Formula 1 Texas Style

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by Tom Richard, AIA, Principal

The United States will finally get its first purpose-built Formula 1 race track.  Named “Circuit of the Americas,” the 3.4 mile circuit and its associated architectural and entertainment facilities are beginning to take shape on a 970 acre site in southeast Austin, Texas.  After an absence of five years, an official United States Grand Prix will be held at the track in 2012.  Formula 1 United States, the race track’s developer, has, in fact, secured the rights to conduct the US Grand Prix until 2021 from the FIA, the sport’s international sanctioning body.

The developer has put together an impressive team.   The track itself was designed by Tilke Gmbh & Co, engineers and architects of Aachen, Germany.  Tilke is considered to be the world’s pre-eminent racetrack design firm whose modern purpose-built projects include the Bahrain International Circuit, Korean International Circuit, Shanghai International Circuit, Istanbul Park, and others.  According to the developer, the Austin design combines “modern features with details reminiscent of the legendary tracks from the ‘60s.”  In fact, several of the track’s 20 turns replicate some of racing’s most famous turns from around the world.  The natural topography of the Texas hills on which the 3.4 mile track will sit allows for elevation changes of 133 feet.

The racetrack’s facilities have been designed by HKS, a well respected 70-year-old architectural firm whose sports projects include the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium and the MLB Texas Rangers Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and the Lucas Oil Stadium (NFL Colts) in Indianapolis among others.  The facilities will include grandstands for 120,000 people placed at strategic locations along the circuit, pit buildings, team suites, restaurants and club suites, several concession buildings, and fan engagement areas.  It will truly be a world-class racing facility.  The general contractor is Austin Commercial, a major construction firm.

The team behind the project is also first rate.  Tavo Hellmund, founding partner and Chairman of Formula 1 United States, was raised in Austin and compiled a winning record as a driver in NASCAR, FIA, and SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) sanctioned races.  He is one of the most qualified authorities on Formula 1 racing in the US.  The other founding partner of Formula 1 United States is Red McCombs, a co-founder of Clear Channel Communications and former owner of the San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets, and Minnesota Vikings.  The President of Formula 1 United States is Steve Sexton, former President and CEO of Churchill Downs and an executive with 25 years of experience in the racing and entertainment business.

Merritt & Harris, Inc. is providing the construction document review and is monitoring the construction of the Circuit of Americas for the lender.

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