It has been a long time since the Formula One cars have raced in the United States, six years in fact, but in just one-week practice for the United States Grand Prix begins in Austin, Texas.
American and international Formula One fans alike have started their trek to central Texas and the Circuit of the Americas (COTA). Teams, equipment and cars arrived Wednesday, and everywhere you turn in Austin there is another sign, banner or billboard highlighting the event or providing vital information for the throngs of expected visitors.
Everything that I’ve seen so far has been absolutely first class.
The anticipation is building and its only been whipped up by the amount of support generated by the city, local businesses and corporations, and the hype gives proponents of the race hope that this inaugural event will be amazing. At least fans know the venue is primed and ready. Charlie Whiting, who directs racing, safety and technical matters for the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), gave the track a Grade 1 rating in late September. He thinks there are three or four passing opportunities per lap, and turn one will be especially exciting.
“Everything that I’ve seen so far has been absolutely first class,” Whiting said. “The guys have done an awesome job -- it really is quite fantastic! It’s built to the highest quality, exactly as we expected, and I’ve got absolutely no complaints whatsoever.”
COTA, Austin and Texas started this process more than two years ago. The deal was announced between Tavo Hellmund, Red McCombs, Formula One Management (FOM), and the FIA. There was a lot of pushing and pulling between the city, county and state governments, citizens, promoters and various other businesses and contractors. At some point and time the brainchild of the event, Tavo Hellmund, was cut from the management group, forcing COTA to seek a new contract with the FOM and the FIA. The head of the sport, Bernie Ecclestone, expressed his doubts that it would work. Construction was even halted for a few weeks while negotiations were lined out.
Austin is world famous for its live music. It is a great city with a vibrant culture and economy. It is already a national leader in entertainment, job-growth, and quality of living and now you can add auto racing to the list.
"I think we have a chance to be the best track in the world. I love the town, and I've had a great time." said Cooper Lilly, a Sports Car Club of America racer and Formula 1 fan from Henderson, Kentucky. "I'm starting to think my 15 year personal seat license wasn't such a bad investment. I'm thinking about making [Austin] my second home."
Lilly and many fans got their first glimpse of the facility on November 3 when more than 5,000 runners turned out for the Formula Run, a fun run around the 3.4 mile circuit hosted by the local running store Run Tex.
Some were just there to run, but many were there because it was the first opportunity to see the track up close and personal. Consensus was the circuit leaves a memorable first impression.
"I thought it was fabulous," Austin resident Janie Hopkins said after her run. "I say that because of the novelty, but everyone here is so thrilled."
Hopkins is a runner. Before Formula One came to Austin it wasn't even on her radar screen, but she knows what it is all about now and is excited that such a global event is coming to her city.
Circuit of the Americas President Steve Sexton said their goal in planning for event transportation and parking was to "keep it simple."
You could say they've done that. The majority of fans who do not have a parking permit will be shuttled to the venue on more than 500 busses from just two locations, the Travis County Exposition Center, 7311 Decker Lane Austin, TX 78724, and downtown at the corner of 15th and Trinity Street.
For those who will head to Texas for the inaugural United States Grand Prix in Austin, please visit COTA Web site for in-depth maps and locations of the shuttles and parking, and other need to know information.