Mixing high-speed sections and heavy braking zones, the 20-turn Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas bears plenty of challenges.
But the biggest may come at the start of the lap: A 133-foot uphill climb into the tight, left-hand Turn 1 that’s nicknamed “Big Red” in honor of Texas businessman and track investor Red McCombs.
It’s left impressions on Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr., who joined reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott for a Goodyear tire test at COTA on Tuesday.
“Turn 1 is designed as though fans said, ‘How can I have the most calamity in that corner at the start,'” Keselowski said tongue in cheek during a lunch-time press conference.
As for Truex, he foresaw the start of the May 23 Cup race as potentially mimicking the five and six-wide rushes into Turn 1 at Pocono Raceway.
“But then, you’ve got to turn around and go back the other way,” he added. “It could be pretty hairy.”
COTA will host all three NASCAR national series May 21-23, and stands as the second of seven road courses on this year’s Cup schedule.
Other spots on the state-of-the-art circuit stood out to Tuesday’s testers. Keselowski in particular singled out the esses (“such a rhythm section – you feel like you’re doing a tango dance with your feet”) and hitting speeds of 185 miles per hour down the back stretch before slamming the brakes to enter another section of corners.
“You know it,” Keselowski said, referring to the major deceleration. “You’re going at that corner really, really fast. You’re pushing it to the limit.”
Truex said the track struck him as a hybrid of Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International, both purpose-built road courses like COTA.
“There’s some fast sections, there’s some slow sections,” he explained. “It’s got the older asphalt wearing tires out, more like Sonoma. But it’s got the really high-speed straights and really hard braking zone like Watkins Glen down the backstretch. It’s a mix of both.”
The layout is already well-known to Formula One and MotoGP fans. COTA has been the traditional home of F1’s United States Grand Prix since 2012 and MotoGP’s Grand Prix of the Americas since 2013 (both races did not run in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
NASCAR road racing produces a much different product than those series. But Elliott is hopeful that the on-track action will be more compelling.
“We’re not going near as fast as those cars do, but I feel the product and the competitiveness on track and us being able to race around each other is much more feasible with the speeds we’re going and how big and heavy these cars are,” Elliott said.
“I know it’s not the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ of going through the esses and however fast those guys go, but I do think the racing is better to watch. I think that’s what’s made NASCAR popular over the years, so I’m not sure why it wouldn’t be different here.”