Watching MotoGP in the heart of Texas
This year my son Anthony and I decided to go on a little father and son trip to the MotoGP race at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) track in Austin, TX. This is a new racecourse that was constructed last year and it would be the first time that MotoGP would run there. With all the media hype surrounding the new course and a
chance to see the American racers at home taking their shot at the new track, not to mention Valentino Rossi’s return to Yamaha, we expected a large number of people to be in attendance. I was eager to see the newly constructed circuit and of course to watch Honda's Pedrosa and Marquez battle Yamaha's Rossi and Lorenzo. Anthony had his own agenda. He was hoping that Nicky Hayden would do well and also wanted to see Rossi back on the “Blue” bike. My boy had his bags packed a week before we left!
When we arrived at the track, I was immediately impressed by the construction of the place. The circuit's designers included a small highway that wraps around the track, which provides access to every lot and entrance. There are shuttles that run back and forth to the lots, the ticketing areas and, if you have the right ticket, to the grandstands.
Anthony and I were walking up to the main grandstand area when we first caught sight of the jaw-dropping climb that leads into turn one at the end of the main straight. I mean…WOW! Were it not in blisteringly hot Texas, this incline could very easily be used as a near-expert ski hill. The main straight itself is not very long; however, that climb under acceleration leads into a left hairpin that puts the riders into a descent down into turn two. This is simply an amazing thing to watch.
Our first order of business was to walk the entire circuit, looking for the best vantage points to watch from. I hadn't purchased grandstand tickets because we planned to take in as much of the circuit as possible while we were there. Lugging our chairs, we walked around and explored different spots. Our first stop was turn seventeen, which gives you a good look at turn one and turn two in the distance. We sat there for about an hour through the Moto 3 practice. Overall this spot allows a pretty good look at the descent into turn two but other than that it wasn’t the view I was looking for.
As we walked around some more, we got hungry. I immediately lost my appetite once I saw the price of a cheeseburger. Can you please explain to me what type of cow they used that would justify paying $12 for one sandwich? It was ridiculous. I kept turning to other food stands hoping that the prices would be lower, but they were all astronomical! I forked over the money in the end and as for the hamburger....Yes, it was good.
COTA has a viewing tower that rises some 250 feet in the air. From this tower you can see an aerial view of the entire track. I didn’t take the opportunity to try it out, as the fee for a ride to the top was $25 each and I was still fuming over the near $30 I'd paid for the two cheeseburgers. The overall construction of the tower itself is beautiful and I’m going to be sure and take that elevator ride next time.
We stopped at a few more turns along the track, but I want to write about what I found to be the two "real deal" sections of the whole course. Let’s start with turns seven and eight. This isn’t a particularly wide section of the track but I would see guys at times, especially in Moto 2, stalk the rider in front of them through left-handed turn seven and stuff it right on the inside of the other rider in turn eight. These turns are a nice place for overtaking. This is also the first of a series of turns that climb up to the peak height of the rear of the course.
Sitting at turn seven, we were unable to see the bikes beyond the exit of turn eight so, since it was the end of the day, we decided to take another walk and have a quick peek at what was going on at the other end of the back section. We walked up a nice hill to get to turn nine and when we got to the top it was as if the heavens opened up and birds flew out over the track right in front of us! Turns eight (Right) and nine (Left) continue to climb up to near 130 feet in height only to have the floor drop out into turn ten , which bends slightly to the left. To me this is the best section of the track to watch from. As a matter of fact we would frequently see Marquez slide through turn ten. On Saturday I took note of how the riders changed the way they attacked this same corner. On Friday I heard them shift up a gear entering turn ten but by Saturday morning, they would shift up two gears there. I’m assuming this was to compensate for the huge elevation drop-off after the corner and also because they'd learned how to carry more speed there. This was an amazing section of the course to me and my son was equally impressed watching the bikes through here.
We fully expected the Hondas to exploit their top speed advantage down the back straight and pull away from any close contenders. This, we figured, would lead to those contenders doing a lot of late braking at the end of the straight as they tried to keep up. Instead, I was disappointed with the lack of fan viewing for the back straight. COTA has designed this section to be used for RV viewing only. The fence that runs alongside the track is impossible to see over unless you’re on a 5 foot platform. How could it be that we were watching bikes with the potential to accelerate past 215mph, on a track with THE LONGEST STRAIGHT on the MotoGP calendar and the fans can’t walk up, stand next to the track and see it? You’ve got to be kidding me.
On our second day, we had a great time with a couple of guys we met at the track. Iain hailed from Lisburn, Northern Ireland and Scott was from Calgary, Canada. We sat together at turn ten throughout the entire qualifying session and watched Marquez lay down rubber through the corner, putting on a show for all watching. Both of our new friends follow motorcycle racing around the world, which led us to an in depth discussion of the ins and outs of MotoGP, including what goes on behind the scenes with the rules, political interference, team chemistry, etc.! They filled us in on the differences between CRT and WSBK as well. Iain and I talked about Irish Road Racing. He was able to break down his experiences because he goes to the races often. Since then, we've continued our friendship via email. Not long ago, he sent me pictures and video from the most recent NW200. Usually coverage of this event doesn't make it stateside, so it was interesting to see pictures of him navigating to the different areas throughout that course. All in all, it was just great to get the opportunity to have a detailed discussion about motorcycle racing with fans from other countries. As cool as Circuit of the Americas was, the thing we enjoyed most was the people we met while we were there.
Here are a few tips for a first-time traveler to COTA:
- · Parking costs ($30 General)
- · Food costs
- · NO SEATING OR VEIWS FOR BACK STRAIGHT
- · Need more jumbo-trons for MotoGP
- · Park with the lots the locals have ($10-15/day 15min walk)
- · If you want to park at the track reserve your space online EARLY
- · The back section of the course is the most entertaining
- · BRING A LUNCH!!!
- ·Kids have a great time. Mine did!