IndyCar drivers give Circuit of the Americas rave reviews
IndyCar Series drivers Tony Kanaan and Alexander Rossi ran laps at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) at Austin, Texas in a Firestone tire test on Monday and believe the track will offer a tremendous challenge to the drivers in the series when they return to race next March.
COTA will stage its first IndyCar race on March 24. COTA has been the site of the United States Grand Prix Formula 1 contest since 2012.
“For the first Formula 1 race, I was here and always thought this was a pretty cool race track,” Kanaan said during a break in Monday’s tire test. “I went up to the top of the tower and watched the first session there back in the day. I always wanted to come here and test. In fact, every year, I kept asking the team, can we just go test there? Finally, we made it.
“It’s a fun race track, very challenging. It’s a mix of Elkhart Lake, Laguna and Sonoma. I didn’t know what to expect. I knew it was going to fun but it’s very challenging in a lot of ways. I enjoyed it, quite a lot.”
Kanaan has been racing since the 1990s, won the 2004 IndyCar Series championship and the 2013 Indianapolis 500. But even the experienced driver for AJ Foyt Enterprises admits he was “caught out” by a few things on the 20-turn, 3.427-mile road course.
“The blind corners, and going up the hill caught me out,” Kanaan said. “I was here and from the outside it looks steep, but in the car, it looks even steeper. To try to find my way there in the first couple of laps, where is the apex? After you get used to it, it’s a lot of fun.”
The track also features some tremendous elevation changes that make a lap around the facility feel like a roller-coaster ride.
“It is a cool thing because the first few laps, you are backing off the brakes but then you realize, you are going up the hill, so the inertia is helping you stop so you go deeper and deeper,” Kanaan explained. “Then, it gets to the point where there is a limit there and I found it. I went straight a couple of times. It’s a fun corner because it’s that type of braking zone where sometimes you go through there you think you could go a little quicker, but then you try a little harder and it’s too much. It’s fun.”
Rossi is actually the first driver to ever run laps around the race course when he participated in the first practice session of the 2012 USGP when he was with Caterham F1. On Monday, he got to run laps at COTA in an Indy car.
“To be an American driver to be associated with it was here on day 1 and it was really cool,” Rossi said. “I know a lot of the people that work here at the track. It’s something cool to have part of my history. I’m very proud that IndyCar is here. It’s a representation of how the premier open-wheel series in the United States needs to be at one of the premier venues.”
Rossi said he cannot draw comparisons between his F1 experience with Monday’s run in an Indy car but the first practice session in 2012 was in the rain. But, the winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016 believes there are some challenging areas of the race course for the Indy car.
“Probably, turns 3-7 because it’s very high speed,” Rossi said. “You have to be right in Turn 3 because if you are a quarter of a foot wide in turn 3, you are two feet wide in Turn 7. You have to be able to control yourself because of the entry speed you are carrying in the initial part of that sequence because if you overdrive it, it’s a pretty big penalty. If you underdrive it, it’s actually the way to go quicker.”
For the race fans that have attended the Formula 1 race at COTA, what can they expect to see that is different from IndyCar?
“You can expect a lot more fun and a lot more access,” Rossi said. “Formula One, you are watching some of the fastest race cars on the planet, which is great, but there is also a pretty big discrepancy between first and 20th as we saw last weekend. Here, the top 15 can be within seven-eighths tenths of a second of each other. That guarantees a great show, no matter what.
“And the fans can get up close and personal with the cars and drivers and be able to interact on a different level than told to go to turn 1, section 3, seat 4. You can go all around and get different perspectives and build a connection with the drivers and teams. That is unique and something IndyCar prides itself on.”