US Grand Prix circuit construction is ‘on schedule’
Visitors to Formula 1's newest race track, the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, will experience a “unique American treasure”, according to its executive vice president.
Last week saw the one-year anniversary of the announcement of the new $300m purpose-built F1 circuit in Austin – the Circuit of the Americas (COTA).
And with under a year to go until the provisional date set for the inaugural race, Bruce Knox, the circuit’s executive vice president, is convinced the new track will be ready on time.
“Since the launch of the project, our objective is to have the circuit ready for a June 2012 race date,” Knox told The Sport Review. “We remain on schedule to achieve this goal and have met each of our construction and development milestones.
“The track contours are visible and major infrastructure features such as tunnels, drainage and retention facilities are in place. Preparation is under way for vertical construction including the grandstands, and pit and paddock buildings.”
F1’s on-off relationship with the USA has long been a sore point for teams, organizers and sponsors, and the new US Grand Prix in Texas will be the sport’s sixth attempt to make it in the country.
The sport has never captivated the American audience the way other motor racing series have, and after the infamous US Grand Prix of 2005 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), when only six cars started the race after a problem with Michelin tires, its future in the country seemed bleak.
Like most circuits that disappear from the F1 calendar, financial agreement and viability are two of the major stumbling blocks – and so was the case in 2007 when the IMS decided to walk away from F1.
Fast forward to 2010 and rumors abound that F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone was courting interest in hosting a glamour race in New York. A return to the USA seemed inevitable.
And just weeks later it was announced that F1 would indeed return to the country, neither on the East Coast nor West Coast, where it had tried previously – but at a proposed new 3.4 mile anti-clockwise circuit in Austin in a deal with Tavo Hellmund’s Full Throttle Productions.
The circuit has been shaped by world-renowned designer Hermann Tilke to encourage overtaking like no other, with natural elevation changes of a staggering 133ft.
COTA, Knox says, will be more than just another circuit. Multi-purpose facilities have been included in the design from day one in an attempt to do what so many other new circuits have failed to by making it a year-round facility.
“The partners involved with Circuit of the Americas have a defined vision to create a world-class destination that will include motor sports, entertainment, education, research and business facilities,” Knox continued.
“The decision was made from the beginning that this facility will be more than a racetrack, it will be a year-round multi-purpose facility. COTA will attract global attention to Austin and this attention will be a catalyst for competition, innovation and commerce.”
Despite a June 2012 date being set for the inaugural race, the city council, F1 teams and drivers have expressed concerns at the searing Texan summer heat.
The new provisional 2012 calendar proposed by Ecclestone places the US Grand Prix in November as the penultimate race in a double-header with Brazil, but even this has so far proved to be unpopular with teams.
“In regards to schedule, the calendar for Formula 1 is set through FOM by Mr. Ecclestone and the FIA,” said Knox. “We feel certain that Mr. Ecclestone and the FIA will decide whatever is best to ensure the success of the 2012 Formula 1 United States Grand Prix.”
After four years without a US race, and only two years after the all-American USF1 team tried and failed to enter F1, the early signs look very promising for the new event in Austin. However, it still remains to be seen whether Americans will embrace the sport.
Asked if a successful return to America could make Austin a new hub for F1, Knox replied: “Silverstone has truly created a unique hub for Formula 1 teams and will always be the heart of the sport. Many teams have visited Austin and have indicated an interest in exploring opportunities here.
“The common objective is to have a US base to utilize for various initiatives and as a compliment to their team headquarters.
“Teams are attracted to Austin for many reasons including its geographical location, technology resources, engineering programs, diverse culture and most importantly, as the home of the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix.”
Success in Austin could lead to a second race in the US, with reportedly Ecclestone still keen to take F1 back to New York.
Despite the conjecture from those within F1, Knox is focused on making the new US Grand Prix a success regardless of whether an extra race is added.
“While an additional US race may provide beneficial marketing and promotional opportunities, our sole objective is to make the USGP held in Austin, Texas one of the best, if not the best grands prix in the world,” he said.
“We are confident that Mr. Ecclestone and Formula 1 Management will make decisions that will optimally grow and promote the sport in the US.” The Sport Review