February 14, 2013

A Week End At The Circuit Of The Americas.

While we had a good time poking some fun at Mr. Jesus Take The Wheel Porsche driver a while back, he actually had the last laugh because, one way or another he made it around America's newest track and home of the US Grand Prix, the awesome Circuit of the Americas while we, and possibly you,  have not!

Curious, we asked our friend Annand Sharma, who happened to attend the very same event to give us his impression of the track and facilities.   Take it away Annand....

Photos: MVP/SSP and Annand Sharma

First off, huge thanks to AC for letting me post this up for Axis of Oversteer. I’m not a pro race car driver like some the other contributors, but just a track-tard who got one of my dream track toys a few months ago, a 3.8 GT3RS.  It’s my first 911 and CotA was my second track event in it (first was at Seca.)

MVP Track Time hosted the event and this was my first event with them. I was a bit nervous about that and the 3 day tow from the California Bay Area.
Obviously this was their first event with CotA so they tried to hold the run groups to advanced and intermediate only.  As more videos come or any attendee can attest to, quite a few people inflated their resumes to get on track here. There were more incidents than there needed to be and a lot of egos that didn’t need to be.

Leading up to the track day the organizer, Mark, was very communicative and send out great, clear logistical information. During the entire “situation” where the track days were up in the air, he kept us in the loop and had our final confirmation that the day was still on.

They had organized a group rate at 2 hotels, both were 15-20 minutes from the track. The hotels were kind of in between downtown Austin and the track. The parking lot at the hotel was great fun every morning with tons of GT3s, GT3RSs and Corvettes being warmed up while the drivers fought off the inevitable BBQ comas and hangovers.

Downtown Austin was a short drive from the hotel, so while it was a very convenient location you can’t really walk anywhere from the hotel. Next time I think I might stay closer to Downtown and just deal with a 30-minute drive to the track.
Arriving at track you get the inescapable feeling this isn’t just another track day. When you enter the actual facility you drive in through the tunnel that goes under the front straight. The same tunnel the pros use. This gets you into the same paddock that the F1 car carriers were in. You’re using the same garages the F1 teams were in. You can walk into the Ferrari garage and use the same toilets the team used. The word special doesn’t convey the spine tingling feeling well enough. The feeling was contagious; you could see it on everyone’s faces.

The garages are beautiful. If you get the opportunity to rent one when you go to a track day there you must take advantage of it. They may seem pricey, but you can split them with friends. The F1 name boards were still up on the garages when we were there. The organizer had conveniently chosen the FIA garage (garage 1). You can comfortably fit 4 cars in the garages, maybe more if you don’t need to work on the cars during the course of the weekend. The garages all have hook ups for air tools so you can leave the compressor at home, just bring all the fittings and hoses!

Since the facility is so new, CotA was very diligent about damage to the track. They will charge you per square foot for any oil spilled or other damage done to concrete/asphalt and per linear foot for the fences and Armco barriers. This made for a very expensive weekend for someone who had to write off a 996 GT3 and some Armco. It also helps to serve as another reminder that it’s an HPDE and not a race.

As for the actual track itself, everyone already knows it’s a 20-turn 3.4 mile beast. I was worried that I would feel lost since there are quite a few separate, technical sections that on a track map can start to look the same.

When you’re out there you do get acclimated somewhat quickly, however, it did take me the better part of 2 days to get familiar with a quick line around there (definitely not the fastest.) The track surface actually doesn’t have much grip. The F1 pilots’ complaints are not unfounded. The track was harsh to people on street tires or even r-compounds like I was running. If you had full slicks (R6s, Michelins etc) the track was much more forgiving and the gap was more significant than it normally would be.

Over the course of the weekend the feeling that I was driving an FIA track never faded away. Every run group I went out in I was always smiling. I’m withholding video of my first lap because it is full of expletives and pure jubilation that I’ve now shared asphalt with my F1 heroes.
CotA has a strict no passenger rule, and a limit of 35 cars on track per group. It sounds like a lot of cars, but when the track is this long you can definitely find some empty room. The corner workers and pit lane managers have a bit to learn, however.  They ended up just letting all the cars out at the same time with no spacing. This meant your first few laps you were giving point bys to F430 challenge cars and getting point bys from Mini Coopers.

It didn’t help that some folks were trying to warm their tires up and others were just ready to go. This leads to people in fast cars pointing by slower cars, and then getting passes back a few laps later. I opted to go out for 2 laps to get everything up to temperature and then give myself a drive through “penalty” to get some space. This strategy left me with almost nobody around me most of the time which I personally prefer.

The other nuisance was that for the first 2 days, the corner workers used red flags any incident on track, regardless of if a tow vehicle was entering the track, or if there had been contact etc. Things got worse when they would throw the red flag for a spin, later the car would get up and running without outside assistance but your session was already ruined. Some corner worker asked drivers to shut their cars off under red flag conditions which is not fun especially, for example, when you’re coming off the back straight hot on the gas, and suddenly you’re asked to turn the car off. Mark helped the officials understand that this was unnecessary and they soon moved to a yellow flag and follow up black flag situation on Sunday where they would bring everyone into the pits if the tow vehicles had to come out.

All of the people working the facility were always asking how things were going, what they could do better, but above all they were very nice. I think they will start to figure these little things out with more experience. My guess is that the upper management at the track, like the faceless financial backers, has to be shown that they can make real money renting the facility to enthusiasts.
For example, I think they did go above and beyond a little bit with how much staff they had on-site. Laguna Seca makes do with a very Spartan crew for track days, and if CotA keeps renting track days I hope they will figure this out to keep costs down. If you’re reading this and heading there for a track day, please remember it’s a new track and you’re not there for a race.

The track is so new that every single incident, no matter how minor it seems is a really big deal. Each incident costs time and money. More importantly it worries the management. Worrying the management will make track days at this amazing facility rarer and/or more expensive and that’s no fun for everyone involved.

I’ll be honest, I left the weekend completely exhausted, but still wanting more. A lot of folks packed up and left after lunch on Sunday but I stayed through the entire day to get every minute on track I possibly could. The later run groups were emptier and the afternoon is definitely the best time to be on track. I can’t wait to go back the next time I can take that much of a break from real life.


  1. Nice write-up. Sounds like it's unclear whether there will be many more club days at this track. I would certainly make an effort to drive out from Atlanta.

  2. It's really disappointing how poorly some folks handled themselves during this event. After this event was finished COTA cancelled all non-contracted events that had been scheduled. It's amazing how different this event was from the first event held at COTA which went off without any incidents at all. The hope is that the yahoos who wrecked their cars and drove like poop at this event didn't ruin it for everyone else, but so far that's what it is looking like.

    1. Thanks for the write-up. I have run many events with Mark and MVP and he does a great job. He has always been good about getting "yahoos" off the track for a little one-on-one time. I sure hope COTA allows more HPDEs in the future.

    2. Thanks for the kind words :)

      If you can, it's absolutely worth the drive from Atlanta. I met a few people who drove in from there. Doesn't sound like it was as far as the tow from San Jose haha.

      It's really sad that they cancelled the rest of their events, I hope this gets figured out because it really is an amazing track and facility. I read an analogy on Rennlist that compared this to playing golf at Augusta. Not something you can do every day, but something you're always aiming for. Plus it's not every day that enthusiasts can have the challenge of driving a new FIA track!

      I completely agree, Mark is a great organizer and I hope some event lines up and I'm able to run with him again.

      I had also heard that the first Drivers Edge event went on without any incident. Disappointing that we couldn't manage do the same...

  3. I was at the MVP event and also attended the Drivers Edge event. The preparation and communication by each group was a night and day difference. I don't want to say bad things about MVP but I felt there was not enough info communicated about how things would go at the event and very little info or communication during the event. Also, no PA system sucked, but they should have brought some flags to let the drivers know what groups was on and who was next.

    The Drivers Edge event had zero red flags and I experienced zero black flags in all eight sessions I ran. It is true the drivers were better at the first event, but why did it take so long for the red flag issue to stop? It should have been addressed immediately.

    If COTA indeed stops renting the track out to groups like these then the blame has to go to the people who organized and ran this last event. This includes those who screened the drivers. I provided numerous references and offered track video and more to support my claimed credentials. Did everyone else?

    Also, I rode in the red group a few times and there were drivers out there who clearly did not belong in there. A few too slow and a few too fast(both cars and drivers). There were some drastic speed differences out there and a lot of long trains that would never end because the drivers either weren't looking in their mirrors or were being dicks.. Some of those guys should have been moved to another group.

    All that being said, the experience even the second time was tremendous. I hope I get to go back one day soon..


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