Good morning from Austin and Trackside 24th season of NTT IndyCar Series coverage – a few notes about COTA and travel

By Steve Wittich…Trackside Online

Good morning from the first official day of TSO’s 24th season of coverage.

Both Patrick and Steve are on site for the official start of the 2019 season and beginning of the NTT era of the IndyCar Series.

The Circuit of The Americas (COTA) is a 3.427-mile, 20-turn Herman Tilke designed road course located less than 15-miles from downtown Austin, Texas.

The 375-Acre project was announced in 2010 – construction began in January 2011, and it hosted the inaugural race in November 2012. That Formula One World Championship, the first in the United States after a four-season break, was won by Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton has won five of the seven Formula One races at COTA and six of the last eight United States Grand Prix races.

An overview of Circuit of The Americas (Photo Courtesy of INDYCAR – Chris Owens)

While at media day yesterday, we had a chance to ask a couple of drivers their thoughts about COTA.

Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports rookie Marcus Ericsson made four Formula One starts at Circuit of The Americas, finishing 10th just five months ago.

He started by saying:
“It’s one of my favorite tracks on the F1 calendar. It’s really a good track, and I think it’s great for IndyCar to come here.”

TSO also asked him what the most challenging part of the track was and he told us:

“I think the first sector with all the high-speed content that reminds me a lot of Suzuka. You’re going to see people doing different lines there, and you need to trust the car to bring the speed through that section. It very difficult technically and you need to hit every apex because if you miss one, you’re out of sync for the next seven or eight corners. That section is very tricky.

“In the middle of the lap, I think it’s Turn 13 and 14. It’s a double right into a tight left-hander in the middle of the lap. That’s a sector from my experience that you can really make or break a lot of lap time if you get that right or wrong.”

RC Enerson, who will be testing both days with Carlin, was one of three NTT IndyCar Series drivers to experience the track during a late October test and told us what his favorite part of the circuit was.

“I’d have to say the high commitment “esses.” It’s pretty insane. You turn into those flat in fifth/sixth gear and doing a slow decel(eration), having to hold your neck up and keep the wheel turned with how high grip the track is pretty difficult. It’s a fast and flowing track with an incredible variety of corners – very open and very wide – I think the racing there is going to be insane! As far as a driving track, it’s a mix between technique with low speed and extremely high-speed commitment.”

Andretti Autosport, A.J. Foyt Racing, and Carlin have data from the test in October
Andretti Autosport, while Juncos Racing and Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports also have data from an Indy Lights test in 2015.

Alexander Rossi, Tony Kanaan, and RC Enerson all tested the universal aero kit at COTA in October 2018.

A.J. Foyt Racing veteran Tony Kanaan navigates Circuit of The Americas during an October 2018 test (Photo Courtesy of INDYCAR – Chris Owens)

Chevrolet, utilizing Team Penske tested an early iteration of their manufacturer aero kit at COTA in 2014

Max Chilton (1), Marcus Ericsson (4) and Alexander Rossi (1) all made Formula One starts at COTA.

Spencer Pigot (Ed Carpenter Racing) and Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing) both have race experience at COTA. The former Juncos Racing teammates took part in a pair of Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires races at COTA in 2013.

Kaiser, who announced that he would be racing in the inaugural IndyCar race in just over a month also tested an Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires car at COTA during the 2015 Chris Griffis Memorial Test.

Each entry will receive seven sets of Firestone Primary (black) Tires, with rookies allowed one extra set.

One thing we’ll be watching is some areas that have been resurfaced. The track had started to develop some “character” with a few bumpy braking zones, but those areas have come to the attention of the maintenance crew.

The schedule the next two days in Texas (which is currently on Central time) is as follows.

8am – 9:45am —> Indy Lights
10am – Noon — > IndyCar
1pm – 2:15pm —> Indy Lights
2:30pm – 5:30pm —> IndyCar

8am – 9:45am —> Indy Lights
10am – 2pm —> IndyCar
1pm – 5pm —> IndyCar

A few travel notes from Steve.

I flew from Indianapolis to Austin (via Dallas/Fort Worth) on Sunday.

The first leg of my trip was uneventful, and I even had a long enough layover at DFW to enjoy some Salt Lick brisket.

The short flight from Dallas to Austin was a tad more exciting. As we made our descent, it was clear it was very foggy. Apparently, the pilot came in too hot or high, and just as we reached the edge of the airport, the engines on the 737 spooled back up, and we did a rapid climb and for a “go around.”

We did make it back to earth on the second attempt, but it was back adjuster of a landing. It’s been a while since I’ve had a non-routine flight, so I guess I was due.

I picked up my car and made my way to my Air BnB about 10 miles south of downtown Austin.

I met a friend for dinner at Javi’s Best Of Tex Mex not far from the airport and enjoyed my margarita and Tex Mex enchiladas, which included a nice mix of beef, queso, chile con carne, and ranchero.

Monday included almost eight hours of interviews, a quick traditional Denny’s meal with a colleague and a lot of transcribing said interviews.

These media days are great for collecting quotes and info that can be used throughout the season.