Story and Porsche driver photo by Vickie Miller

The Circuit of the Americas (COTA) race weekend involved racing from four series: TUDOR, FIA WEC, Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge (CTSC), and Porsche GT3 Cup. The FIA WEC (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile World Endurance Championship) made its only North American visit.

CTSC was exciting for qualifying and the race…DOUBLE WOW! Don’t ever leave a qualifying session early. On the last qualifying lap for the Street Turner (ST) class, Adam Isman in the No. 4 Autometrics Porsche Caymen took the pole position. Adam’s co-driver is Remo Ruscitti and friend of the Motor Week LIVE! show.

At the start of the CTSC race on Friday, Tim Bell (owner and driver) hit the wall hard at Turn 12 causing a 30 minute yellow flag. I talked to his mom who mentioned Tim hit about 152 MPH due to brake failure and would be okay, which is always good news.

After the green flag waved again, Kyle Gimple in the No. 75 C360R Honda Civic Si moved from fourth to second when he turned the car over to Ryan Eversley, who had just completed his “race dance” on pit road. Ryan drove the slicks off that car and brought it home to a win!

In the Grand Sport (GS) class, with the win by Trent Hindman, he is leading the championship by the narrowest of margins. Andrew Davis and Robin Liddell finish fourth and going into the last race of the season, the Petit LeMans at Road Atlanta, Trent is leading by 5 little points!

Saturday was a long race day starting with TUDOR where the word of the race was DEBRIS. There were pieces of cars falling off all over the track and since most of the parts seemed to not be in the direct line of racing, it was left to be retrieved later. Even the front stretch had a bumper taking a rest in the middle of the track. I never did find out who it belonged to.

One of the many things I miss about GrandAm is having race weekend information printed and ready to grab for reading by the GrandAm officials’ hauler. I used to go by the hauler shortly after each practice or qualifying session to see the results. IMSA stopped this practice, I asked why, and the response is sad.

Anyway, I like to watch teams and drivers track times so if you were watching at COTA you may have noticed the PC car was sixth in first practice, fifth in second practice, third in third practice and then Sean Rayhall grabbed the pole position in qualifying. It’s great to see improvement and faster time progression. I always wonder how many teams/drivers slack off in the first or second practice in a weekend. While I’m not a fan of this “holding back” type method, I do think I understand why teams choose do it. Oh, yea, Rayhall/Diaz (8 Star Motorsports) won!

The same improvement can be seen in GTD with the Dodge Viper SRT (Riley Motorsports) going from end of pack in first and second practice to first in third practice and qualifying second. Oh, yea, Bleekemolen/Keeting won the race! I have a little place in my heart for this team after watching their car burn to and through the ground at Sebring. The winning continued for the SRT gang in the GTLM class with SRT Motorsports taking the win with Bomarito/Wittimer and finishing second with Farnbacher/Goosens.

I never thought I would see drivers be concerned about Astroturf coming lose, but that’s what happened with each car that went just past the rumble strip in Turn 15 into the fake green grass. The green carpet would tear up and get under the cars or get dragged out into the track. I guess that’s what you can expect from a track where the city motto is “Keep Austin Weird”.

Keeping with the old saying, “Everything is bigger in Texas”. The weather race weekend was no exception. It was either BIG HOT and HUMID or BIG RAIN!

Now the dirt on the track! When talking with the drivers, the term most heard about the paddock was “technical”. Right from the start finish line, the track takes off uphill with a tight sharp left turn down to turn two. As the track continues until turn 11, there is no let up in the strong attachment the driver has with the turning steering wheel. As with many tracks, a good spotter is worth their salary. Whether knowing this fact or not, COTA had the insight to require a fee for spotters to view from the front stretch top roof and charge $50 an hour per spotter. Makes for a very interesting business model. I’m not sure how many teams paid up, but it would have been worth being able to see pretty much the full track and provide information to the driver and team.

On Saturday, while walking yet another different route to the tunnel area and paddock as the day before, Brian asked a very good question. In all my travels to tracks, have I experienced a worse fan traffic path route on a newly designed and built race course? Nope. While this is a beautiful track from the sky or tall tower, very technical in nature for drivers, it is by far the worst in regards to ease of walking around getting to different areas from a fan view point.

When visiting a street course race, I understand you can’t move the office buildings so you have to walk around concrete obstacles to get from paddock area to vendor area or pit road as a fan. COTA is in the middle of nowhere. The designers had a vacant lot on which to build and they had F1 fans in mind. By the layout, I would assume the designers planned on fans to park in the lot closest to their seats and not wander from that immediate area. COTA has never heard “the closest path between two points is a straight line” unless that line goes on a shuttle! If you attend this track, be prepared to walk a lot for no apparent reason.

Other notable items, the FIA WEC and TUDOR autograph sessions were at exactly the same time. I have Sprint as a cell phone carrier and I had great service, while race fan Steve with Sprint had issues. Race fan Paul with his Verizon phone had a strong signal and provided his twitter followers with great updates! Big highlight for me is seeing Jorg Bergmeister.

I was very surprised and thankful to receive a special surprise from WEC FIA folks. I was presented with prerace grid passes, a black cowboy hat signed by the Porsche drivers and a flag signed by all the drivers of the 24 Hours of LeMans! Totally Awesome!

From the fan view, I have decided to change things up a bit. While the weekend had the usual parking issues, rejected access to the pedestrian tunnel to get to the TUDOR paddock, and confusion on grid walk access, I am including comments from three race fans who attended this race/track for the first time!

Comments from race fan, Paul:
COTA. What else can you say? There is not one place on the track the driver gets to take a breather, well, maybe the front stretch. The sight lines are wonderful. Often when you are looking at one turn you can see through to other turns, not necessarily the next one, but turns further down in order. Each turn is not simple, often having an added level of difficulty, like a kink, or an elevation change.

From the blind Laguna Seca-esque turn 1 or high speed esses, if you get it wrong you’re backwards in a heartbeat. There is constant elevation changes and undulations on track, and as the drivers navigate each turn at this track, apex upon apex, they are up on THAT WHEEL!

What a front stretch- cavernous, echoing, and accentuating the cacophony of exhaust notes as the drivers barrel down toward the uphill into turn one. Even turn 20, a low speed turn with a slight uphill grade, just one slip up and it leaves the driver open to overtaking on the front stretch or, as happened a few times, turned around in the middle of the track.

Multiple large TV screens are optimally placed across and above pit road for fans to watch on-track action. The scoring pylon is somewhat obscured by trussing that is parallel to one of the two Start/Finish lines. Although I did not get to see all of the track, my favorite spots were: inside turn 2, on the infield as it emphasizes blind turn 1; the bridge before turn 3; the esses; and the tower, would have been a cool idea to put a camera up there.

Not sure if the weather or geography plays a part but the track needs to do something about the grounds. There’s ZERO shade and it is HOT AND HUMID. The track did set up some cabana type tents for race day but I didn’t see any one in them until it started raining. A good idea would be benches in the esses section since grass is probably not feasible and it’s covered in rocks. I can see that section being like the hill at Lime Rock Park. Being so hot, I am sure grass is not an option, as it would be far from cost effective and probably bleed the track dry.

Biggest complaint, no direction. A fan visiting the track has to wander around and learn the layout by foot. Upon entering the ticket gate, the track staff handed out a pamphlet on race day, however, it wasn’t very helpful as to location of paddocks. FIA WEC occupied the F1 garages and were SUPER DUPER SECRETIVE with their presence. TUDOR had their normal friendly paddock and GT3 and CTSC were shoved away in the closet, furthest from the action.

Concession prices are outrageous but what can you do? You can bring water in, but can’t be opened, and there was a miscommunication on food: one day yes and one day no. (Note from Vickie: Most tracks required all bottles to be unopened so fans aren’t bringing any kind of explosive type liquids. Only allowing sealed bottles is the only way to know the true contains.)

Parking. Well, if you have a manufacturer (Porsche, Audi) corral car, you would know where to park. I had a placard for the Parking Lot “A”, which is a large paved lot. But here’s a thought… How about DIRECTING the people where to park? Wasn’t happening! (Note from Vickie: We had lot A, too, and each day directed to a different part of “A” only to be told to make a u-turn and try another section.) No one directing on drive out exiting the parking lot. Kinda ridiculous.

For a STATE OF THE ART facility I would expect LCD SCREENS EVERYWHERE running videos of cars on track, live action racing, show promotional film on upcoming F1, constant info update and display, show something. Yeah, I know, there’s APPS. Why do I have to look at my phone every 5 minutes?

Comment from race fan, Steve:
Driving into COTA reminds me of driving the back roads towards Sebring. But this place is no Sebring at all. It is your typical Formula 1 track for sure, even the garage and the main grandstand reminded me of Korea International Circuit. The only difference is you do not have that massive hill looming over you, and you don’t run counterclockwise (maybe that’s a nod to NASCAR).

The experience was amazing, being able to spend some time with friends, put faces to names of newer friends and to catch up with some friends on teams who don’t come to the states but once a year. I have a few minor complaints, and just the one major complaint about not having good 4G LTE cell service (SPRINT) unless it was 3G.

Comments from race fan, Brad:
Lone Star Le Mans at Circuit of the Americas was the first race I had a chance to attend in person, so I went in with no real expectations. Happily, it was amazing! From the facility itself (with the possible exception of the usual cricket swarm that happens in central Texas in September); to the fans and teams; to the reason we were all there, the racing. All four series put on great shows. With the help of Mother Nature, the rain made things a bit more interesting, including a surprise deluge that caused the six-hour WEC race on Saturday evening to be red-flagged. Plus, being able to see Ryan Eversley (who got me interested in sports car racing) win his class in the CTSC race was a great bonus! The assault on the senses that is watching racing in person was an awesome experience; and the fact it was in one of my favorite cities, Austin, was just the icing on the fun cake. Already I’m planning and looking forward to next year.

To summarize….all that being said…I CAN’T WAIT TO GO BACK! See you in 2015 COTA!

Thank you all for reading and I welcome your comments. I have no affiliation with IMSA, TUDOR, etc. just a fan. There are many blogs and websites where you will find statistics, results, and scoring from the race; this is “just the way I see it”. Got a response? Follow and tweet me @viclovesracing