Monday, October 16, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: We Need to Talk About COTA

Fourteen drivers finished the NASCAR race from Talladega. MotoGP had a titanic battle in the wet at Motegi and that championship is getting tighter. Rain caused a hectic end to the World Endurance Championship at Fuji and the race was eventually called early. The same thing occurred in China for the WTCC race and Argentines swept the weekend. The Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters championship came down to the final race and it came down to one of four Audi drivers taking the title. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

We Need to Talk About COTA
Formula One makes its sixth visit to Circuit of the Americas this weekend and where have six years gone? The days during the recession when it seemed there was no way a racetrack worth a couple hundred million dollars still feel like yesterday. It felt like another American Formula One pipe dream that would never come to life. It did but the first FIA Grade 1 circuit built in the United States has had anything but the rosiest six years.

Formula One has had its trouble and though things seems to be ok, it wasn't that long ago when it appeared Austin was going to lose the Formula One race. It appears we are beyond that now but you can never tell with the world of Formula One, even now with Liberty Media in control. Austin has Formula One for now and outside of that, it doesn't have much. That is a concern to me.

Circuit of the Americas has become the hotspot for international motorsports in the United States. Besides the Formula One race, COTA is host to the only MotoGP race in the United States. The track even added a 24H Series race for November with this year's race being a non-championship round before being the season finale in 2018. However, things are changing and the track is losing key rounds.

The World Endurance Championship will not be returning to the track next year. IMSA is not returning either. Both series tried to run on their own weekend after a few years of doing a doubleheader and it came out for worse for both series. Outside of Formula One, MotoGP and 24H Series, the only series slated to run at Circuit of the Americas next year is Pirelli World Challenge and that is the only domestic series to go to the racetrack.

We are five years into the existence of Circuit of the Americas and the track should be hosting more domestic series. The Formula One race and MotoGP race provide really good crowds for the racetrack but two big rounds aren't good enough. WEC and IMSA left because of small crowds, mostly I think because of poor date choice and running on a Saturday during college football season and only a few miles away from the University of Texas. To be fair to COTA it takes more than five years to develop a regularly attending fan base. When COTA was first announced, I think I wasn't the only one a little surprised about the idea of a racetrack outside of Austin, Texas. Austin didn't have a connection to motorsports. It wasn't Indianapolis or Charlotte. It was the cliché "untapped market" that got a racetrack. Maybe that was a mistake. Maybe an "untapped market" will never get it and never be able to create a regularly attending fan base but the only way to develop a motorsports fan base is by having races to attend and having two weekends when you hope to draw people out isn't enough.

Circuit of the Americas is in a dangerous position and one that it should have gotten out of by adding domestic series. If Formula One and MotoGP decide to leave Austin the track will likely be on the verge of collapse. It has got nothing beyond those races of substance that draws people, sponsors and potentially make money. The track has expressed interest in hosting a NASCAR race, which is harder to get than it sounds and something Eddie Gossage and Texas Motor Speedway would do everything in its power to block. IndyCar doesn't appear to be on the track's radar and while IMSA said it was open to returning I don't see the series going back to Texas any time soon.

Without races, the track is hoping to make money through other avenues. The track's amphitheater hosts concerts throughout the year and the track is even building a soccer stadium on the property but I want to see Circuit of the Americas succeed at what it decided to put in its title, as being a circuit. It is a really nice racetrack; one that is under appreciated in this country and more series should go there. Besides hosting Formula One and MotoGP, the series should go out there and add a NASCAR race and add an IndyCar race. While concerts and soccer games both attract a crowd, the venue needs to use the racetrack to stay alive and it would be a shame in five years all we will have is a 3.4-mile ribbon of asphalt collecting dust.

Champion From the Weekend
Réne Rast won the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters championship by three points over Mattias Ekström.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about René Rast but did you know...

Andrea Dovizioso beat Marc Márquez in a tussle in the wet in the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi. Álex Márquez won in Moto2, his third victory of the season. Romano Fentai won in Moto3, his third victory of the season.

The #8 Toyota of Kazuki Nakajima, Sébastien Buemi and Anthony Davidson won the 6 Hours of Fuji. The #31 Vaillante Rebellion Oreca of Bruno Senna, Julien Canal and Nicolas Prost won in LMP2. The #51 AF Corse Ferrari of James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi won in GTE-Pro, their second consecutive victory and their third in the last four races. The #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Thomas Flohr, Francesco Castellacci and Miguel Molina won in GTE-Am.

The #44 Magnus Racing Audi of Pierre Kaffer, Kelvin van der Linde and Markus Winkelhock won the California 8 Hours.

Brad Keselowski won the NASCAR Cup race from Talladega. Parker Kligerman won the Truck race.

Jamie Green and Marco Wittmann split the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters races from Hockenheim.

Esteban Guerrieri and Néstor Girolami split the WTCC races from Ningbo.

Coming Up This Weekend
The United States Grand Prix.
Supercars ends the endurance section of the season at Surfers Paradise.
MotoGP takes the title battle to Phillip Island.
World Superbikes will be at Jerez.
Suzuka hosts the final round of the Super Formula season.
Portimão hosts the final round of the European Le Mans Series season.
Kansas hosts the final race of the second round of the NASCAR Chase.