As South/Central Texas Formula 1 fans anticipate the long awaited Austin F1 USGP racing weekend in November, we have many questions. Two weeks ago I made a special effort to get some answers. I specifically made an appointment to visit Circuit of The Americas (CoTA) at their downtown Austin office. I was partially successful, but also found out some additional information I wasn’t expecting.
I was able get in a short half hour to visit and quickly go through many questions with CoTA Media & Community Relations Manager, Ali Putnam. She was very hospitable to squeeze me into her busy schedule. In hindsight, more time and fewer questions would have been better. But anyway, take a deep breath – this is long. Here are most of the relevant questions and related answers:
Racing Ready- Please review the Tilke-designed track uniqueness & some of what sets it apart from other recently built Formula 1 tracks.
Ali Putnam – The track is purpose-built & reflects similarities to other famous turns from other well-regarded Formula 1 tracks (specific examples are here & here).
RR – Besides the Paddock & main grandstands, what can you tell us about the other support facilities, buildings & capabilities incorporated into CoTA?
AP – There is much more besides the Paddock, Main Grandstands, & Media Center located in the vicinity of the front straight. But right now the track is the priority, along with large monitor screens, temporary grandstand seating & other support infrastructure.
RR – Since I have not yet been onsite, are the grassy berms a flat angled surface (& at what degree?) or are they somewhat tiered?
AP – They are a straight incline, built to look natural, not tiered.
RR – What is the scope of the technology communication infrastructure, the facility’s local area network (LAN), computer support & site wide communication access (i.e.- out to Turn 11)?
AP – It’s more than just the Paddock and surrounding buildings, but the entire property is “wired”, especially for the multiple large video screens that will be placed strategically at key fan locations…
RR – Will there be a third shuttle facility (as originally announced & later rescinded)? I’m finding this need to be VERY important to people coming from the San Antonio area & other points south!
AP – Once it is confirmed, but we are still working with the city/county on the best options… Yes, this is on the top of everyone’s mind. We have a good, experienced team working on this.
RR – There is still a lot of shuttle, taxi, limo & other transportation confusion. Will this be addressed in a more clear format & soon?
AP – The best source, is now & will be ATX Grand Prix. The staff has a variety of Superbowl, World Cup, Olympics & other large sporting events past experience. This part of the team meets frequently & they will make it work.
RR – What will grandstand seat holders & general admission pass holders be able to bring with them onto the shuttles & then the CoTA property? What about items such as: chairs (large folding) or stadium seats for the bleachers, coolers like at other racing venues (size please), backpacks, etc. This has been a hot topic among fans!
AP – We are working through that list now. Nothing outrageous, but similar to other like events. Our Operations & Security Teams are reviewing the options. This information will be on the CoTA website when ready.
RR – Besides food/drink concessions (& what menu items are planned to be available?), what other items (souvenirs, etc.) will be available for purchase?
AP – The menu(s) are not yet set, but you can expect a food/drink selection not unlike that at UT (University of Texas) events.
RR – Will all the food concessions be administered by Sodexo, or will there also be some variety with specific local vendors available?
AP – These folks are the right people for this job. They will be working the in-suite hospitality & will manage the local vendors that will be participating. There will be some familiar “chain” type of eateries, but there will also be an emphasis on the local flavor/the local feel that’s specific to Texas, for a good fan experience.
RR – I see the Exxon Station is finally being remodeled! Do you know of any plans for the properties along the CoTA property edge on Piland Triangle?
AP – No, those are being dealt with by independent third parties.
RR – Besides race day (November 18, 2012), what will the local road restrictions be (e.g., on Hwy 812, Elroy Road, etc.)?
AP – That will be posted in the future on the web prior to the event date – again, see: ATX Grand Prix.
RR – The front straight has GREAT night lighting installed. Since the circuit gates will be closing at 7pm, will there in fact be no night activities on the CoTA property?
AP – No night activities will be held at the track for the fans. Emphasis will be on an organized fan festival in downtown Austin.
RR – What if an RV owner (onsite) wants to have a group of friends over. How will that access be addressed & coordinated?
AP – RV spot users will have a set number of extra “friend” tickets (about 6 to 8) – they may be able to purchase more. This is not meant for an impromptu party (tailgate-style) with friends. It would be a security issue.
RR – I just read the newest take on selling grandstand 3-day seat passes without PSLs (personal seat licenses). Can you tell more information about that strategy & possibly others planned?
AP – PSLs are not meant to be sold out during the 1st year. This offer was decided to be a win-win opportunity for both fans & CoTA, during this inaugural event.
RR – The physical tickets will start being mailed out in October. Besides the physical ticket, will there be a ticket holder & lanyard included? What else might we expect in our inaugural ticket “welcome package”?
AP – Ticket holders will receive location-based details & information about their specific entry, seating (& parking if appropriate). [Holder & lanyard question was not addressed. 🙁 ]
RR – Will there be a meet & greet type autograph session with the drivers? If so, when, where, & what will be the logistics issues…
AP – No details, yet, but we definitely hope to have one. This is important to the American motorsports fan & Formula 1 seems to recognize that.
RR – When will there be available a final, full weekend events schedule (including the F1 Vintage Race)? [I saw a recent mention of a Porsche Cup GT3 support race being planned for the race weekend…]
AP – Not a specific date set for that race, yet. Therefore, a final race weekend calendar is not yet available…
RR – Will the Amphitheater Tower be completed, & if so, what access plans will be available for viewing?
AP – The Tower & surrounding Amphitheater grounds are not likely to be completed for the Formula 1 race weekend. The actual finish out date is not until sometime in 2013.
RR – Any sort of F1 promo tie-in at the Formula Run event that takes place on November 3rd, 2012?
AP – The Formula Run is for the community, a sort of Open House event. It will also be a trial run for other such future events.
RR – Looking forward after F1, since CoTA plans to busy for most of the year, what information can you provide about other, non-racing activities planned daily throughout the coming months & year?
AP – We are planning many good concerts, about 15 music events will be planned throughout the first year. Other events will be announced when confirmed.
RR – To support this relatively constant activity, what kind & number of full-time staff will you be requiring?
AP – Full-time staff will number between 250 to 300. That will be divided between office staff at this downtown location & onsite at the track facilities. Part-time/volunteer staff will be made available as appropriate…
RR – Have there been any inroads made for the planned driving/motorcycle academies, as yet? Will there be some sort karting included? [After Bob Bondurant’s August 9th visit to CoTA in one of his driving school Corvettes, he leaked that there may be plans to have a Bondurant School onsite… Oh boy – we will see!]
AP – With academies, there are LOTS of opportunities there, but right now we are working primarily on the success of the Formula 1 race weekend, now.
RR – Is it the case that there will be an automobile manufacturer onsite to use CoTA for part of its R&D? If so, have negotiations started for that?
AP – No update as yet – again, great opportunities there…
RR – Besides CoTA title signage at the circuit entrances, what plans are there to place signage off-site to let people know that CoTA is way out in Elroy (possibly as far as IH-35)?
AP – Advertising will ramp up as the event gets closer, but there will still be those people who will have no clue as to what all these people are doing between Elroy & downtown Austin. There is a good marketing team focused on that.
RR – What promotional works will you have in place at the Austin airport?
AP – Special signage/display is planned for the ABIA (Austin Bergstrum Int’l Airport). The team is working closely with them. Every department in the City & County is working on something related to this event, even the City Library. It is interesting to watch. Putting this all together is making an already cohesive city government to work further together.
RR – [Here are some additional, specific questions from San Antonio F1 Club members:] What about the people who are popping up making parking, tent sites & RV facilities available around Elroy? Can we be trusting sites that are owned by locals to have approved transportation provided to the track since CoTA is not allowing walking to the track? If that is so, can you provide a list of those sites?
AP – You will have to ask those third party entities – CoTA is not at all affiliated with any of these sites.
RR – In addition to a plea about a 3rd shuttle location to the south, a fan asks: What about those garages from the county that were just announced? Are they going to have approved shuttles, too?
AP – Not sure about this announcement, this may be possibly one of the many options being considered. Again, check: ATX Grand Prix.
Again, this was a very quick Q/A session with Ms Putnam. I really appreciative of her welcoming me to the CoTA offices. I plan to return to their offices (or better yet – get an onsite visit at CoTA), in the next month or so to obtain more information we want to know.
Later that same evening, I participated in a workshop put on by the City of Austin Small Business Development Program titled: “Preparing for the Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix”. I will post the detailed, specific announcements, & pix I took, in the next post here – stay tuned… Racing Ready is striving to find out more & share it with you. Thank you for your patience & support!