Over the past couple of years, it seems as though a growing number of people have had a lot to say about the State of Texas, the Lone Star State, and its intention to host a world-leading Grand Prix race only a few miles from its capital city of Austin. Named after its city-father, the republic’s first Secretary of State and great pioneer, Stephen Fuller Austin, it is an area of fast-track growth and development. How many of the original 300 settlers, of what would become Texas, would have guessed its socio-economic prominence today?
// With a Song in My Heart
Fast cars. Fast people, Fast lifestyles. Fast music. It is amazing how the four pillars of human enjoyment can come together with such unabashed alacrity and sonorous depth of feeling. Yet, whatever warrants ‘Keeping Austin Weird’ leads me to propose anagrammatically that we should ‘Keep Austin WIRED’ instead.
Turn any corner in Austin and you will hear live music. It is good for the soul and the Country and Western and the Rock ‘n’ Roll. Home to South by South West (SXSW), a music and movie phenomenon that has generated a worldwide audience and enough in-person attendances to make it as grand as the State in which it originated, Austin lives up to its repute.
From when Threadgill’s North opened its doors to music, as an accompaniment to downing ale, in 1933, a natural progression occurred until, in 1991, Austin was declared officially the World Capital of Live Music. To all those fans making their ways through Austin’s airport terminal, being regaled by live music might come as a surprise but not to any Austinite. Musicians play in grocery stores, clubs, cantinas, coffee-houses, taquerias (taco purveyors, to the unaware), music stores, social halls, auditoria and festivals both big and small. No matter what you do in Austin, no matter where you stay in Austin, you can hear live music wherever you go.
From ‘The Yellow Rose…’ to ‘Deep in the Heart of…’, songwriters of all genre have tipped the brims of their hats in the general direction of Texas. The State has been a long-standing innovator in the music scene and has been home to many of its luminaries, including Janis Joplin, Scott Joplin, Kenny Rogers, Roger Miller, Jim Reeves, Waylon Jennings, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, T-Bone Burnett, Edgar Winter, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Johnny Guitar Watson, Townes Van Zandt, the Steve Miller Band and, there should be no surprise here, ZZ Top. If ever one single band embodied every aspect of what makes Texas look and sound great, allied to those four pillars of human enjoyment, then the beardless Frank and the guys with the beards, Billy and Dusty, epitomise them.
// Trouble Afoot
Were any enterprising songsmith prepared to inscribe a few lines about The Circuit of the Americas, the resultant ditty could become a Country music classic. It would be packed with tales of derring-do, chance opportunities, risky ventures, complaining neighbours and everything except an infirm and close relative teetering on the edge of a precipice to fill its lyrics.
The truth is, all of the best ideas can often falter and even fail, as every entrepreneur from Steve Jobs to Richard Branson would affirm. Even the most enterprising Texan would admit to not always hitting the target square-on, first time out. Yet, the outcome could have been a lot worse for Tavo Hellmund, whose initial dream it was to bring about a return of Formula One racing to the United States of America.
With the circuit’s ‘on’/‘off’ build programme not exactly inspiring a great many positive thinkers, I am sure that there are many observers, who wondered if the project would ever get off the ground. Yet, ground had been broken. Money had been spent. As with innumerable investment opportunities around the world, the reality of the situation is that, during a period of global economic crisis, it is a bloody miracle that COTA even managed to hop over the first hurdle, let alone the many obstacles placed in its pathway ever since.
However, it did. It has survived. The management team may have changed but the focus remain constant. In fact, its fast-track development was nothing less than extraordinary. Against all odds, battling with the elements and myriad contractors, a racing circuit has been born at Wandering Creek. A deal has been struck with the Formula One Administration for ten years’ worth of COTA in the vanguard of returning GP to the US of A.
There is around 130 feet of difference between the lowest and highest points on the circuit itself, which automatically gifts it some elements of the magnificence of Spa-Franchorchamps. Its signature is the blind-crest left-hander at the end of the start-finish straight, which will thrill and excite like some of the ‘yumps’ at the Nurburgring. Turns Three to Six are a complex nod at Silverstone, the British Home of Grand Prix Racing, while other elements will feel familiar to the drivers. This place is inspired and has been so by some of the finest racing venues elsewhere in the world.
The drivers are going to love it. It incorporates all of their favourite and most challenging turns, twists, high-load, high-speed and smooth tarmac delights. Oh, it is going to be ‘green’, we all know that. It is going to take some time to ‘rubber in’, we can all see that. Yet, every driver that has taken a cursory blast around the 900-acres of the Austin GP venue, every official required to tick a box, every member of the hard-working contracting teams that have made this coming weekend possible, the management and public relations people, ALL are full of praise for what has been achieved.
COTA is go. This is a very special place. This is what Texas is all about and it is happening in Austin.
// An Inaugural Lap
If you have not seen Jerome Ambrosio’s or Mario Andretti’s laps of the circuit, then let this be your guide (although I do urge you to view them). As already stated, Turn One is accessed ‘blind’, it is tight left and will demand concentration, although a helpful gentle camber will aid progress through it. Turn Two is a fairly quick right, taken in fifth gear, loading up the left side of the car to around 2.5G.
Turns Three, Four, Five and Six are a beguiling left-right-left-right sequence of direction changes, starting very fast and coming out a lot slower but looking assuredly thrilling all the same, as the drivers will be fighting for positions here, trying desperately hard not to knock each other off the track but all the time on the edge of adhesion. The Pirellis will receive a real workout on this double-jeopardy section.
Turn Six will have an exit speed around 95mph, into a tighter left-hander at Seven, followed by a beautiful right-hand turn at Eight, which will be great to watch from the bleachers, before braking hard for Turn Nine and a decent burst of throttle, through the subtle left of Turn Ten, all the way to the Hairpin left (Turn 11).
The fastest part of the circuit is coming up, where DRS will play its part and the cars are sure to top 210mph on its length, on the approach to the tight left at Turn 12. The next section is exceptionally technical and is sure to become memorable for many drivers, as Turns 13, 14 and 15 snake towards the triple-apex right-hand corner, which is actually noted as Turns 16, 17 and 18 but is likely to be taken as just one turn (Vettel, not unknown for intuitive reactions, should be a joy to watch). The briefest of straights will start to load-up the right sides of the cars for a fairly quick right-hander at Turn 19, which leads into a even tighter right, Turn 20 and the start-finish line.
With a total of 56 laps of around 3.4 miles in length, the race is going to represent almost two hours of exhilaration…and then it’s over, for another year. The core benefit of COTA is that the other formulae are lining up to include it on their 2013 championship calendars, so usage is scarcely going to be an issue.