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How to drive the Austin GP circuit
This weekend, Bernie Ecclestone’s F1 circus heads stateside to the brisket-filled city of Austin, Texas.
With the constructors’ championship trophy now safely residing at Mercedes HQ in Brackley, all the attention on – and off – the grid has turned to the drivers’ championship.
Both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have their hands by their sides, hovering over their holsters. With just three races left, a 17-point difference between the two Merc drivers, and over 100 points left up for grabsm, it’s set to be a cracker.
And what a place for the duel to unfold. Though Austin has only been on the F1 calendar for three years, the USA’s only dedicated F1 track has proved itself one of the best on the calendar. The undulating 3.4-mile, 20-turn track pilfers the best parts of other circuits from around the world, and is a favourite of F1 pilots.
Which is why we’ve enlisted the help of Allan McNish – three-time Le Mans winner and BBC F1’s man of wisdom – to talk you round the Circuit of the Americas. At the recent Lone Star Le Mans, we got a lap of the track in an Audi R8 V10 with Allan. Here are his pace notes.
“This is the one everyone talks about,” Allan says as he winds out the V10 down the start-finish straight. “Heading up to Turn One is like going up a ski slope. It’s very quick on entry and you use a lot of the uphill gradient to help you slow the car. It’s a tricky corner because you actually seem to be going further away from the circuit than you need to, but then you come down the hill through the flat out right-hander at Turn Two. It’s easily flat through the compression but can be a difficult corner in traffic.”
Then it’s the fastest and most exhilarating section of the circuit, an ‘esses’ section reminiscent of the legendary Maggotts and Becketts complex at Silverstone. “Turn Three, Four and Five are flat and fantastic. When racing here [in an LMP1 car] it was a big, big shock to me how much aero you can generate in the first section and how deep I could go into the sequence without braking before Turn Six.
“Then you hit the brake into the last part of the chicane at Turn Seven, and make sure you miss the high kerb – that’ll take off your front suspension.
“You have to accelerate through the long, blind adverse camber right hander at Turn Eight. Here, it’s extremely difficult to keep the front of the car tucked in as it goes on and on forever. Then, immediately, you get the car stabilised and turn left into the next one, Turn Nine. Again, stabilise the car, and hard into the brakes where you cut all the way over the kerbs at Turn Ten. Flick it left and accelerate clearly out of the corner and through into the hairpin.”
The hairpin, Turn Eleven, is crucial to nail as it sets the drivers up for the thousand-metre straight, and overtaking opportunities in the DRS Zone.
“For the hairpin you brake at 100m hard, and run into it with all the speed you can,” Allan says. “Then you lift off and use the grip in the hairpin to let the car flow through the middle of the corner. It’s a funny corner because you can easily go in there too deep, but you can lose so much time if you don’t go in with enough speed, so it’s a balancing act.”
Turn Twelve – where most of the WEC field recently went bowling – is the best overtaking opportunity on the circuit, a battle of the late brakers. After that it’s into the Hockenheim-style arena section for Turn Thirteen and Fourteen.
“At this point the left rear is struggling a little bit for grip,” says Allan. “You have to come through and stabilise the car, then let it roll into the left at Turn Fifteen before getting onto the power and through Turn Sixteen, Seventeen and Eighteen – the long triple right-hander that‘s in the style of Istanbul Park’s Turn Eight. It’s a hard corner as you’re not sure where the line is and the tyres are going away from you.”
Then it’s onto the hardest corner of the circuit, the penultimate Turn Nineteen. “It’s a very difficult left with no real differentiating markers, so it’s easy to go way too deep into it and then wide. Finally you have Turn Twenty, a simple ninety left before you’re into another lap…”