuits on the calendar.
Major features on site
Bordered by the track on three sides, the Grand Plaza is a 20 acres (0.081 km2) space designed by Miró Rivera Architects of Austin, Texas that includes a large reflecting pool, lawn, and varying landscape zones. A promenade along the north side of the Grand Plaza hosts concessions, retail, restroom facilities, and entrances to spectator seating. From the southeast end of the Grand Plaza, two pedestrian bridges cross over turns 16 and 3 to provide access for visitors to other areas of the circuit complex.
Circuit of the Americas features a 251 feet (77 m) observation tower designed by Miró Rivera Architects and built by Patriot Erectors as a landmark for the venue. The structure of the tower consists of an elevator hoist-way surrounded by a double-helix staircase of 419 stairs, both of which lead to an observation platform 230 feet (70 m) above ground level. The platform provides a 360-degree panorama of the circuit, as well as views to downtown Austin, Texas. The observation platform, which is accessible to the public for an admission fee, can accommodate up to 70 visitors and features glass railings and a partial glass floor. In addition, a "veil" consisting of 18 bright red steel tubes runs nearly the full height of the tower, acting as a canopy for both the observation platform and the stage below. The design of the observation tower was inspired by the visual imagery of sports cars and movement, and the red color was selected to mimic the streaks of lights trailing racecars at night.
On July 23, 2012, COTA announced a booking agreement with Live Nation to book major concerts at an open air amphitheater to be built at the base of the observation tower. Designed by Miró Rivera Architects, the venue is scheduled to be ready in April 2013. The amphitheater will accommodate up to 14,000 people with 5,240 permanent reserved seats. Another 1,700 seats can be configured on the stage-front floor. The remaining general admission spots are on a sloping grass area behind the reserved seats. The venue was originally going to be called Tower Amphitheater, but in March 2013, was renamed to Austin360 Amphitheater.
The primary permanent seating at Circuit of the Americas is located within the Main Grandstand, designed by Miró Rivera Architects. Above-ground construction on the grandstand began in March 2012, and the "topping out" occurred in June 2012 with completion in time for the inaugural United States Grand Prix.
The Main Grandstand is 65 feet (20 m) tall, and has a total capacity of approximately 9,000 spectators. The seating is divided into three levels: lower level (capacity ~5400, including Loge Boxes), club level (capacity ~2900), and suite level (capacity ~750). The majority of seating is covered by a tensile fabric canopy. The primary structure is 500 feet (150 m) long, while the lower risers extend an additional 500 feet. The grandstand also contains concessions, restrooms, offices, and two lounge spaces located at the second and third levels. The Velocity Lounge on the second level is approximately 7,100 square feet (660 m2), and contains a 36-screen video wall and the acrylic painting "Velocity" by Dallas-based artist Christopher Martin measuring 120 feet (37 m) in length .
Both the Main Grandstand and the concessions buildings in the Grand Plaza were conceived as a modular system consisting of several components that can be arranged according to need. The concessions, with banners and deep canopies, can be expanded with restrooms, permanent seating or suites. Inherent to this “kit-of-parts” construction system is flexibility allowing the site to grow and change.
City endorsement and lawsuit
In order for the race to take place, the Austin city council was asked to be the sponsoring municipality for the event. Through being a sponsor, the city could apply for money from a state fund, the Major Events Trust Fund (METF), designed to attract major sporting events to Texas that would be used to pay the Formula One race sanctioning fee. This matter was complicated by opponents of the project who filed a lawsuit against state comptroller Susan Combs, claiming that she had promised the funding to the circuit without having been legally authorized to do so, though authorities have responded stating that all necessary guidelines had been followed. On July 1, 2011, a state district court judge declined to enter a temporary restraining order against Combs preventing payments from the METF. The attorney for the project's opponents has stated that he is unsure if they will continue pursuing the lawsuit.
In June 2011, the Austin city council endorsed the United States Grand Prix by a vote of 5–2. As a part of the endorsement, the sport will pay $15,000 in carbon offsets and $5 million to establish an on-site research project into environmentally friendly technologies.
Breach of contract and reinstatement
In November 2011, Bernie Ecclestone expressed what he called "minor" doubt over the future of the United States Grand Prix in Austin after "disagreements inside the [management] company". These issues were later confirmed when construction of the circuit came to a halt because of a dispute between the circuit owners, promoter Full Throttle Productions, and Formula One Management. Promoter Tavo Hellmund admitted that his company had been in breach of its contract with Formula One Management since May 2011. The situation further escalated when state comptroller Susan Combs described the planned Grand Prix of America as a threat to the race in Texas, and said that the first $25 million payment from the state sports fund would only be made available after the first Grand Prix at the circuit, despite having previously promised to make the funds available in time for the inaugural event. Bernie Ecclestone later issued an ultimatum to the owners and organizers: find a solution before the December 7 meeting of the FIA World Motorsport Council or else risk being removed from the 2012 calendar. Ecclestone emphasized that if the Circuit of the Americas were removed from the calendar, it would not be added again at a later date.
On December 7, 2011, the World Motorsport Council released the final calendar for the 2012 season, with the Circuit of the Americas retaining its November 18 date. Further details revealed that the race investors, McCombs and Epstein, had reached a new arrangement with Ecclestone, with work on the circuit scheduled to resume immediately. As a part of the arrangement, organizers paid the sanctioning fee for the 2012 race one year in advance as a show of good faith. At the time of the circuit's reinstatement, there were no reports supporting Tavo Hellmund's continued involvement under the new contract. On 4 March 2012, The Austin American-Statesman reported that Hellmund had launched legal proceedings against investors Bobby Epstein and Red McCombs, with Hellmund claiming that he was still a part of the management company and had not been paid since September. Further details emerged, reporting that Hellmund was in the process of attempting to acquire Epstein's interest in the company, describing the condition of the circuit as of 4 March as "teetering". Epstein responded to the lawsuit by stating that Hellmund had been found to have been in breach of contract by Formula One Management.
In June 2012, the dispute between Hellmund and Epstein was reported to have been settled out of court.
Dispute over planned MotoGP race
In April 2011, plans were unveiled by Tavo Hellmund of Full Throttle Productions and Kevin Schwantz of 3fourTexas for the circuit to host a round of the 2013 MotoGP World Championship, with the race to be known as the Texas Grand Prix. The race was the brainchild of Schwantz, the circuit co-designer, who would serve as event promoter with his company, 3fourTexas. However, following the settlement of the lawsuit between Tavo Hellmund and Bobby Epstein, Schwantz announced that he would be suing Steve Sexton. Schwantz claimed that upon the resolution of the dispute between Hellmund and Epstein, Sexton moved to negotiate directly with MotoGP's commercial rights holder, Dorna Sports, ignoring what he claimed was an existing contract between Dorna and 3fourTexas to hold the race. Circuit representatives denied that there was ever a contract between Schwantz and the Circuit of the Americas, and that his dispute was with Dorna Sports. Dorna later claimed that although a contract for the race between Dorna and Schwantz had existed, the contract had been terminated in July 2012 as they believed Schwantz had failed to acquire the necessary rights from the circuit to hold the race. Schwantz then accused Sexton and the Circuit of the Americas of "undermining" him, deliberately blocking his attempts to establish a race in order to have the contract terminated and allowing them to negotiate a more-favourable arrangement with Dorna.
In October 2012, Dorna Sports announced that they had come to agreeable terms with organisers of the Texas motorcycle Grand Prix, including the race on the 2013 calendar as the Motorcycle Grand Prix of the Americas, but made no mention of the dispute with Schwantz or any outcome of it.
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