Tag Archives: Tavo Hellmund

A Visit to Circuit of the Americas

During a recent visit to Austin, Tilke engineering took the time to show me around the new Circuit of the Americas and share some of the work in progress there.

Building a world class racetrack the scale of Circuit of the Americas is no small endeavor, and this low view from turn 1 shows the scale of what’s involved with this enormous project.

The view from T1

A 3.4 mile grand prix circuit makes for an enormous office, and to find their way around the site, Tilke engineers use Google Earth to make their way around the circuit:

Tilke uses a Google Earth map to get around the office

As a future home to MotoGP and F1, the details count, and everything from the asphalt to slot drains receives the detailed attention of Tilke’s engineers, with input from founder/driver Tavo Hellmund, world champion Kevin Schwantz, and the dedicated engineering and construction professionals who examine every detail of the circuit’s construction.

Texas limestone used in a wall prototype study

Materials used in the new circuit’s construction have been sourced from various locations around Texas, with offices and labs on site dedicated to analysis for use on the track itself as well as in the numerous sub layers and aggregate needed to create a road bed for the final asphalt layers. The final surface of the track must be comprised of a polish-resistant stone, and vary no more than 2mm over a 4 meter width, comparable to a billiard table’s slate surface.

Moisture is a critical factor in the construction of a circuit, as trapped water expands and causes cracks with freezing weather, so record dry Summer in Austin (over 80 days of 100 degree weather this year) has created a good starting point as the grading continues and the track takes shape.

A view of T11 and down the long back straight

Wide runoffs accommodate the high safety demands for F1 and MotoGP, and the massive amount of earth already cleared and sub grade that has been laid down has started to give the site a first feel of what turns will look like from various perspectives.

As we complete our lap looking down the main straight back to turn 1, the excitement building to 2012 sets in – but there’s also a special feeling around the project among the engineers (many of whom currently live in Austin and have built circuits all around the world) – that Austin is a very special destination, and that Circuit of the Americas has been put together with a shared vision for racers and fans alike.

Update:  Beginning January 2012, Circuit of the Americas began releasing a series of stories about the circuit construction process on their website called ‘Track Facts’ and is worth a read.

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Filed under American F1 circuits, American F1 Events, American F1 Fans, American F1 history, Americans working in F1, Circuit of the Americas, F1 in America, United States Grand Prix, United States Grand Prix in Austin

US Release of ‘Senna’, USGP at SXSW, and CNBC in F1

While most of the US watches news develop overseas and waits for the season opener, the award-winning documentary ‘Senna’ opened to a packed house at the SXSW festival last weekend, and on hand were the film’s director, Asif Kapadia and USGP organizer Tavo Hellmund.  Check out the Austin Grand Prix Blog for some great coverage as well as shots of the Williams FW33 that made an appearance at a reception put on by Formula One United States organizers.

Kudos there as well – a smart way to embrace the history of the sport and it’s fans, the USGP was able to capitalize on a popular film – one that sold out faster than any other in SXSW history.  The race’s success ultimately will come down to how the local community embraces Formula 1, and from all reviews, ‘Senna’ as a film looks to be regarded on par with ‘Pride of the Yankees’.  Austin’s Statesman reports that director Kapadia has hinted at a June release for the United States market.

In other US Market news, CNBC has recently signed with the Marussia Virgin F1 team as their Business Media Partner.  CNBC is in a great position to enter India and Russia when the racing there begins, as well link up with a new global audience.  A quick look ’round the net suggests that CNBC’s content partnerships are shifting away from Dow Jones and Company (now owned by News Corporation), and towards other partners in international markets.

Last year, CNN International partnered with Lotus Racing, and one of the many benefits of their  sponsorship was that it put the CNN brand squarely on an iconic British car in front of their main competition’s audience at the BBC.  In effect, the BBC paid FOM and Bernie for the right to broadcast CNN’s logo on a car watched by millions in the BBC’s home market for a historic return of the Lotus name.

Possibly in a similar fashion, CNBC could leverage their presence on the F1 platform, especially in Austin, where US broadcaster SPEED (also owned by News Corporation) will certainly have a strong media presence covering the race for their US television audience.

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Dan Gurney at Pebble Beach, Tavo Hellmund on Wind Tunnel, and Peter Windsor on Twitter

Two weekends ago I was able to travel to Monterey with a group from Western Automotive Journalists as a new prospect for the weekend, and went in support the group, tweeting from the track, Pebble Beach, and Concorso Italiano.  With such an expansive set of events featuring so many different types of cars, the tweets help cross pollenate the interests with the people and presentations, so it helps to keep an eye on your friends to get to whom and what you’d like to see quickly at each venue.

Dan Gurney and Peter Habicht at Pebble Beach

Dan Gurney and the author at Pebble Beach 2010

One person who was in demand during the weekend was the legend Dan Gurney.  I had a few words with him at Pebble Beach, and it was great to talk about his days in New York before heading out West (we grew up in the same home town).  He is doing well and still very sharp, recalling a lot from the North Shore of Long Island where he spent his early years.  At the track, many of the cars he built and raced were on hand, as well as many of his fans.  A well organized autograph session was held in front of a capacity crowd, and he was more than happy to sign passes, programs and models.  Many smiles from the fans who waited over an hour to see him.

Gurney's Eagle

Gurney's Eagle was on display with much of his life's work in racing

Yesterday, Tavo Hellmund took a few questions on SPEEDTV’s Wind Tunnel program, putting a little more information out there on the nature of the track and the thinking behind the new course at Austin.  It seems there’s more event orchestration happening behind the scenes right now in the lead up to the official track layout announcement.  I have been seeing lots of tweets from F1 fans who’ve been upset with Tilke’s designs in the past and are holding their breath on this front.  Tavo’s comment about how the nature of such development deals are done revealed some of the complexity of putting together a new F1 venue and event, and his comment about Bahrain’s circuit design shows how he will also be moving forward with FOM, FIA and the bottom line in mind.  The fans are waiting to see what’s next, but Tavo’s put a few morsels out there – 20 turns, 130′ elevation change (about an 9 story building, or not quite twice the drop of the Corkscrew at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca), and 3.2 miles in length.

Tavo Hellmund on SPEED’s ‘Wind Tunnel’ August 22, 2010

It’s been a while since Peter Windsor has made it back onto the media stage, and a few weeks ago, Latin American media had published some news on Peter’s story, his relationship with Bernie, and with Ken Anderson and the rest of the team.  I met both Ken and Peter in 2008, relatively early in their roadshow period for the team when they visited the San Francisco Bay Area, and while many have come down hard on the two of them, it has to be said that Peter’s reputation and place in the hearts and minds of American F1 fans took the largest hit as a result of the team’s failure to race this season.

Lessons learned?  It sounds like he’s certainly given the entire ordeal he’s been through some thought in this interview, and it’s clear from the Twitterverse that while he’s let some fans down, he’s also been missed in his pitlane coverage on SPEED.  Peter’s recently emerged with his own account on Twitter as well, and you can find him here @PeterDWindsor.

I’m looking forward to the next race from Spa, and our group here in San Francisco has been hitting the NFL pre-season with plenty of momentum.  Unfortunately for F1 fans in the US who want to watch their race before noon, much of the sports bar culture is ramping up for months of pent up demand for the NFL season start.  It’s tough when you’ve got 100 F1 fans watching 10 screens who have to compete with a dozen or more people who want to watch their home team play, but more on that fight in a future post . . . meanwhile, everyone here’s looking forward to seeing what develops this weekend in Belgium.

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