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Fan Feature: A Native Austinites Guide to Making the Most of Your USGP Vacation

The Texas State Capitol building on Congress Ave in Downtown Austin, Texas

The following is a special feature from Austin native and long time F1 fan, Dale Daugherty. Dale was the winner of last week's Fan Feature and has offered to share his suggestions to visitors of Austin for the 2012 Formula 1 USGP. 

// Formula Fun 

Welcome, Formula One fan, to the greatest city in the United States!

Think of me as your friendly, local tour guide. If you find me to be a bit enthusiastic, it’s because I REALLY love my home town… and I am certainly very excited for the 2012 United States Grand Prix! I was born here in 1984, and I have witnessed our evolution from a small Texas city, to a bustling metropolis that constantly finds itself on the nations “Top Ten” lists.

Within Arm's Reach: Construction Update at COTA

// Click on any of the photos above to go to the full gallery.

With just under four months to go until the November Formula 1 race at Circuit of The Americas, construction is moving along steadily as the deadline approaches. On site today for a media tour, there was evidence of significant progress since our last visit exactly one month prior. Many are concerned that significant strides may not be enough to achieve the impossible, but COTA and their contractors are confident everything is on schedule.

First stop on the trip was Austin's zenith, Turn 1, where the temporary observation platform has been removed to make room for grandstands and permanent restroom facilities. We were able to exit the shuttle and step out on the run-off area, walking trough the gravel trap and on to the asphalt.

The difference between the track now and a short three months ago (April), makes the less than four month deadline seem completely within reach for COTA. With 700 workers on site at any point during the day, there is no shortage of hands to get this project completed. The guard rails are in place and bolted together and the FIA required fence is taught and ready for race operation. All together, the only thing remaining to finish Turn 1 is the final layer of asphalt for the race surface and some cosmetic details.

Speaking to an Austin Commercial representative (the general contractor), I learned that FIA Safety Delegate Charlie Whiting's June visit to the Circuit (post Canadian Grand Prix) was very positive. Concerns about completion where squashed when compared to recent F1 tracks like Korea and India, both of which staged races but fought the clock late into the night before their respective events. COTA's FIA inspection is scheduled a minimum of 60 days before F1 arrives on track, which makes the weekend of Sept 15-16 the true target for circuit operation.

Continuing on the racing line to our next stop at Turn 11, our ride was smooth and free of previous bumps and rattles from a dirt surface; only the circuit's inherent undulation and natural character came through. Despite traveling only 30 miles per hour in a large shuttle bus, we were able to get a taste of the complex maneuvering that will be required by future drivers; they will certainly enjoy the challenges the first half of the circuit presents.

Stopping at Turn 11 was an opportunity to survey the progress in just one month since Mark Winterbottom's visit to the circuit. This hairpin turn is surprisingly narrow so cars must make their move early coming out of Turn 10 and secure their position before entering Turn 11. In terms of progress, the access road behind the barriers looks complete while the kerbs and fencing are just behind at about 50% completion. Like the majority of the track, the run-off area and track surface are ready to receive final treatment.

Traveling down the main straight to Turn 12, it's hard to not focus on the Tower under construction. With many of the prefabricated steel sections in place, the commanding white tower dominates the western side of the circuit even though it has yet to reach its 251 foot peak. 8" steel tubes painted COTA red will create the canopy of the Tower and stretch down to the amphitheater below. Some evidence of these red tubes adorns the back side of the Main Grandstand and will also be part of the Grand Plaza entrance on the far west side of the track. We didn't stop to look at the Tower, but I'm looking forward to investigating it in the future to understand how the amphitheater and Tower will connect.

Our final stop - on the main straight - was the heart of the on-site action today. With the paddock building on the left, the Main Grandstand on the right, and Turn 1 in the background, the activity and excitement levels here are electric. The Main Grandstand's canopy structure is complete and the first piece of canopy covering has just been installed. The glass windows of the paddock building are practically done and the main scoreboard and starting line gantry are in position. Much remains to satisfy the typical paddock club clientele from what's visible on the track below, so crews are likely beginning to focus more on the buildings and guest amenities as the track and safety elements near completion.

In total, the pieces of the puzzle that will transform this circuit into America's new home for motorsports are secret no more. The world's greatest drivers will soon compete on this track; the top three will grace the podium, spraying champagne over the edge and rewarding their teammates and crew members for their hard work. Thousands of fans have dreamed about the return of an American F1 race for over five years. Within a matter of months now, all the glory will be within arm's reach.

Need seats at Circuit of The Americas? Buy your USGP tickets from TicketCity.

Speed At Your Fingertips

When was the last time you experienced the thrill of being behind the wheel in a race car, fighting your competition on the track for a race win?  Would you be up to the challenge to take on 11 competitors if you had the chance to do so?

The thrill of racing is unique and often reserved for a select few whose lifetime dedication grants them the chance to prove their skills on the track.  However, this experience is not out of reach for many thanks to the karting experience provided by K1 Speed. Karting is unique because it gives people the chance to experience the full dynamic of racing in a fun and welcoming environment for drivers of all skill levels.

// K1 Speed

The electric-powered karts at K1 Speed pack twenty horsepower into a compact package, offering the same karting experience that most professional drivers start their career on.  This is the best way to build the fundamentals of racing technique: learning how to take advantage of the racing line, using both braking and accelerator, and the best of all, learning how to pass another driver.

K1 Speed, the largest indoor karting company with locations throughout the US and based in California, just opened their first Texas location in north Austin. I went out to check it out myself and see what the rage is all about.

// The Experience

First-time racers sign up at the welcome kiosk and create a personalized account to track racing performance throughout their driving career. Using a point based system similar to grand prix racing, drivers are awarded "K1RS" which reflect their position and overall performance.

Once regsitered, drivers queue for the next scheduled race, which consists of up to 12 racers at a time. Once geared up with a helmet, drivers stage in the pits while another race is underway, receiveing instructions on how to adjust their seating position and secure their harness.  When the other racers return to the pits, the barriers are opened and your turn is up.  Karts are speed limited during this session, allowing all karts to get on the track safely and the barrier to be returned to position.  Shortly after, the full throttle is engaged and all of the sudden, you're off! 

The cars are quick and nimble, taking turns and holding the racing line quite well.  No, you won't be shattering any speed records, but unless you're already a seasoned racer, this is by far the most fun you're going to have on four wheels.

I was impressed with the speed and the quality of handling from the kart.  It took a second to get accustomed to performance, but once I got comfortable with the brake feel and limit of the handling, I was on my way to the top, working past several cars as I increased my pace. Starting out in ninth I gained several places before spinning out mid-race while trying to make the gap for a pass, losing several places in the process.  The pressure mounted as I frantically tried to regain my position and having to overtake but I was only able to regain up to fifth position. 

At the end of our 12 laps, I was surprised that my hands were glued to the wheel and in throbbing from gripping the wheel so tightly. I was totally immersed in the experience and had a blast while behind the wheel. I would highly recommend going out to K1 Speed to check it out for yourself; they are conveniently located near The Domain shopping center and restaurants, but the entire family can have a great time racing, eating or playing video games at K1 Speed.

// Details

K1 Speed Austin
2500 McHale Court
Austin, TX 78758

Hours (Subject to Change)
Monday-Thursday: 12 noon - 10PM
Friday, Saturday: 11AM - 11PM
Sunday: 11AM - 7PM


// Austin Tip

Leave the flip-flops at home; you'll want to wear closed-toe shoes while karting for best performance and safety!

Piecing It All Together: From the White Board to the Dirt Mound

Out of all the photos from last week’s site visit at Circuit of The Americas, only a few adequately capture the magnitude of the project. In fact, it takes 17 frames compiled together to create the following high-resolution panoramic photo. This is a panoramic photo taken from atop Turn 1, the most south-eastern point of the circuit, facing west. The far left of the photo is the south side of the property, and as you pan your view to the right, you are looking north.

Compiled from 17 photos, this panoramic shows the racetrack site from atop Turn 1.

We rode down the hill and made a pit stop in the temporary job site offices. Inside, we were greeted by grandstand seating options, restroom hardware and miscellaneous fixture options. Though it might seem trivial, selection of this hardware is a critical part of the project, and when done right, each doorhandle and light fixture intgrates seemlessly with the design. Just behind us, a detailed and colorful ten foot long rendering was tacked onto a white board, but it extended well past it. This was the first full size print out availible, so I also compiled numerous frames of it to deliver this high-res panoramic rendering, which mirrors the above panoramic shot from Turn 1.

Panoramic view from the top of Turn 1. Conceptual rendering from COTA, all rights reserved.

WOW! What a view! From this position, you can see the start/finish line, the pit and paddock building, and Turns 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 16, 17, 18, 19, & 20.  Very few tracks in the world offer this comprehensive of a view from a single location.  The seating from this vantage point will be highly coveted and possibly limited; but there will be numerous seating options throughout the circuit that provide multiple views of the track, versus a 5-second drive/fly-by.

The magnitude of this project is starting to sink in, rivaling the scale of an Olympic complex or a Walt Disney World theme park. As the Austin Commercial construction team works towards an August deadline, daily progress amounts to significant visual changes, and the reality of the project inches closer to (pardon the pun) the finish line.

In case you missed our first article of this update, Turn 1: Austin's Zenith, check out the gallery below.


on 2012-01-20 23:07 by Kevin Olsen

If you're having trouble seeing the high-res photo, follow these steps:

  1. Click on the photo from the article; it will open in a new window.
  2. In the new window, right click on the image and choose "View image." This will shrink the image to fit on one page. Hover your mouse/cursor over various areas of the image and you will see a "+" magnifying glass.
  3. Click once on the "+" magnifying glass to zoom in on the desired area, and then click again on the "-" magnifying glass to zoom out.
  4. Repeat the zoom in and zoom out process on various areas of the image.

Turn 1: Austin's Zenith

From the temporary observation platform at the top of turn number one, looking back at the whole project. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But the only word I can utter after yesterday's tour of Circuit of The Americas is: WOW.

Not having been inside the construction zone since April, I was semi-prepared for a different perspective. The last video we shot in Elroy was back in October, but it was outside the fence; we've been keeping up with the photos floating around in cyberspace like vultures circling their prey, but nothing could prepare me for this.

Paddock Building view on the way up to turn number one.From the open-aired comfort of our off-roading taxi, our Austin Commercial guide started pointing out the favorite features of his outdoor office. Bits and pieces started to look familiar: that's the tunnel, I recognize it from COTA's Facebook photo album; those are retaining walls, and there's Turn 1.

My whole perspective shifted when we were halfway up the incline of what's sure to be the United States GP's zenith: Turn 1.

The miniature city grew smaller and smaller on our steep ascent. Bulldozers and Tonka truck lookalikes whizzed by. This looked very different from our first trip up Turn 1 back in April; what was once large masses of dirt has taken shape. Turns are easily identifiable with large numbered flags and berms have been carved out which will one day seat many of us reading this. You finally get a grasp on the magnitude of this project from atop Turn 1 because you can see it all: the 300-400+ construction workers, the positioning of the future Grandstand and Paddock building, the downtown Austin skyline in the background, and my new favorite feature: The Grand Plaza.

To put it simply, the Grand Plaza is going to rock. In the past 3 days they have created a sunken ampitheater by digging a hole that is roughly the width of a football field, the length of two football fields, and 50 feet deep. At the east end of the ampitheater will be a round tower that will soon make its way to the top of Austin's destination list. A large observation deck, designed by the Austin architecture firm Miró Rivera Architects, will give viewers a panaromic perspective of the entire Circuit of The Americas dreamland set against Texas Hill Country. To the west you will have unparalleled views of our iconic Frost Tower and its neighboring buildings in downtown Austin. The tower and observation deck should be complete the first year with future plans to finish it out to include a banquet hall for 600 people, a club on the top floor, a museum and unrivaled suites on the first floor.

Excavation for the grand plaza started this week...and the site is huuuge!
To the west of the tower and observation deck sits the ampitheater. I was immediately reminded of one of my favorite places in the world, Chicago's Millennium Park. COTA is working to have our newest Austin ampitheater ready this year and should accommodate 14,000 live performance viewers. Like many ampitheater settings, there will be floor or standing room tickets for 1,500 (sometimes also referred to the mosh pit), then directly behind that, 3,500 permanent seats, and then it opens up to about 9,000 lawn seats. Continue moving west and you'll hit the reflection pond which might tempt unwanted swimmers when we hit our famous 100'F+ heat streaks.

I'm a huge live music fan so it's no surprise that I'm drawn to the outdoor ampitheater. But I think COTA is doing something very smart by creating an expansive and multi-use space in their mini-city. How many visitors will come to see Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett perform and be intrigued by the racetrack? Or parents bring their kids to the observation deck and the kids get a different view of the world than from Austin Duck Tours? Huge potential to introduce non-oval style racing to an entirely new fanbase.

We covered a lot of ground out at the Circuit yesterday and this is just part of it. Over the next week we'll hit on the pit/paddock area and share our interview with COTA spokesperson Jeff Hahn as he goes into more detail about the progress. Until then, enjoy our photographs taken at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas on January 12, 2012 - 311 days until our United States Grand Prix, in case you're counting (and we know you are).



Formula 1 Re-Signs With Austin for 2012


We have recieved confirmation from our reliable sources that Austin is a go for 2012, but there will be some changes with the various partners involved.  These details will likely make their way out in the next 12 hours, so at this point we are still unclear what issues were resolved with the revised contract.

Needless to say, it's been a roller coaster ride the last few weeks with the statements by Formula 1 head Bernie Ecclestone and Circuit of The Americas, regarding the fate of Austin's future race.  Tavo Hellmund's press conference also made it clear that there were some serious issues that needed to be worked out within the COTA organization, but the parts of the puzzle are still yet to be solved.


Pit Pass is also reporting from their sources the same confirmation.

Stephen Cole Smith at Autoweek also reporting that a deal may be reached.


 Peter Habicht of pointed out that the Circuit of The Americas website no longer lists Tavo Hellmund as a partner; he was previously listed as "Founding Partner."  Very interesting...


Andrew Benson (BBC), Alan Baldwin (Reuters) and Adam Cooper are stating that an unchanged 2012 F1 race calendar has been released but not yet confirmed by the World Motor Sport Council. We'll continue to stay on top of this.


Offically confirmed by Circuit of The Americas and Formula 1: Details here