Posted on November 16, 2012 at 9:36 AM
Friday, Nov 16 at 9:36 AM
AUSTIN, Texas -- The moment is finally here - racing begins Friday morning at the Circuit of the Americas track.
Formula 1 drivers will hit the track for the first time at 9 a.m. for the start of practice runs. A group of the drivers visited COTA on Thursday to check out the track first hand. Until that moment they had only been able to test drive the COTA track through computer simulation.
"Turn one looks incredible, you can't even see the apex of it, so trying to find the line for it looks like one of the most challenging corners. That corner is probably going to be a historic corner," said F1 driver Lewis Hamilton.
The track is 3.4 miles long and includes 20 turns with some steep climbs.
"I've seen the track. It's amazing. It's [an] amazing layout. It's [a] really nice track and very enjoyable. I think we will have a lot of fun, the drivers,” described F1 driver Sergio Perez of Mexico.
The track runs counter-clockwise. Most of the other tracks used in this season’s Formula 1 racing are designed to operate clockwise.
The crowds are ready to watch the return of the U.S. Grand Prix. This weekend marks the first Formula 1 race in the U.S. since 2007.
COTA estimates 40,000 to 50,000 fans will attend Friday’s practice runs. During Saturday’s qualifiers COTA estimates 60,000 to 80,000 will attend. By Sunday's F1, the crowd will grow between 110,000 and 120,000 people.
The crowds will also take in the rest of the COTA amenities. It includes banquet rooms, outdoor music venues and a state-of-the-art medical facility. It's set up so surgeons and doctors at the track have the same equipment you'd find in an emergency room. Travis County Fire Rescue and Austin/Travis County EMS will be part of the team. They've been training for the past six months.
There are also two helipads at COTA. STAR flight service is on standby for any emergencies.
The Travis County Sheriff’s Office meanwhile is in charge of safety patrol at COTA.
Across town, as crowds disperse, Austin police will monitor conditions. APD says about 150 officers will help with traffic problems and crowd control during special F1 events downtown.
“Everybody from our detective units, investigative units, to organized crime, all of our units are looking for organized crime that might be coming into town," explained Assistant Chief David Carter of the Austin Police Department. “Sometimes you'll see the officers and sometime you won't. Some will be in uniform and some will be in plain clothes."
The department has been training for the weekend about how to deal with race fans from other countries. There's a new, but temporary, Downtown Command Center. It opened Friday morning and will run 24 hours a day through the weekend.
The city is gearing up for the crowds downtown. Capital Metro expanded its service and extended hours for the F1 weekend. This includes shuttle service to and from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and downtown Austin, as well as a free circulator throughout downtown. Rail service will also continue through Sunday evening.
“They are going to need to move 30 or 40,000 people on Sunday. We are also looking at once those people get back downtown, how to move them to the events downtown,” said Gordon Derr of the City of Austin Transportation Department.
Capital Metro released a free mobile app called M2, in which riders can purchase tickets and arrange their route. The first shuttle service to COTA began at 7 a.m. Friday.