Since its launch in 2012, the Circuit of the Americas has become one of the F1 circus' favourite grand prix destinations. Not only has the track itself delivered a series of great races in its short tenure, but the city of Austin is one that knows how to have a good time -- and wants you to have one too.
This year, to mark the sixth running of the United States Grand Prix, COTA have got a few new tricks up their sleeve, circuit CEO Bobby Epstein revealed.
Taking a cue from the infields so closely linked to that other American passion, NASCAR, for 2017 the Circuit of the Americas has introduced an infield of its own, opening up new entertainment opportunities and viewing angles for the fans.
"This year we opened up the middle-large in-field area," Epstein said, "and we're opening that to a whole new festival area. It's got everything from a huge sports bar showing both F1 and American sports. It's a big college football weekend, and we're going to have [college] games on in between the races."
But the new offerings at COTA aren't restricted to sports fans. As part of their ongoing efforts to make the USGP an event that's fun for all the family, there are new offerings targeted at at women and children who may have been brought along by passionate fans despite their own lack of interest in the action on track.
"We have a nail and styling salon for the ladies -- or I guess the guys that are into that!," Epstein said. "We've added a lot of things for the youth and the ladies. I think, along with the Justin Timberlake and Stevie Wonder concerts we're able to continue to have more things -- we're opening an entirely new large area of track that, besides having activities, will be an interesting new viewing area. You're completely surrounded by the cars, and you'll have the cars and action all around you."
While the F1 weekend is the COTA highlight in the mind of any Formula One fan, a key part of the venue's success has been Epstein and co's efforts to ensure that the track is a multi-use facility that is occupied year-round, part of the Austin landscape and a destination in its own right.
"We've done a better job of marketing the venue for other people to take a risk on events and for us to provide a space for them to hold their events," Epstein said. "There were two major festivals that took place this year, and this year for the month of December we're adding a winter-fest with a massive light show and skating ring, and a petting zoo.
"We're turning a half a mile of track into a walking-trail with light shows along the fences and displays in a Bavarian village, and a Santa's house. So those are ways I think we can get creative, and I think that'll bring out tens of thousands of people to the circuit; it will connect with the local community."
There are also efforts to make COTA a regular destination for the local community, offering up more than just the occasional special events. Katja Heim, chief operating officer for COTA, has been instrumental in connecting the track with the city, Epstein said.
One of Heim's innovations has been a regular Tuesday night bike ride, which sees the track opened up to local cyclists -- clubs and individuals alike. "We now have hundreds of people coming to the track from the city every week just to ride their bikes on the track in the evening," Epstein said.
And then there is the expansion of the corporate use of COTA's facilities, something that has been steadily growing in recent years.
"The Audi Trail Experience relocated their North American programme to COTA this year," Epstein said. "That was a big win for us. And we've also identified that there's the opportunity about six months out of the year to do evening programming on track, for instance. It runs from around 5pm until sunset, and we offer driving experiences. People can just come out with a group of friends and we have a fleet of cars they can use."
Of particular interest to race fans, however, will be the opening of a premier karting facility -- it is hoped in time for this year's United States Grand Prix.
"We think it'll be the premier track in the country," he said. "It's going to be phenomenal. It's just going to be absolutely amazing -- it's just under a mile long, and it should be open in time for F1."