Circuit of The Americas still has over two months to wait before it waves the green flag on NASCAR race action for the first time, but a Goodyear tire test on Tuesday offered a good first taste.
Brad Keselowski was one of three drivers, all former Cup Series champions, who participated in the test. Keselowski has never won a road course race but felt the 20-turn circuit that covers 3.41 miles has some key action spots — starting with the first corner.
“Turn 1 is designed as through a fan said, ‘How can I have the most calamity in that corner on the start?’” Keselowski said. “So, there’s a couple of things — first off, it’s uphill, which helps the car stop, so it encourages the driver to try to out-brake another driver, which is big on a restart or a start because all of the cars are already so close together. Second thing is, it’s really wide on entry, so it’s almost impossible to block because there’s just a lot more racetrack.
“And then, of course, the third part is it’s a super-slow corner, meaning you have to use a lot of brakes to get through there. So, like I said, almost like it was intentional — I’m sure it was intentional — to create some epic starts. I think you’ll see that here.”
Martin Truex Jr. didn’t run the circuit in iRacing or on the simulator beforehand, instead choosing to watch videos before hitting the track. Although, he admitted, it was five minutes of in-car footage, so his learning curve of the elevation changes and blind corners was steep.
COTA, according to Truex, is part Sonoma and part Watkins Glen. The similarities to Sonoma are the combination of fast and slow sections, while the tires wear out on the older asphalt. But high-speed straightaways and hard braking zones are comparable to the Glen.
“I would say the start of this race will probably be pretty cool,” Truex said. “You’ve got that long, front straightaway, and it’s very, very wide, then you go into a very, very slow corner. We have races at places like Pocono, where we get five and six-wide down the frontstretch, and there’s potential for that to happen here as well, but you’ve got to turn around and go the other way, so it could be pretty hairy.”
Road-course ace and reigning champion Chase Elliott was also on hand Tuesday. Elliott called the facility “super nice” and the track. “It has a lot of character to it,” Elliott said.
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All three drivers appeared to enjoy the challenge a new track brings. But the test also served various purposes.
“For NASCAR, it’s proving out some of the facilities — whether it be the timing lines or the pit road maps and all these things — to make sure that when we come here for the race, it’s a seamless experience without any obvious, ‘why didn’t we think of that?’ moments,” Keselowski said. “So it kind of works through a lot of those issues, so there’s a team of NASCAR folks that are here doing just that. And same thing for Goodyear. It’s called a Goodyear tire test, but I think of it as a NASCAR test that Goodyear’s at because Goodyear’s here as well, just trying different versions of tires — just keeping their eyes open for anything that might be an issue when we come back here. So far, there’s no indications of anything like that, so we’re checking all the boxes to make sure we’re prepared.”
All three NASCAR national series will contest the COTA course on May 21-23.