AUSTIN, Texas – The “Live Music Capital of the World” was overjoyed with the harmony of 700-horsepower engines when the NTT IndyCar Series visited Circuit of The Americas for the INDYCAR Classic.
Fans poured into the paddock and sought sightlines at the many vantage points around the 20-turn, 3.41-mile permanent road course to get a close look at the cars and drivers that competed. One of those was local resident Tom Cunningham, a longtime Indy car enthusiast who waited a long time for this moment.
“Ever since they built this track, we've been going, 'Let's get INDYCAR here,” Cunningham said of the wait since the facility opened seven years ago. That moment arrived with Sunday’s race won by teenage phenom Colton Herta.
“Ovals are great,” Cunningham added. “We've watched them do over 220 mph during a race up at Texas Motor Speedway (in Fort Worth), watched the street courses. But here, you've got the turn (pointing to the daunting uphill climb leading to Turn 1), you've got the runoff. It's so safe.
“The drivers … can be very aggressive on this track, and if you lose it for one turn, you're not going to throw your race away.”
When Alexander Rossi visited a NAPA Auto Parts store in nearby Oak Hill leading into race weekend, it gave Chris Tarpley his first opportunity for an autograph since the Andretti Autosport driver competed in Formula One and came to the city in 2015. Watching Indy cars at his home track was a pleasurable experience.
“I think it's wonderful,” Tarpley said. “I've been hoping this would happen for many years, actually. Not to compare it to Formula One in any way, it's a whole different world, but I'm just so happy they’re here. It's wonderful.”
Anticipation for the NTT IndyCar Series racing on the pristine road course built early on. Circuit of The Americas officials had to up the number of paddock passes for sale to fans for the INDYCAR weekend after they quickly sold out initially. Demand for that behind-the-scenes access was intense.
“We come to everything at Circuit of The Americas,” said Lacy Shaw, another local resident. “We were season-ticket holders at Texas Motor Speedway for 10 years up until five years ago. We've seen the Indy cars numerous times at Texas Motor Speedway. Since they're at COTA, it's like a Formula One purpose-built track and Indy cars are here, so it's a really big deal.”
Texas Motor Speedway has played a vital role in the growth of the NTT IndyCar Series following in the Lone Star State. Roughly a three-hour drive north on Interstate 35, Cunningham admitted the 1.5-mile oval was the origin of fandom for some close friends who now make their home in the Austin area.
“Up in Texas Motor Speedway, we introduced some friends of ours, a couple, to racing,” Cunningham said. “They're sailboat racers., they weren't (into) motor racing.
“They came up to Texas Motor Speedway for an Indy car race. After the race, they would open up the garages and you could come down from the grandstands. When we took this couple down there, that hooked them onto motor racing. … They're over in Turn 15 right now. We were able to introduce them to motor racing through INDYCAR and they're hooked.”
Brothers Mark and Randy Luhman visited COTA from Flower Mound, Texas, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, respectively. They view the newest venue for the NTT IndyCar Series as a candidate to be regarded with the historical significance of such tracks Road America in Wisconsin and the Long Beach street circuit in California.
“This could definitely be a historical, long-time track,” Mark Luhman said, “and one that everyone will look forward to.”