In less than a decade the Circuit of the Americas has established itself as one of the premier motor sporting venues in the USA, and in 2021 it hosts the first W Series event to be held outside Europe.
The track was the brainchild of sometime racer Tavo Hellmund, whose father promoted races in Mexico City track in the eighties. Hellmund Jr thus had a connection with Bernie Ecclestone that allowed him to float the idea of a US GP in Austin, Texas.
Ecclestone was always looking to create a foothold in the USA. The infield road course at Indianapolis had never really worked, and after the last F1 race there in 2007, the US GP dropped off the schedule.
Ecclestone liked the idea of Austin, a city known for its entertainment scene and which thrived on the slogan “Keep Austin Weird,” and where F1 would not be competing for interest against major league baseball, football or basketball teams.
Hellmund had found a site on a hillside near the town of Elroy. He had some ideas about a layout – he wanted to pay homage to classic tracks like Silverstone, borrowing the high-speed Becketts complex – and famed track designer Herrmann Tilke helped to create a detailed design. The coining of the name Circuit of the Americas, rather than just referencing the Austin location, was an inspirational touch.
The funding was found both to proceed with construction and to convince Ecclestone to sign a contract for an F1 race. It wasn’t easy to make the commercial side work, and Hellmund left the project. His dream was turned into reality by others, and the track was ready to host its first US GP in 2012.
It proved to be a hit, challenging for the drivers and providing fans with spectacular views and good facilities. International visitors loved the vibe in Austin, a city that proved welcoming.
The first race saw a final McLaren victory for Lewis Hamilton, with fellow World Champions Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso sharing the podium. Vettel would win himself in 2013, before Hamilton began a run of four straight wins for Mercedes. Kimi Raikkonen scored a popular victory for Ferrari in 2018, and Valtteri Bottas triumphed in the most recent event in 2019.
The track has consistently provided entertaining races, with the on-track action backed up by evening concerts featuring global names such as Taylor Swift and Elton John. The only real setback came when heavy rain badly impacted the Grand Prix weekend in 2015.
The venue has also been popular with other series. MotoGP and the FIA WEC have both been on the schedule since 2013, while in 2019 Austin hosted an Indycar race for the first time.
The history of women at COTA
The most impressive achievement by a woman driver at COTA over its short history is that of Amy Ruman. In 2015 she became the first female US professional road racing champion when she won the SCCA TransAm title with her Chevrolet Corvette – and her triumphant season included a crucial overall victory in the penultimate round of the season at COTA.
The Ohio native retained the title in 2016, this time with a third place in Austin. She has continued to race at the Texan track each year since, always at the sharp end of the field, although she is still chasing a third title.
One W Series regular who knows her way around COTA is Sabre Cook, who took part in the Formula 4 support races at the US GP in 2018. Having only joined the series at the previous meeting the American finished 19th in the first COTA event, and 15th in the second. Hanna Zellers also competed that weekend.
F4 returned to Austin to support the 2019 Grand Prix, this time with three women in the entry. Series regular Zoey Edenholm finished 13th in a field of 36 in one of the races, while Courtney Crone and Anna Cartier made their season debuts, with the former earning a 15th place.
Former Champcar regular Katherine Legge first competed at COTA in the American Le Mans Series event in 2013, sharing her DeltaWing entry with Andy Meyrick. The British pair failed to see the chequered flag.
Legge returned to COTA in the IMSA Sportscar series. In 2015 she finished 11th overall with Memo Rojas, and in 2016 she earned eighth with Sean Rayhall, driving a DeltaWing on both occasions. She made a final IMSA appearance in 2017 sharing an Acura NSX with Andy Lally, but the pair finished several laps down.
Several women have participated in IMSA’s Sportscar Challenge, a GT series that ran at COTA from 2013 to 2017. Arizona’s Sarah Cattaneo – a class winner at other venues – took part each year, while Dinah Weisberg, Aurora Straus and Ashley Freiberg also appeared, with the last-named finishing seventh overall with a BMW in the 2015 event. In 2017 Freiberg also twice finished third in class at COTA in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America series.
The popular Ferrari Challenge North America series has seen three women compete at COTA, namely Lisa Clark, Eileen Bildman and Debra Palermo. Clark – a past overall race winner in the championship – also won the Ladies Cup in 2019.
On two wheels Ana Carasco competed in the Moto3 events at COTA in 2013, 2014 and 2015, and while she scored points elsewhere the talented Spanish rider never bettered 30th place in the US event. Her compatriot Maria Herreira also contested the COTA Moto3 event three times in 2015 to ’17, scoring a best of 17th on her first outing.
Californian Elena Myers took part in the MotoAmerica Superbike event at COTA in 2015, earning sixth and seventh places in the two rounds.