Circuit of the Americas 

Circuit of the Americas (COTA) is a 3.426-mile (5.514 km) FIA-specified motor racing track and facilities located inside the extraterritorial jurisdiction of Austin, Texas, in the United States. The facility hosts the Formula One United States Grand Prix, NASCAR’s Texas Grand Prix, and the Motorcycle Grand Prix of the Americas, a MotoGP round. It has previously hosted the Australian V8 Supercars, the Americas Rallycross Championship, the American Le Mans Series, the Rolex Sports Car Series, the FIA World Endurance Championship, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and the IndyCar Classic.

The circuit and Grand Prix were first proposed in the middle of 2010. The track was the first in the United States to be purpose-built for Formula One. The layout was designed by promoter Tavo Hellmund and 1993 Motorcycle World Champion Kevin Schwantz, with assistance from German architect and circuit designer Hermann Tilke, who also designed the Sepang, Shanghai, Yas Marina, Istanbul, Bahrain, Yeongam, and Buddh circuits, as well as the reprofiling of the Hockenheimring and Fuji Speedway.


Tavo Hellmund revealed plans to build the track on approximately 890 acres (3.6 km2) of undeveloped land in southwestern Travis County at a news conference on July 27, 2010. The majority of the property had been scheduled to be built into a residential community called “Wandering Creek”. During the same press conference, Hellmund disclosed that Texas billionaire Red McCombs was the project’s main backer. On December 17, 2010, the FIA in Geneva approved the circuit homologation design. The track was planned by HKS, Inc. and Tilke Engineers & Architects, and it was built by Austin Commercial, a division of Austin Industries. Construction began on December 31, 2010, and was scheduled to be completed by June 2012. Following a stop-work order in December 2011, the completion date was pushed back to August. The first duties were to erect silt walls, collect core samples, and shred existing vegetation.

On January 21, 2011, a $900,000 check was posted with Travis County, allowing grading to commence. The funds were to be used to repair the property if the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) refused to approve the project because part of the site is in a floodplain. On June 28, 2011, FEMA issued a letter certifying that the project meets FEMA’s floodplain management criteria.

Travis County declared in January 2012 that Elroy Road, one of the circuit’s two main public access roads, will be upgraded to accommodate the level of arriving traffic, but not before the 2012 event. At the time of the announcement, the unstable clay soils beneath the road surface had caused Elroy Road to gradually bend and shift, necessitating the improvement.

On June 13, 2012, Charlie Whiting, the FIA-appointed Race Director for Formula One, pronounced himself pleased with the circuit’s development, setting a final pre-race inspection for September 25, sixty days before the first race, which the circuit later passed. To ensure that the strict FIA criteria for the track were met, GPS-based 3D paving equipment was employed on the asphalt paving and milling machines. On August 3, 2012, the first layer of asphalt was completed. The final layer of asphalt was laid on August 14, and the project was completed on September 21. The circuit was officially opened on October 21, with Mario Andretti leading the first laps in a Lotus 79, the vehicle he drove to become the last American to win the World Drivers’ Championship in 1978. MirĂ³ Rivera Architects, based in Austin, designed the Grand Plaza, Observation Structure, Tower Amphitheater, and Main Grandstand.


McCombs wanted to name the property “Speed City,” but the owners had planned to sell the naming rights to various areas of the project for $7 million. The track’s name was unveiled as “Circuit of the Americas” at a press conference on April 12, 2011. “One of the most enticing parts of the name is the phrase ‘Americas,” Red McCombs subsequently noted. It symbolizes Austin’s great location at the crossroads of North America from north to south, east to west. It also refers to our state’s role as a center of business and cultural interchange in this hemisphere. “I am looking forward to seeing many fans and visitors from all around the world.” Red McCombs was honored with a corner named ‘Big Red’ in December 2020.

The city’s support and the lawsuit

In order for the race to take place, the Austin City Council was asked to serve as the event’s sponsoring municipality. As a sponsor, the city might apply for funds from the Large Events Trust Fund (METF), a state fund established to bring major sporting events to Texas, to pay the Formula One race sanctioning fee. Opponents of the project launched a lawsuit against state comptroller Susan Combs, alleging that she guaranteed the cash to the circuit without being legally entitled to do so, however promoters replied that all essential criteria were followed.

In June 2011, the Austin City Council decided to enable the circuit to apply to the Texas Major Events Trust Fund but withheld its full endorsement, requiring the circuit to pay the financial match ordinarily carried by the local government sponsor. As part of the agreement, the sport will pay $15,000 in carbon offsets and $5 million to fund an on-site research study into ecologically beneficial technologies.

On July 1, 2011, a state district court judge declined to issue a temporary restraining order against Combs, preventing payments from the METF; however, Texas Comptroller Combs reconsidered and chose not to make the July 31 advance payment to FOMC/Bernard Ecclestone as previously agreed for the first year’s sanctioning fee. The project’s opponents’ counsel has remarked that he is doubtful whether the lawsuit would be pursued further.

Contract violation and reinstatement

After “disagreements inside the [management] business,” Bernie Ecclestone expressed “minimal” uncertainty over the future of the United States Grand Prix in Austin in November 2011. These concerns were eventually validated when development of the circuit was halted due to a disagreement between the circuit’s owners, promoter Full Throttle Productions, and Formula One Management.

Tavo Hellmund, the promoter, stated that his organization had been in breach of its contract with Formula One Management since May 2011. The situation deteriorated further when state comptroller Susan Combs described the planned Grand Prix of America as a threat to the race in Texas, and stated that the first $25 million payment from the state sports fund would not be made available until after the first Grand Prix at the circuit, despite having previously promised to make the funds available in time for the inaugural event. Later, Bernie Ecclestone issued an ultimatum to the owners and organizers: find a solution before the December 7 meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council or face being dropped off the 2012 schedule. Ecclestone stressed that if the Circuit of the Americas was removed from the calendar, it would not be reinstated at a later date.

The World Motor Sport Council revealed the official calendar for the 2012 season on December 7, 2011, with the Circuit of the Americas retaining its November 18 date. Further details revealed that the race investors, McCombs and Epstein, had signed a new agreement with Ecclestone, with development on the course set to resume immediately. As part of the agreement, organizers paid the sanctioning fee for the 2012 race a year in advance as a gesture of good faith. There were no reports supporting Tavo Hellmund’s continued engagement under the new contract at the time the circuit was reinstated.

The Austin American-Statesman reported on March 4, 2012, that Hellmund had filed a lawsuit against investors Bobby Epstein and Red McCombs, saying that he was still a part of the management business and had not been paid since September. Further facts appeared, indicating that Hellmund was in the midst of negotiating to acquire Epstein’s investment in the company, describing the circuit’s status as “teetering” as of March 4. Epstein responded to the case by alleging that Hellmund had been found to be in breach of contract by Formula One Management. The issue between Hellmund and Epstein was reported to have been settled out of court in June 2012.

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