Why Circuit of the America’s is one of the most dangerous race tracks in the world


Following is a transcript of the video.

Colton Herta: I think it’s hard when you have a 20 turn track like this. We’re talking about normal road courses that maybe have to 10 to 13 corners, and then we come here that has 20. So that’s another seven to 10 corners that you’re able to have a mistake on.

Hi I’m Colton Herta, I’m 20 years old, and I’m a professional race car driver in the IndyCar Series. I’m the winner of the IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas, and I’m here to take you turn by turn.

Starting on the Start/Finish line here, this is where a lot of the overtaking is gonna be done. You have a really good brake zone going up into Turn 1, which is about 42.67m in elevation change. So, you’re going up very high so it’s gonna make the brake zone a lot deeper. Another key thing coming into Turn 1 is there’s a very big bump on the entry. So it really disrupts the braking, and to really set yourself up you can maybe move yourself a little to the left of the track there. Going actually into the turn it’s gonna be from sixth gear to first gear. Very standard hairpin, and then trying to square it off the best you can and get the power down as soon as possible.

Turn 2 is very self-explanatory. It’s flat out for us. So this is when you’re all the way down on the throttle. This is what we call “holding it flat”. There’s a very big bump that can upset you on cold tires. The car will bottom. When the car slaps the ground, the bottom of the floor, it basically lifts the tires almost for a second. So then the car is out of your control. How you can counteract that is by going a little bit slower so the car doesn’t fully compress going over that bump.

Personally my favorite part of the track is this next section, this Turn 3 through Turn 7. And as you’ll see you really wanna keep it tight on the inside and really not wanna extend out too far on the apex or on the exits of the track because you need to be ready for each next turn. It doesn’t really slow down that much so you always kind of need to be on your toes. This isn’t a place that you’d particularly see a lot of passing, but you really want to stay right up underneath somebody as best you can because passing zones are coming up very quickly. I think Turns 3 through 7 are the most dangerous just from a sheer speed standpoint, entering in at 322km per hour and then actually going through the corners around 257km per hour, it can be prone to some big accidents.

Okay, so it’s very important to get a very good exit out of that section of corners. And then this is the most important corner on the whole track. This is gonna lead onto the very long back straight. So, you really wanna focus on not braking too deep, but staying within your limits of the car. This is the most important part here on the exit, getting the power down cleanly so you can make the maximum amount of lap time on that lap. And then also if you’re trying to overtake staying right up underneath that guy so going down the back straight you can get a slipstream.

Going down the back straight you can see probably going up to about 200 to 210 miles per hour. This is gonna be the number one place to pass. And that’s gonna lead you into the best braking zone there is on the track. This is a very tough braking zone because you’re coming from such a high rate of speed, going all the way down from 210 to 70 or 129km per hour. Once you get the braking down, it’s a very simple corner. Very self-explanatory, it’s just like any other hairpin.

So Circuit of the Americas is one of the more difficult tracks that we go to. You have very low speed corners and very high speed corners, so you have to be able to set the car up for both. These next few corners are probably the most technical and difficult that we go to all year. You really want to get the balance right here because you can gain a lot of time.

This is really, I think, one of the best tracks for the engineers to shine at. He kind of is the brain of the whole team. The mechanics are the guys making the changes on the car, but the engineer is the one telling them what to do to the car. He will be doing things such as changing wing angle. When you tilt the wing up, that’s gonna give more of what we call downforce. And so the air is gonna push the car down harder. So it’s a compromise. You want more grip in the corners then you want more wing, but then you’ll be slower down the straights.

Another huge thing is damper stiffness and softness. Everyone knows what the spring of a car is, and then the damper is actually the shock inside of it that holds it from compressing too much. When it is stiff, that’s typically better for high speed because when it’s stiff it doesn’t flex the car as much so you’re able to stay a lot more stable and go through those high speed corners a lot better. But when it’s soft it really kind of digs in, and that’s where you want it to be in the slow speeds.

And so coming into this double left-hander this is a very tough one because you’re braking at an angle. Whenever you brake straight that’s when you’re gonna have the most braking performance. When you start turning, that’s when the car gets loaded up, the wheels get light and you’ll see what we call “locking up” which is when the wheels will actually stop. And you’ll skid and that’s where you see smoke coming off the tires.

So coming up, the triple right-hander, 16, 17 and 18. This is a corner where in qualifying you’re all the way down on the throttle. You can do this in qualifying because we’ll have newer tires and it’ll make the car a lot more driveable. When you’re in the race and you have older tires, less grip overall, this turns into a much harder corner.

Coming through Turn 19, this is another very difficult corner. It’s a very fast corner, and then it’s very off camber. So that’s when the track slants away. So it’s a really big corner for the drivers because this is typically where you see a lot of mistakes happen. And you usually see guys that can’t control the rear and the car will just spin out.

You finally finish the lap with Turn 20. It’s gonna be down from fourth gear to first gear. It’s gonna be a very simple hairpin.

And that’s a lap of COTA, probably one of the toughest, if not the toughest permanent road course we go to just because of the sheer size of it. I think as a driver it’s so difficult because you have a bit of everything. Like I said previously, you have the slow speed, you have the high speed, so you really need to be good at all aspects, and it’s very possible to go off there and have an accident. So, keeping 100% focused the whole time is the most important thing.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in June 2020.