Two weeks ago, my brother and I travelled to Dallas, Texas for the Notre Dame – Arizona State game (that’s American football, for our European readers). On the Friday, we rented a car to drive to San Antonio and visit the Alamo, site of one of the most famous battles in American history. What does all this have to do with Formula One?
Well, about halfway between Dallas and San Antonio is Austin, home to the Circuit of the Americas and the United States Grand Prix. Of course, I couldn’t pass an F1 circuit without stopping for a visit. Ever since I saw the first photos of turn one at the Circuit of the Americas, I have been intrigued, and after only one race there, I can honestly say that it is my favourite track constructed in the 21st century. I really wanted to see the hill up and down from turn one in person; it looks amazing on TV and those exceptional topographical features on F1 tracks tend to be even more impressive in person.
On the way to and from San Antonio, we drove the recently completed Texas State Highway 130, which bypasses Austin to the east and features the fastest posted speed limits in the United States: 80 to 85 mph (129 to 137 kph). In case you were wondering, our Dodge Challenger was able to take full advantage (and then some). Even better, the highway passes right beside the Circuit of the Americas, which makes for convenient access (at least on non-race weekends – the single-lane roads from the highway to the circuit seem ill-suited for massive race-day crowds).
In the mid-afternoon, on the way home from the Shrine of Texas Liberty, we pulled off the road and approached the circuit. Eastern Texas is very flat (at least compared to what we are used to in our part of Canada) and you can see the circuit clearly from the highway as you pass by. In the other direction, some 15 kilometres distant, is the skyline of downtown Austin.
The Circuit of the Americas website advertises tours every day until four p.m. When we arrived, it was about three o’clock and the parking lot was deserted. Before getting out to find the ticket window, we decided to drive around a bit. There were a couple sports cars, possibly Porches, doing laps of the track at speed and the access roads around the circuit all seemed open. We drove down toward the back straight, crossed under the track, received a friendly wave from a maintenance worker, and ended up behind the pit garages.
Of course, our first thought was to drive casually through the one open garage being used by the cars on track and take a few laps ourselves. But being unfamiliar with Texas law and uninterested in a free, behind-the-scenes tour of a state penitentiary, we decided to snap a few photos and head back to the main parking lot instead.
If you watched last year’s US Grand Prix, you were treated to numerous helicopter shots of the massive tower that stands above the circuit. Apparently you can even watch the race from up there, which would be like a live version of the overhead view on the F1 app, I guess. Anyway, the tower is part of the tour, and I was really looking forward to snapping some bird’s-eye photos of the track.
When we approached the main gate, though, we were intercepted by a track employee. We informed him that we were there for a tour, and he informed us that the track had closed early for a private event. Despite pleading that we had come all the way from Ottawa and could not “come back tomorrow” (his solution), we could not get in. The employee was polite and apologetic, but it was clear there was nothing he could do.
My brother suggested a subtitle for this article – International tourists snubbed for Old Money private party – that I may have used if not for the nice response I received from the circuit when I wrote to complain about the early closing (which had not been mentioned on the website, nor the circuit’s Twitter account). They offered us free tours if we are ever back in Austin, although the $15 for the tour would be the least of our expenses on such a trip. Plus, if I am ever back in Austin, I hope it will be for the race, making a separate tour redundant.
After being turned away at the gate, we took a few more photos and headed back to the highway. Although we did not get the full experience, it was still exciting to see another F1 track in person. I can confidently say that turn one is as impressive in real life as it looks on television, even though I did not get a close-up view. Next time, we will just remember to call ahead.