Is it possible that, just last year, Austin was nervously welcoming Formula One and the world of international motorsport back to the United States? The racing community agreed that the inaugural Circuit of The Americas’ event was successful beyond belief. That, however, doesn’t mean that there aren’t some improvements and changes in store for 2013’s event. AFM sat down with Geoff Moore, COTA’s chief marketing and revenue officer, to find out what’s in store for this November 15-17.
Perhaps one of the most fun and exciting additions is the Game Zone, located at the Grand Plaza entrance. This area will have seven simulators, one high-end simulator, and a reflex machine, all of which are used by F1 drivers to prepare for racing. Fans will have a chance to “drive” the course; support drivers (that means development drivers, such as Susie Wolff, and reserve drivers, such as Alexander Rossi) will make appearances. There will be competitions among fans to see who performs best, and those with the highest scores gain free entry into the exclusive Paddock Club. The 251-foot observation tower, located near the amphitheater, will also be available throughout the weekend for 30-minute tours. Fans can look down at Turns 15-19 through the glass floor (tickets can be purchased at the Grand Plaza).
Fly It In
Did you know that in 2012, there were over 2,000 helicopter takeoffs and landings at COTA during F1? It’s fun to watch those whirly birds come in and out; if you’ve arranged for helicopter transport, there are special hospitality tents at each pad where you can wait for shuttle transportation to the track. In case you’re curious, those helicopters rent landing/takeoff times. Another thrilling aspect of the event was the TV camera helicopter that swept along the track. Don’t forget to set those DVRs to capture the television coverage of the American Grand Prix—you’ll want to see how good Austin looks to those 30 million folks watching; the 2012 season attracted 500 million global TV viewers! The race will be broadcast by NBC Sports Network.
Ticket to Ride
The rest of us mere mortals may be taking the shuttle. There’s a University of Texas football game on Saturday, so you’ll need to check the COTA schedules to make sure you’re showing up for the right downtown bus. As of the time of this interview, there were still some onsite parking slots left to be purchased online (lots F and L are more expensive; Lot Q costs less at $60 and involves a short shuttle transport). At the race track, last year’s onsite shuttle system has been improved with transport back and forth from Turn 11 to Turn 1. American fans need to adopt European sensibilities, as Moore explained that the typical F1 fan is used to (and expects) walking throughout the venue.
Sick Puppies and Pitbull
The amphitheater, which has a 14,000-person capacity, has been completed (“It’s turned out even better than we expected”) and your ticket gets you into the post-race concert. Sick Puppies (Saturday) and Pitbull (Sunday) will be performing. In addition, video boards have been added to broadcast the show. The new schedule encourages fans to take part in a post-race walk of the track—you can stroll where cars recently sped—with photo ops at various turns. True fans will be excited to pick up the marbles of rubber left on the track by F1 car tires. The concerts will last approximately 1-1 ½ hours. “We think that the concert and track walk will be a nice way to finish off the experience, “ explained Moore. “Would you rather rush out to your car and sit in traffic or savor the rest of the day?” Next year, COTA will be announcing a series of music festivals to be held at the amphitheater.
Getting Up Close and Personal with F1
The merchandizers who bring fan memorabilia to the Super Bowl will be handling the COTA F1 gear. Purchasing merchandise onsite will get you coupons that can be used in the Fan Zone at the simulators. The amphitheater is going to be utilized for driver Q&A sessions, where they interact with an emcee; fans can see and hear their favorites on the amphitheater’s video boards, too. “This is so much more exciting for the fans than the 20-minute autograph sessions we had last year,” Moore marveled. “It’s a chance to see and hear that driver who is world renowned.” Moore pointed out that the previous autograph sessions only reached some 200 people, while as many as 9,000 felt left out of the experience.
Get Your Tickets
Interested in buying a one-day ticket? Not everyone wants three full days of F1 or cares to experience the big crowds on the ultimate race day. Friday is a bargain; $49 gets you a General Admission ticket and a view of the practice racing with 40,000 other fans; Saturday runs $79 (General Admission) for a higher caliber of qualifying races, some 80,000 fans, and a post-race concert. Sunday’s tickets are priciest at $129, but those buy you the race plus post-race track walk and concert with more than 100,000 avid F1 fans. Unfortunately, all of the 40 trophy suites have been rented out, but Moore recommends taking seats on the lower row of Turn 12 if you can. “This is the biggest passing area,” he explained. “It’s where Hamilton passed Vettel in 2012.” There are some 30,000 seats in that section and, as of interview time, about 100 were still available.
Upcoming for COTA
The 300-acre facility is by no means finished, though landscaping has filled in and current projects are completed. Food and drink has been spruced up. There’s a new Mexican cantina on the roof of the amphitheater and an Octoberfest village at Turn 6. “We want to offer good Texas barbecue, too,” said Moore. “The more Austin’s reputation grows, the more international the crowd, and we want to entertain them.” COTA has plans to construct a separate karting track, and new events—MotoGP in April and XGames in May—will make their debut in the spring. “If you want a spectacular scene,” Moore gushed, “come check out MotoGP. That’s a very European crowd with an eclectic vibe, a very fit crowd, much like you find in Austin.”
2013 Fan Fest
Like last year, downtown Austin will be transformed into an F1-themed street fair for the three days of F1. “We modeled our visitor experience after Montreal, which does a great job,” said Moore. Fan Fest provides an opportunity to see cars close up; catch drivers at scheduled appearances; listen to live music on six stages spread around the perimeter; and see a variety of vendors. “Austin is a great fit for Fan Fest and the international interface that goes along with it,” Moore explained proudly. “There’s a friendly vibe along with cultural sensitivity that is combined with an existing entertainment infrastructure. We’re a town that’s good at hosting a large amount of people.”
No event of this magnitude would be complete without legions of volunteers, and the American Grand Prix is no exception. More than 1,000 specially trained volunteers worked last year’s event and, hand’s down, visitors raved in surveys about their friendliness. “We got exceptional marks on the facility and the weather, too,” said Moore, “but people loved our crew; they were the highest rated facet of the COTA experience. It’s remarkable, considering that these folks trained on buses, riding around the perimeter—remember: It was a construction zone up until right before opening.” While the volunteer positions are full for 2013’s F1 weekend, COTA will open up after the race for 2014 volunteer applications. “We’re looking for intelligent people with a great personality and friendly attitude,” said Moore. He told a quick story that illustrated the level of service: “The race was over; the buses were gone; and a volunteer was approached by a gentleman who did not speak English who was confused about getting back to his hotel. That volunteer escorted him to me because she knew I was still there, and chasing me down was no small feat. Between the two of us, we figured out which was his hotel and I drove him there. He came back for Le Mans and brought a box of candied pecans as a thank you gift. That visit was a success because our volunteer didn’t pass on the problem; she went the extra step to make things right.”