September 29, 2023

COTA Crash Course – History in 20 Turns

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Throughout the 11 years of racing at Circuit of The Americas (COTA), each hill, chicane, and straight has contributed to motorsport history. COTA has helped transform motorsports within the United States by creating a space where series from around the world can congregate and compete for the love of the sport on a permanent and purpose-built track.  

The Circuit was designed by Hermann Tilke, a world-renowned former F1 driver who has designed numerous historic F1 tracks. While designing COTA, Tilke focused on creating a track that would provide the best experience for drivers and spectators alike. COTA’s wide corners, significant elevation changes, and ample width for overtaking, allow adrenaline-packed opportunities for drivers to push themselves and their motor vehicles to their limits – creating exhilarating experiences for attendees along the way. 

On October 21, 2012, COTA was opened to the public when Mario Andretti, 1978 Formula 1 Champion and legendary American racer, completed the first-ever laps in his championship Lotus 79. COTA’s opening meant that after a long seven years without an F1 presence in America, the wait was finally over. On November 18, 2012, F1 raced for the first time at COTA as the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix (USGP) – known in 2023 as the Formula 1 Lenovo USGP. Multiple other world class motorsport series have run across COTA’s asphalt including the FIA World Endurance Series, MotoGP, and NASCAR. 

The Circuit is composed of two noteworthy straights, tight hairpins, and quick, carefully curated corners. The first turn, known as “Big Red” after the late Red McCombs who was a successful Texas businessman and initial investor in COTA, is a blind hairpin, entered from an exhilarating uphill sprint from the start line. “Big Red” always makes for big drama come race day. During the 2022 F1 USGP, a collision occurred between Carlos Sainz and George Russell as the cars entered Turn 1 during the first lap. The Spanish driver, Sainz, was unable to continue due to damage and lost his promising pole position in the race. 

The quick back and forth turns known as the COTA esses, Turns 3, 4 and 5, are comparable to Turns 10 through 14 at Silverstone Circuit in the United Kingdom; known as the Maggots, Becketts, and Chapel. In 2018, during the F1 USGP, Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll collided on the first lap of the race while entering the esses, resulting in an early retirement for Alonso. Although COTA’s quick esses are challenging, they are typically a place where more action than accidents are seen on The Circuit. 

Turn 11 features the track’s signature hairpin turn – named the “Bobby Pin” after The Circuit’s Chairman and Co-Founder, Bobby Epstein. Driver’s exit the “Bobby Pin” and accelerate into COTA’s longest straight. Formula 1 cars reach up to 214 mph on the 0.63 mile back straight, then carry their speed into Turn 12 and through a series of action-packed corners. 

After accelerating out of the Turn 11 hairpin in 2022, Alonso and Stroll collided for the second time during a USGP. Alonso’s front tires went airborne after he touched Stroll’s back tire. Although Alonso’s car looked to have considerable damage, Stroll was the only one to retire from the race. Alonso finished seventh. NASCAR driver Martin Truex also went airborne on the back straight during the wet 2021 EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix. After Cole Custer slammed into Truex’s car from behind, Truex went flying on top of Custer’s car. Custer’s car immediately went up in flames following the collision. Thankfully, both Custer and Truex walked out of the dangerous incident unharmed. 

As a race spectator, Turns 12 to 15 are among the best spots to take in the action. During the 2019 MotoGP Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas, Marc Márquez, also known as the “King of COTA,” was gearing up for his seventh consecutive win at COTA when it all went awry. Márquez lost control entering Turn 12 from the back straight and slid off his bike, and eventually was forced to retire as a result. In 2020, he regained his title as the King by winning the MotoGP Americas GP once again. Márquez holds the record for most wins at COTA with seven total wins. 

Drivers carry considerable speed as they exit The Circuit’s carousel between Turns 16 and 18 around the iconic Observation Tower, followed by a short sprint between Turns 18 and 19. During the 2015 MotoGP, a stray dog ran across Turn 16 as driver Stefan Bradl appeared in the near distance. No one was injured and the adventurous little dog was adopted by a COTA employee and named “Moto” after his high-speed experience. 

The twentieth and final turn was dubbed “The Andretti” in 2022 to honor Mario Andretti as the original COTA ambassador in celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the track’s first lap. “The Andretti” is always a nail-biting final turn before drivers cross the finish line. In the short space between Turn 20 and the finish line, Lewis Hamilton became the 2019 F1 World Champion – and he currently holds the most wins at the F1 USGP with five wins. 

Motorsport history will continue to be written in the twists and turns of Circuit of The Americas. Coming to The Circuit on October 22 is the eleventh Formula 1 Lenovo United States Grand Prix – history awaits! 

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