COTA Preview

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I am always intrigued when the NTT IndyCar Series goes to a new venue. Last year, the series returned to Portland, in 2017 it was Gateway. In 2016, the series returned to Road America, Watkins Glen and Phoenix. The thing is, while those were new venues that had not been on the schedule for a while – they were sites that had hosted IndyCar races about a decade earlier and we knew what to expect.

The last time the NTT IndyCar Series raced at a totally new venue for the first time, was NOLA Motorsports Park – just outside of New Orleans. It was a disaster. The layout of the track was very uninspiring and fan parking was almost laughable. But its undoing was tied to the terrible weather. Heavy thunderstorms cancelled qualifying and continued through Sunday morning. Being below sea-level, it didn’t take long for the track to flood making conditions all but impossible to race in. The skies parted enough for the cars to “race”, but many of the laps were run under caution. It was a very forgettable weekend.

Susan and I attended the event all weekend, so I feel I can speak on it. Even without the terrible weather, I’m not sure that NOLA would have stayed on the schedule. First, the track had financial issues. Michael Andretti promoted the event and I’m not sure he was ever paid. The aforementioned parking issues were tough to overcome, as there was very little onsite parking available. The whole track had a very odd feel to it.

Four years later, the series takes on a completely new track this weekend for the first time since the NOLA debacle. The Circuit of the Americas (COTA) just outside of Austin, Texas is by all accounts a world-class facility. Ground was broken on the facility on New Year’s Eve of 2010, and it was officially opened in October of 2012. A month later, COTA was hosting its first Formula One race.

When I think of Texas, I don’t immediately think of dramatic changes in elevation. But at COTA, the run from the Start/Finish line is an 11% grade that climbs 133 feet to Turn One. The 3.4 mile circuit then descends through a series of fast corners, before a hairpin at the furthest point from the pits. That is followed by a long straightaway that heads into a sharp left-hander and several slower turns before returning to the main straightaway and up the hill again.

There are twenty turns on the 3.4 mile layout, making it the second longest track on the schedule, behind Road America’s 4.048 miles. COTA is one of only two road and street courses on the schedule that run counter-clockwise, with Laguna Seca being the other.

I’ve never been to COTA. In fact, I’ve never been to Austin. We plan to go over the next couple of years, but after the problems that NOLA had – I thought we’d give them this year to work out the kinks. You would think hosting Formula One for the past seven years would be enough to iron out problems, but F1 and IndyCar are two different types of events. From what I’ve heard by some that are going this weekend, it has not been hassle-free.

COTA certainly looks colorful, perhaps a little too colorful. While Barber, Road America and Mid-Ohio have rustic wooded areas alongside the tracks that are sometimes manicured with dogwoods and azaleas (Barber); COTA has chosen to pave and paint their curbing and runoff areas in bright colors. While it is a novelty, sort of like the red football field at Eastern Washington University – that doesn’t mean I have to like it. It goes back to what I think is a great rule of thumb – just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

The-race-track-at-Circuit-of-The-Americas-in-Austin-Texas

As far as this weekend goes, if you recall – Colton Herta led three of the four sessions at Spring Training and set the fastest time of the two-day test. Alexander Rossi set the other fast time. You could draw a conclusion that Honda may have the upper-hand, but Will Power was third quick overall in a Chevy and Simon Pagenaud was fifth fastest. Looking through the combined practices, it’s fairly balanced between Honda and Chevy.

I also know better than to put too much stock in Spring Training. Other than bragging rights, what happens there is not usually indicative of what takes place in the season.

The race will air at 1:00 EDT on NBCSN, with Qualifying on Saturday at 2:00 EDT on NBCSN. The three practices will be shown on NBC Sports Gold.

I’m tempted to go with Alexander Rossi as the race winner, because he is one of the few in the field that has actually raced at COTA, during his Formula One days. But since most of the field has not ever raced there, I’m going to go with the theory that most of the field is dealing with a level playing field and most everyone is operating off of a clean sheet of paper.

Felix Rosenqvist showed me a lot two weeks ago at St. Petersburg. He led one practice, qualified well and finished fourth on a track he had raced once on during Indy Lights. If he can do that against drivers with a lot of experience at a track, imagine what he can do when few drivers have ever raced at a venue. Therefore, I’m picking Felix Rosenqvist to win the Inaugural IndyCar Classic at COTA.

George Phillips

7 Responses to “COTA Preview”

  1. I’ve driven COTA many times in the sim and I think it’s a very fun track. One of those tracks that feels more like a country road than a race circuit, you feel like you’re going somewhere. When you enter the long backstraight you feel like you’re miles and miles away from the pits.

    I’m avoiding any F1 vs. IndyCar lap time conversations. It’s apples and oranges, of course F1 is going to be faster but dollars to donuts that IndyCar puts on a better race and I’ll take an entertaining race over pure lap speeds every time.

    A few years ago Rossi took a Lotus 49 around the track, must have been an absolute blast.

  2. Fingers crossed for good weather and a very competitive race. (Maybe a light brief rain to keep things interesting on track and in the dirt “parking lots.”) I’m picking Penske–probably Powergarden.

  3. COTA is a huge upgrade from what the NTT IndyCar Series left behind in Avondale, AZ.

    This venue is one of two which have not been on last year’s schedule, and the 2019 schedule is definitely an improvement.

    Here’s wishing all the fans at COTA an enjoyable and safe weekend of racing fun.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    I was not able to make a three day weekend of it, but I will certainly be there tomorrow and Sunday and am very much looking forward to it. Fingers crossed for rain to be light or nil, I would rather not be a muddy general admission patron…

    COTA is a beautiful facility and expect it to put on the kind of road course action that IndyCar is known for. From my prior experience watching races at the track, the turn 1, esses, and turns 12-16 areas are about as good as any road course viewing in the country.

    I am a bit disappointed in COTA, however, for maintaining some of its F1 race policies, which are not in line with most IndyCar road races. You cannot bring your own food in, paddock pass availability is very constrained, golf cart availability even more so, and parking is more expensive and less extensive than I expected it to be. Nevertheless, these are policies spelled out in advance and capable of being prepared for.

    • Does COTA still have a free shuttle? I was there for F1’s first race in 2012 and the shuttle saved my feet. Wish I could be there this year, but will try hard for 2020. Have fun, Billy.

  5. Chris Lukens Says:

    A little OT, but my unforgettable moment at NOLA was the unsung track worker pushing a race car out of the mud and back onto the track.

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