Tour of Circuit of The Americas – Part 1

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About a month ago, Barb came home from one of her Monday outings with the UT SAGE group that meets on The University of Texas campus, and said that there was going to be a tour of the new Circuit of The Americas race track. She also said that spouses were welcome, and wanted to know if I was interested. I probably thought about it for, oh maybe 2 seconds, and said “Wow! Hell yes, I’m interested!”. So Barb got us both signed-up, and the tour was this past Thursday, April 25, 2013.

For those who don’t already know, Circuit of The Americas was recently constructed just southeast of Austin specifically to be the only Formula One (F1) racetrack in the United States. They have also had other car and motorcycle races on this track since it held its first F1 race in November 2012. To further use the facility, they also build an outdoor amphitheater for live music performances (named Austin360 Amphitheater).

Now I am like most typical Americans – I don’t know anything about F1 racing, other than there seems to be this huge, wealthy fan base that travels from country to country to watch the qualifying time trials and the actual race on the 3rd day. More than 117,400 people were in attendance to watch the first F1 race on November 18, 2012. The week before the first F1 race at Circuit of The Americas, all 24 racing teams were located in Abu Dhabi – which is 10 time zones away from Austin.

Before you can go on a tour of Circuit of The Americas, you have to know how to get there – and most people in Austin do not know exactly where this facility is. I didn’t really know until the evening before we went.

Map to Circuit of The Americas

The race track is located east of Texas Toll Road 130, about 3 or 4 miles south of Hwy 71. Turn east on FM 812, and go about 1 mile. This is what you will see from the front (south) entrance.

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That red and white structure on the left is an observation tower, and it is a key feature of this facility.

I was travelling light. I brought only my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, with the Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens, and my Whi-Bal card. No camera bag, no tripod, no spare battery, and not even a hat.  The description of the tour that Barb had indicated that we would be driven around on busses. Also, everything would be outside. I didn’t think that I would need any fast prime lenses for that, and I was really hoping that we would at least be able to get off the bus occasionally to get some decent photos.

After eating lunch with several of the SAGE members at the round Hilton Hotel at the Austin Bergstrom airport, we arrived at the Circuit of The Americas (COTA) facility at 12:30 PM. It was overcast, and was supposed to remain that way. I did a custom white balance on my Olympus camera and then put my WhiBal card away.

We had about 15 minutes to kill before we were to get on the little busses, so we mingled with the other SAGE members and I took a few photos from the parking lot, and that is when I took the photo at the beginning of this post.

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One of the other SAGE members, Dave, took this photo of Barb and I.

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This is the only portion of the race track that can be seen from the main parking lot at the south entrance. This is the hill that leads up to Turn 1, and the seats for the spectators that want watch this exciting portion of the track.

Here’s a map of the race track itself

Map of Circuit of The Americas

The start/finish line is where the “A” pin is located.

Here is what the start/finish area looks like from near Turn 1.

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Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

I’d like to point out a few things in that photo. You can see downtown Austin in the upper right corner. The bridge in the center, near the horizon, is on Texas Toll Road 130. The spectators sit in the grandstands on the left.

The building on the right is owned by the Formula One organization, and can only be used by the Formula One organization. It therefore sits idle for 51 weeks out of the year. This building is called the paddock.

(Edited on May 1, 2013. A couple of readers pointed out that those statements simply were not true. I sent an email to COTA asking for their help in correcting this information. Here is what they told me: “The paddock building is only used by F1 during that race. It is rented out for events or used as a spectator area during other events. It is not vacant 51 weeks out of the year.”)

The F1 racers start from a stationary start, and you can see the white markings on the pavement for where each car is to be positioned. They immediately race up a rather steep hill towards where we were standing, and when they get to the top of the hill they have to make a hard left hairpin turn. This is what our view of Turn 1 looked like.

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There seemed to be about 50 or more people on this UT SAGE tour, and this photo shows about a third of them listening to one of our tour guides as we stood there overlooking Turn 1.

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The tour guides told us that it cost $500,000,000 (half a Billion dollars) to build this race track, and that it was entirely paid for by individual investors. One of the SAGE members brought up that the government (city, county, or state ?) was paying $25 Million a year for the F1 membership, though. People get all worked up over that, and I don’t really understand why. Supposedly Austin gets that $25 Million back by having this track here (tourists, lodging, meals, worldwide exposure, etc.). I don’t know if that’s true or not, and I don’t really care, and this is not a political blog… so back to seeing my photos of this spectacular race track.

There is a large “overrun area” on the outside of this hairpin turn. I don’t know how many multi-million dollar race cars ended up running out into that area….

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This is the view when looking beyond Turn 1 over towards Turn 2, with a better view of the observation tower.

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The red “pipes” sweep up the back and over the top of the observation tower, where they form a ceiling over the white platform that people get to stand on.

We then got back onto our 4 little busses and drove to the far northeastern edge of the race track, where Turn 11 is located. Here is the track as it approaches Turn 11.

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And here is Turn 11. It’s one heck of a hairpin curve!

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Here we are blocking your view of this incredible turn. When the tour guide asked how fast we thought that the cars were going as they made their way around this turn, I was thinking “40 mph, 50 tops” (64 kph, 80 tops).

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I wasn’t even close! The average speed that they slow to is “just” 69 mph (111 kph). That must really be something to see!

Between Turn 11 and Turn 12, the cars supposedly get up to over 200 mph (322 kph). Turn 12 is just before the stands that you see off in the distance. The rate of acceleration and then braking must really be incredible.

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OK so after 10 minutes or so at Turn 11, it’s back to the busses.

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We drive over to the middle of Turn 17, and park the busses right at the base of the observation tower.

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This observation tower is 251 feet (76.5 m) tall. The elevator has only two stops: ground floor and floor 25!

I have too many photos to show you to cram them all into one huge, slow loading blog post, so I’m going to stop this one right here. I have 15 more photos set aside for Part 2 of this tour (9 from up on the tower).

I will end Part 1 of this story by showing you just one photo from up top. This is the very first photo that I took when I got to look out from that observation tower.

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That is Turn 17 in the foreground, and Turn 11 is way off in the distance, near the upper left corner of the photo.

In Part 2, I will not be showing the race track in the order that I took the photos. Instead, I will try to show the turns in the order that the racers encounter them. I hope that you will return in a couple of days to see them, as I am pretty excited about what I have to show you.

Edited June 7, 2013: You can find Part 2 by clicking here.

Thank you for visiting my blog!

19 thoughts on “Tour of Circuit of The Americas – Part 1”

  1. Nice writeup but, the paddock is owned by COTA and does not sit idle 51 weeks a year. I’ve been to two other big races at COTA, Grand Am and MotoGP and they both use the paddock area. Even press releases for cars and motorcycles use the paddock.

    1. M Ridge, thank you for your comments about the paddock. I certainly do not wish to be putting out incorrect information, but I am pretty sure that’s what our tour guide told us. If another commenter agrees with you, then I will certainly go back in and edit my blog post by adding your comments into the actual post. Thanks!

    2. M Ridge, after contacting COTA directly, I have corrected my post (on May 1, 2013). Thank you for bringing this inaccuracy to my attention.

    1. Libby, if you liked that last photo, I believe that you will really enjoy seeing Part 2. It’s already written, and should go live on Wednesday, in the late afternoon.
      Membership? I could maybe sell a camera lens so that I could afford to get in the gate for one day of F1 racing… I’m thinking it might be fun to see what kind of photos I could get of an F1 race car while it goes flying past. Maybe it would just be a streak of colors left on my sensor.

  2. Gregg, I loved the tour and I love your photos! Can’t wait to see part 2. Thanks for sharing them.

    1. Laurie, well thank you so much! If you liked Part 1, I’m sure that you will really enjoy seeing Part 2. It should go live late tomorrow afternoon. Thanks for leaving your comment!

    1. Larry, first of all, thank you for posting your comment and the link to the YouTube video. Obviously something is not right here. I just sent an email to COTA asking if they could help me correct my statements. Thanks again!

    2. Larry, after contacting COTA directly, I have corrected my post (on May 1, 2013). Thank you for bringing this inaccuracy to my attention.

  3. Hi Gregg, just wanted to thank you for the great story and photo tour of COTA. I’ll be going to COTA later this year for the first time to see the ALMS/WEC races, and was looking for information on places to photograph the cars from. Your blog has helped me alot. I added a link to this page on my website about “race track photo locations” to help readers of my motorsport photography, hope that is okay.

    http://dlymotorsportimages.com/race-track-photo-locations/

    Regards

    David

    1. David, well thank you, I’m glad that my two blog posts helped you out! And yes, it is fine that you included the two links to my blog posts up on your very nice web site. Thank you!

  4. Welcome F1 racing fans, you have found your new group of F1 gear heads. This Meetup group has been organized to create a community of fans to discuss races, teams, drivers, and all the drama in between. Be apart of the hometown gathering for Formula 1 and the United States Grand Prix in Austin Texas and join us today!

  5. Welcome F1 racing fans, you have found your new group of F1 gear heads. This Meetup group has been organized to create a community of fans to discuss races, teams, drivers, and all the drama in between. Be apart of the hometown gathering for Formula 1 and the United States Grand Prix in Austin Texas and join us today!

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