Trackside Tuesday: Is COTA Tilke’s American Masterpiece?

04/30/2013 @ 10:25 pm, by Jules Cisek23 COMMENTS

Trackside Tuesday: Is COTA Tilkes American Masterpiece? ben spies cota front straight motogp jules cisek 635x357

On the Thursday before the Americas GP, I stood at the top of T1 looking down onto the straight from the height of 13 stories. Feeling more than a touch of vertigo, and thinking, that if anything, Hermann Tilke captured the unwritten law that everything in Texas has to be big.

From the massive elevation changes, to the one kilometer back-straight leading to the massive stadium section, to the 77 meter observation tower…the track and the entire facility is breathtaking in its hugeness and character.

Outside the track, the bridges, grandstands, vendor areas, concert stage, truly everything has been designed to be the best. I feel a little dirty betraying my Laguna Seca or the speedways of Indianapolis and Daytona, but this is without a doubt the most amazing racing facility in the United States today.

All the teams I had a chance to speak with were in awe of the facilities and the character of the track — none more so than Tech 3 Yamaha whose Wednesday night battery malfunction could have caused an entire paddock to burn down at older, less advanced facility. On the inside there was praise from journalists, photographers, literally everyone.

And for the fans, there was plenty to do and see from almost any place in the grounds, despite the rather draconian security, Sunday’s traffic jam, and a misunderstanding of the needs of motorcyclists (having to walk with your gear for 1/2 mile to get to the gates must have sucked), yet everyone came away with positive things to say.

But also I realized that my concerns after viewing the Formula One race here on TV last November were valid. This is another track designed for automobile racing with motorcycles considered as a distant afterthought.

While there are truly wonderful flowing sectors, the open throttle to hard braking present in three critical areas doomed the race to a grueling affair with the big bikes seeing very little passing. Indeed the podium was decided within half a lap and only one pass occurred between the leading duo.

So, history was made during the inaugural (and presumptuously named) Grand Prix of the Americas, and it was made in a grand Texan way, with all the hugeness it entails, but the MotoGP race became quickly processional as the bikes spread out lap after lap. In the end, we were denied the promise of another Qatar in what still could be the best season ever.

Jules Cisek is a race fan and photographer. He is also the producer and presenter of the MotoPod podcast. You can follow him on TwitterFacebook, or on the MotoPod Facebook page.

Photo: © 2013 Jules Cisek / Popmonkey – All Rights Reserved

Comment:

  1. It’s a great cicuit, but Tilke didn’t design the layout. Tavo Hellmund & Kevin Schwantz designed it & Tilke’s people engineered it & made the detailed plans.

  2. Also, while I agree that the track’s primary design motivation was for cars, having only a couple of manufacturers legitimately competing at the sharp end of the field doesn’t in terms of the closeness of the racing. I think what you saw here in Austin, sadly, will be more common than not this season.

  3. That, frankly, just isn’t true.

  4. Paul Byrne says:

    Its not the circuit – its the bikes. Look at Moto2 – that was a good race.

  5. Yep. I think we agree. Moto 2 was a good race & Moto 3 prob would have been pretty good too if not for the interruption.

  6. 76 says:

    moto2 race was awesome, I dont know what people are smoking?

  7. Micah says:

    I think the grip problems in the early sessions caught a lot of teams out and decent set-ups for the race were not easy to find. Honda nailed it early, leaving everyone else to play catch up. It looked like Jorge and Cal found something for the race though and with more time to work in that direction could have possibly kept up with the Repsol boys, although getting past would’ve been a different matter. Should be a better race next year, now that they’ve all got data and base set-ups.

  8. proudAmerican says:

    I’m not skilled enough as a rider to question the flow of the track for cars vs motorcycles. But as an American fan, I’m thrilled that we finally have a beautiful racing venue–a track that can proudly be shown to the world audience, and compete with the other tracks on the MotoGP circuit.

    Indianapolis has plenty of history, but it can’t compete with the beauty of tracks like Aragon, Phillip Island, and many others.

  9. TexusTim says:

    I would like to WSBK superbikes race here…that might be a pass fest…I agree with micah and hope by next year we will see some improvment with all the teams at COTA, it’s a new track,lots of new people working there that dont have a lot of “race track” experiance so by next year all the things that were troublesome should improve as well.

  10. smiler says:

    There is no excuse for new tracks not to be as good as Brands Hatch, Spa, Philip Island & Laguna.
    It isn’t, hower for a modern track it is not flat and most of the riders called it challenging, so that is a good start unlike many of the used tracks on the calendar now.
    Everytone seems to have enjoyed a modern and undulating track.

  11. Gutterslob says:

    I can’t comment on the bike racing since I only managed to catch the MotoGP race. Moto2 was supposedly a cracker according to news reports (and the comments above). Only 4-wheeled race I’ve seen was last year’s F1 GP. From what I’ve seen, it seems better suited to single-seat 4 wheeled racing. Facilities seem to be top notch as well.

    I dunno, it just seems to be lacking that special something that tracks like Laguna and Watkins Glen seem to have (not talking about history), though I can’t quite put my finger on what it is.

  12. CTK says:

    I think the facilities are great, but what good are facilities when the track layout is no good? The design is dominated by speed and slow corners, as opposed to tracks like Laguna Seca, Mugello, Catalunya, Jerez which have much more of a natural flow to them. Its got 20 corners- 4 to 5 of which I am going to count as either low speed or hairpins- and that section from corners 2-9 is just like gum. There’s nowhere to pass through it and it looks chunky. It would have been better as either 1 big S-sweeper or a straight. And then as I mentioned there are so many hairpins which make up most of the passing zones. Gee I wonder who would win such a race?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_lP37yaVSA

    There does seem to be a “design by lawyers” problem killing track design as well. Which I don’t understand. Many of the tracks people ahve died on are still in the championship (albeit fixed or changed to be safer), and in the last 10 years only 1 even possibly died due to bad track design. The other two just fell and got run over. Motorsports by design are dangerous… I think its key to mitigate risk but at the end of the day it should still be exciting. Few things can absolutely kill excitement like bad track design.

  13. cynic13th says:

    I was disappointed on how much a pain and expense it was to get out of and into the Track. Compared to Miller or Laguna Seca it took Way too long and cost too much to park. Getting out and home afterwards was stupid with being constantly forced by uniforms to turn in the opposite way I wanted to go.

    I do think it is a great start and it was a good first year, but I was left with a bad taste in my mouth.

  14. Paulo says:

    The race wasn’t exciting!! Yes there was great shots and great turns and great high speeds but in the end the race was kinda boring! I think the track was so well designed that it almost took away the point of itself……….be a great racetrack and not a circuit where fast things go around fast without drama.

    It’s been only one MotoGP there but I have a slight aftertaste that I hope doesn’t linger. I’m looking forward to the next race and ultimately to Laguna Seca!!!

  15. Chaz Michael Michaels says:

    I agree with CTK.

    The track, while beautiful, somehow had a dullness to it, lacking character, like a design by committee/lawyers. What comes to mind are the designs of the recent baseball stadiums compared to the classic designs of the past.

    I have to full-heartedly disagree with the assessment that COTA is “better” than Laguna Seca. One doesn’t see Laguna and think “oh this track is like that one…” To the contrary, when you go to other tracks (like COTA) you say “oh that bit reminds me a little bit of the Corkscrew.”

    Also, for viewing a race COTA left something to be desired. Whereas Laguna sits inside a bowl surrounded by hills (great for viewing large chunks of the race course), COTA’s viewshed is very,very broken up. For instance, when the bikes go around the bend to approach the beginning of the back-straight they just simply disappear for a while. You can’t even hear them. Poof, gone.-unless you happen to be sitting in the grass at the start of the back-straight. But then, it’s vice versa and that’s the only piece of track you see/hear. vroom…gone…wait for several minutes. vroom gone….

    COTA should have constructed a berm to parallel the back straight for fans to sit on, or to even place temporary bleachers on (for F1 if it felt it had to). But definately put a berm there. It’s a huge piece of the track that you basically can’t see.

  16. @Chaz: They were going to have seating along the back straight until Epstein had the idea to put RV spots there & sell them at astronomical prices.

  17. @Paolo: To be fair the only race so far at COTA that has been dull at all, imho, was the MotoGP race itself. Moto 3 could have been good, and Moto 2 was great. F1 & its support races were great & all the Grand Am races were also hotly contested from start to finish.

  18. Chaz Michael Michaels says:

    @tim wood

    That explains it then. And that sums up the COTA experience for me. It felt like a blood sucking fleecing to me. …from the parking (no shuttle), to the concessions, to the expensive swag they didn’t have enough of, to the near non-existent entertainment, to strategically setting the back straight out of sight of everyone except those with RVs!!–so they can fleece those suckers.

    The COTA race course, is ok. Not spectacular, but ok. Within 1 day’s time (I had the 3 day pass) I could think of a dozen ways to improve the experience. Where’s the camping? why not try to utilize the vast infield area near the start of the back-straight? why is the back-straight itself so off-limits? why no friggin paddock passes? (VIP ticket for paddock access was a joke), numerous ways to improve the viewshed. …just to name a few

    More and more I sour to dropping loads of money go to COTA to see motogp only to arrive at venue strategically setup to charge the maximum and provide the minimum.-like all the rest of modern sports it seems these days.

  19. Chaz…I agree. It’s a shame.

  20. TexusTim says:

    stop complaining we have a world class track right here in texas it can only get better when they get it all together……some of you acting like spoiled rotten brats ! i would turn over my knee and teach you some manners.

  21. Micah says:

    Having only WSBK at Miller in 2009 as a reference (excluding club level races), egress at COTA was a breeze. Of course living just south of Austin, off HWY 21, allowed me to exit in the less popular direction. I thought it was a great weekend, certainly everything was overpriced but I wasn’t there for the turkey legs. The biggest bummer for me, aside from $8 12oz Stellas, was that I couldn’t find a medium size t-shirt worth buying.

    Maybe I was astonished by the spectacle of the MotoGP bikes but I rather enjoyed that race. Most of the passing happened in corners I didn’t expect, Marq on Dani in the esses around T-6ish, Cal on Bradl in T-3, and Jorge on Bradl exiting the three right-handers into turn 19 (right in front of where my ass was parked). I fell in love with the Moto3 bikes and it now may be my favorite class. That 5 lap sprint race was epic. I may be an Alex Rins fan for life now, can’t hurt that my inner geek loves the number 42 (can we start calling this kid “the Answer” yet).

    TL;DR- Loved COTA. Great track, mostly great racing. See you next year, but please let me BYOB.

  22. Gonzo says:

    If even HALF of what Schwantz says is true, Then FUCK COTA and DORNA! That, plus being located in Texas of all places, puts the final nail in the coffin for me ever giving any of my hard-earned cash to that facility!