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Official Review by Chris Green, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
As if to blast the stereotype of everything being bigger in Texas into full-out appropriateness, Circuit of the Americas in Austin provides no better example of this. Indeed, the site of the annual US Grand Prix for Formula One is also the host to a myriad of other races throughout the year, including the season opening weekend for Pirelli World Challenge, a stop for World Superbikes, and the Lone Star Le Mans stop on the World Endurance Championship calendar, just to name a few.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The main grandstands feature a host of food vendors serving everything from traditional sports fare to southern-inspired dishes. Being in Texas, after all, the food options include Mexican and barbecue dishes, all washed down with some cold beer, if you please.
On the infield, fans can expect a great little hole in the wall (only in size) cafe in the paddock, featuring a beautiful patio outside surrounded by trees and bushes, giving a great view of the garages and pre-staging area for most of the cars. That said, if you are exploring the far reaches of the facility, you may not have as many options available as if you were in the main spectator areas, meaning you will have to walk a while or wait patiently for later, should the hunger bug strike.
Everything is bigger in Texas, and that includes the crowds. During fan walks on the grid for races at COTA, it is wall-to-wall fans hobnobbing with drivers, teams, and the cars they pilot on track. The track itself is a beautiful facility that lends itself to the fan experience. The main grandstands are shaded from the harsh Texas sun, thanks to a perfectly-placed roof over part of the seating. The same is said for most of the infield stands, as well, which help make those hot afternoons a little more comfortable.
But by FAR the coolest thing there is at COTA is the giant tower in the middle of the track. The observation platform is open to all fans for $20 a person, providing an elevator to view the race from over 200 feet above the action. In addition, the floors are see-through giving you the feeling of floating on air. No other track has anything as cool as this.
This is a hard topic, as the city of Austin itself, a good 15-20 minute drive from the track, is a bustling city of music, incredible food, and youthful energy. It is no secret why F1 picked this city and why the annual SXSW festival is held there every year. However, as the track is on the extreme outskirts of the town, it can easily feel a bit detached from all that. There isn't much right next to the track. Hotels are all about 10 minutes away at least, as are any shopping and dining options fans would flock to. Thankfully, the airport is also right near the track, providing for easy access to your flight in and out of Austin.
That good ole' Texas comfort can be felt through the fans at the track. Sports fans can be hard to figure out, but Austin's motorsports enthusiasts are all about the racing on the track. They know the drivers. They know the cars. They know exactly what is happening, and are eager to cheer on their favorite drivers all weekend long. In addition, they're generally a kind and considerate bunch, which makes a day at the races at COTA a family-friendly experience.
Getting to COTA isn't hard, in that it is hidden away. In actuality, you can see it from pretty much everywhere, thanks to its giant light-up tower at night. However, the roads in and out of the track are only one or two lanes, making a big event hard to reach, thanks to the traffic. Parking is plentiful and right on-site. Once there, getting around also is easy, thanks to various tunnels, pedestrian bridges, and signage pointing you on your way around the track. Also, during larger events, there is a fan shuttle that takes you from one point to another.
Whether you're a race fan or not will dictate whether or not you find the need to visit this new crown jewel of a race circuit. However, you can definitely see why average fans would want to come, as well. The views are spectacular all around the track. The cost of tickets and flights into Austin are generally low. And, the city is a great attraction unto itself. Downtown is full of reasons to visit on its own, so adding a world-class race track to the mix makes it even better! COTA features great fan access with the paddock easy to find and navigate during the race weekend.
The big tower is a modern marvel to behold, but did you know at its base is a world-class concert ampitheatre? Each year, dozens of concerts are held at the track, and the 2016 F1 United States Grand Prix will feature a performance by none other than Taylor Swift.
Another unique feature is the bold American color scheme. All around the track's run-off areas, you can see the red-white-and-blue star-and-stripes painted designs, making not only for a photogenic track but for one that makes one feel very patriotic, as well.
This certainly is a gorgeous facility that lends itself to comfortable viewing of some great racing action. And, placing it next to one of the best up-and-coming cities in America was a genius move. If you want somewhere young and hip to visit that also is home to a quality sports facility, definitely put Circuit of the Americas on your list.
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