Few things are more exciting for a motorsports journalist than covering an event at venue which one has never been to before, particularly if that coverage is a first time contribution to a publication. Yes, Mr. Editor, I would love to cover that race for you and don’t you worry, I will dig up some super unique content for you. I know everybody!
That uber-confident attitude is great except that it doesn’t take into account just how massive the Circuit of the Americas(COTA) is. Nor does it account for the sweltering, almost crippling heat and humidity. Like the old saying goes, everything is bigger in Texas, especially its newest race track. I was travelling with the good folks at Audi Canada who contributed to the daunting task by handing me the keys to an all new 2015 Q7 TDI and sent me out onto the roads of rural Texas on my own. What could possibly go wrong?
In the end, the story is the size of the place itself.
Located about 22 kilometres from downtown Austin, COTA was built to bring Formula 1 back to the United States. Penned by German architect Hermann Tilke, who is the designer of choice for modern Grand Prix circuits, the 5.515 km circuit is reported to have cost somewhere between $400-$450 Million to construct. The track, which boasts 20 turns and an elevation change of 41 metres, includes features inspired by those at other GP circuits such as Silverstone and Hockenheim. At its centre is a 77 metre tower with an amphitheatre for live performances at its base.
All of this adds up to one of the most exciting modern race tracks in existence, one which is also a nightmare for photographers on foot. During the photographer’s meeting, we were informed that a full lap behind the catch fences is close to four miles or 6.4 km in Canadian speak. They offer photographer shuttles to get around and with temperatures approaching 38 degrees and 100% humidity, Jeff Carter from the WEC recommended that we use them. Carter was also quick to remind us to take water with us and stay hydrated. He was correct.
I spent my Friday afternoon shooting the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge before the skies opened, at which point I decided that the better part of valor was to hide underneath Multimatic’s canopy while waiting to shoot with Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame inductee Scott Maxwell.
The Conti series race done, I hopped back into the Q7, with both the A/C and seat coolers cranked to max. Anything to eliminate the crazy humidity. The ride back to Austin took me past fields which had been picked clean of cotton, and more roadside taquerias than I could count. The seemingly unlimited torque generated by the Audi’s 3.0L turbo diesel is almost eerie given that the engine is almost silent while cruising on the highway. Confident, comfortable and quiet, the Q7’s cabin has that level of refinement that Audi has become known for and made it the perfect companion for my exploration.
The following morning I decided to check out one of the local eateries on my way to the track. I came across Digi’s place, where two of the best breakfast tacos I have ever eaten cost just three bucks! Getting to hang out with some locals was an added benefit.
The humidity and threatening skies continued as the green flag flew for the Tudor United SportsCar Series race. It was just humid enough to make life miserable trackside and drop the occasional bit of rain on the track to challenge competitors, but the expected heavy rain stayed away for this race at least.
Following a quick trip back into town, I returned for the start of the WEC six hour race, just in time for a downpour of near biblical proportion. Sadly my long lens, which is pretty much a must have at a track as massive as COTA, got some moisture inside, preventing any quality night shooting. I enjoyed my dinner, courtesy of Audi, and watched a bit of racing on the monitor before returning to town, where the annual Pride Festival was Keeping Austin Weird. It seems to be a great town and I can’t wait to get back for a longer visit!
keep austin weird