AUSTIN (KXAN) — Formula 1 drivers and Moto GP riders should expect a smoother ride when they take to the track at Circuit of the Americas in 2022.
That’s because the circuit is working to repave sections of the track that sparked complaints from racers competing in Austin last year.
Over the next four weeks, workers will add 10 inches of concrete to iron out bumps at Turns 2 and 10 and resurface between Turns 12 and 16.
To identify the problem areas, COTA teamed up with experts from Texas A&M University, who used 3-D mapping under the track’s surface and a ground penetration radar to detect changes within the soil.
The land that the track is built on is responsible for the bumps and could continue to cause issues in the future, according to Leo Garcia, COTA’s vice president of facilities and track operations.
“This part of Austin, the county, the soil moves a lot,” Garcia said. “We know that’s the biggest problem, but why it affected those two particular areas, we don’t really know.”
“They weren’t able to determine any anomalies in the soil beneath three to four feet that we could see and address,” he added. “The easiest solution for us was to reinforce those areas, so that way when we pave on top of it, it’s not a weak spot anymore.”
KXAN meteorologist Kristen Currie explained that the ground east of I-35 in Austin is high in clay — unlike the Hill Country, for example, where there is more rock underground.
The clay expands and contracts depending on the weather. If enough water gets into the soil during colder temperatures, the clay can freeze, causing it to swell.
When it thaws out, it takes up less space, leading to holes or bubbles that cause a more uneven surface.
Currie said that Austin saw above average precipitation last year, which may have exacerbated the issues.
The historic winter storms that ravaged Texas in February 2021 may have also contributed to the bumps on the racetrack, Garcia said.
“We also think that the freeze that happened played a major impact in some of it,” he said.
“By the time Moto GP got here, the bump at (Turn) 10 showed itself, where we hadn’t seen it before. We feel that at 10, and at 13 and 14, those bumps happened shortly after the freeze.”
The result was a surface that attracted criticism during the major races at COTA last fall.
Moto GP riders, such as current world champion Fabio Quartararo, were particularly vocal about their concerns.
When the championship came to COTA in October for the Grand Prix of the Americas, Quartararo described the surface as “a joke.”
“It’s not a Moto GP track for me,” he told reporters. “To make a race here — for one lap it’s okay — but for 20 laps, we will see that there will be some bad moments.”
Garcia said that the bumps were only discovered when Moto GP came to town, as the surface was less of a problem for cars.
“There’s nothing we could have done at that point that would have been satisfactory, so they just raced on it,” he said.
When the repaving work is complete, an inspector will test the surface on a motorcycle and report back to Moto GP.
“After the inspection, we feel that Moto GP will be happy and will continue with us being on their calendar,” Garcia added.
Work to improve the surface at COTA could become a regular sight in the coming years, due to the inherent problems with the site.
“We understand that this is probably going to be a problem for us for a while,” Garcia said. “We are prepared mentally to know that this is something that we’re going to continue to do over the next several years.”
Garcia confirmed that 2022 is the last year of 10-year contracts that brought both Formula 1 and Moto GP to Austin back in 2013.
When asked about future plans for both series at COTA beyond this year, Garcia declined to comment.