Circuit of the Americas

The days go by so fast: Today marks the last Austin City Council meeting of the year. And at 98 items, it’s going out with a bang. Here ‘s what council has stuffed in their stocking:

Don’t Start Your Engines?: An organizing group with the Circuit of the Americas just received more than $29 million from the state’s Major Events Trust Fund to help pay for costs associated with putting on November’s Formula 1 event.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

The Texas Comptroller has paid the organizers of Austin’s Formula 1 race more than $29 million from the state’s Major Events Trust Fund.

The trust fund uses tax revenues generated by an event to cover expenses related to the event.

“We pay them back $29.3 million because we’re saying, basically, that there’s been an incremental tax increase of $29.3 million so we’re going to let you have that money to pay you back for expenses that you had bringing the event here," Lauren Willis, director of communications for the Texas Comptroller, says.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Ready or not, Formula 1 has arrived.

As Austin readies for an onslaught of some 100,000 visitors, we’ve heard lots about traffic planshelicopter permits, and even counter-terrorism measures.  But what about the actual race: the cars, the drivers and the sport itself? Confused? KUT News has assembled a primer on this weekend’s Formula 1 race.

  • What Sort of Cars Are These?

The FIA Formula One World Championship is the highest class of single-seater auto racing that is authorized by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile.

The "formula" in Formula 1 refers to a set of guidelines that each racing car must adhere to. The results are state-of-the-art.

Flickr user Images of Money,

Tens of thousands of Formula 1 fans are making their way to Austin for this weekend’s Grand Prix. Many are from foreign countries.

The Austin Better Business Bureau says business owners should be prepared to accept foreign currency or else they may lose out on some customers.

The BBB says business owners should be aware of ever-changing exchange rates and should talk to their banks about whether they’ll charge extra for depositing foreign currency.

Tyler Pratt for KUT News

The City of Austin says it’s prepared to handle any and all public safety issues that may arise during the upcoming F1 weekend 10 days from now.

“I’m smiling because I’m ready,” said Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo. “We’ll absolutely have a tremendously positive impact in terms of public safety and in terms of the enjoyment of our residents and our visitors.”

Circuit of the Americas

Travis County Commissioners are holding a public hearing this morning over granting a mass gathering permit to the Circuit of Americas and RunTex for a race at the track. But it wouldn’t be a Formula 1 race, or even a race involving vehicles.

RunTex wants to put on a 5k that would allow participants to run on the Circuit of the Americas track. The track course is 3.4-miles long, slightly longer than a 5k.

The event, planned for Saturday, Nov. 3, would also serve as a sort of open house and would allow attendees explore part of the COTA facility.

Travis County ESD #11

The fire chief who leads the emergency service district around the Circuit of the Americas track is going before the Travis County Commissioners today to ask them to consider a tax deal if the track area is annexed by the City of Austin.

Fire Chief Ken Bailey leads Emergency Service District #11. Emergency service districts are entities created by the state to provide services to unincorporated areas, like the land around the Circuit of the Americas track. Bailey wants the city to keep the district in place, and let the district keep some of the sales tax revenue generated by the track to hire staff to respond to potentially increased calls.

Bailey says, right now, if the City of Austin annexes the track, the city would benefit from a 0.5 percent sale tax along with property tax revenue. Instead, Bailey is proposing that ESD #11 pay the city one-third of the district's 1.5 percent sales tax: equal, he says, for the city either way.

Circuit of the Americas

After a visit from Formula 1 officials yesterday, Austin’s Circuit of the Americas (COTA) is right on track to host the United States Grand Prix in November, according to a press release from COTA. 

Charles Whiting, the director of racing, safety and technical matters for the Fédération Internationale de l’ Automobile (FIA), the international body that oversees F1 racing, declared Austin’s track “ready to race.”  His approval is necessary for an F1 circuit to conduct Grand Prix races.

The track was awarded a Grade 1 designation, the highest distinction that can be given to a motorsports venue.  Whiting declared that the circuit was “built to the highest quality” and that he had “no complaints whatsoever.”

Two months before the checkered flag at Austin's Formula 1 United States Grand Prix gets waved for the first time, KUT News got an exclusive look at the track.

Our guides: two German engineers, whose company Tilke has had a hand in building half of all current Formula 1 racetracks around the world.

This video was produced for KUT News by Axel Gerdau, and shot by Daniel Deloach and Gerdau. 

The Junior League of Austin

The Austin City Council has delayed a vote on approving a concert put on by the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) during the Formula One race weekend.

The concert would need special approval because Auditorium Shores is already booked for the maximum number of event days for the year.

But that’s not the only conflict. The concert would be the same weekend as, and just across the street from, the Junior League of Austin’s “A Christmas Affair.”

The decades-old shopping event is the Junior League’s biggest fundraiser and planning for it starts two years in advance. Parking is already limited for the 30,000 or so anticipated attendees, and the Junior League believes adding another large event in the same area would be overwhelming.

Circuit of the Americas

Autoweek points to an announcement from Circuit of the Americas, host of Austin’s inaugural Formula One U.S. Grand Prix this November: the COTA team is looking to hire up to 700 part-time positions to help out over race weekend. 

Applicants must register and then be vetted by a third-party firm; once hired they must work the entire event, November 16 to November 18. “You will be paid for the entire event on Friday, Nov. 30, the week after the Thanksgiving holiday,” the release states, adding that “Jobs at COTA … are part-time, so we encourage all applicants to work these events around their other employment.”

The track managers aren’t the only ones at work: late last week, city and county responders held an open house detailing plans to address an influx of F1 visitors.

Image courtesy Chesapeake Energy

UT Study Says Fracking Doesn’t Directly Contaminate Groundwater

A new report by the University of Texas at Austin released this week says there’s no direct link between groundwater contamination and hydraulic fracturing – a controversial method of extracting natural gas and oil from shale formations.

The research was done by UT's Energy Institute. The report’s authors say contamination is often the result of above ground spills or mishandling of wasterwater, but not caused directly by fracking. 

Fracking involves blasting water, mixed with sand and chemicals, underground to fracture rock and improve the flow of natural gas and oil. The practice is used at the North Texas Barnett Shale.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is also studying the environmental effects fracking may have on groundwater. Its preliminary results differ from the UT study.

Image courtesy

Local Formula One track promoters announced ticket details for their inaugural F1 race and other events: $1,000 to $5,000 for a spot on their “Select Seat Wait List.” That’s right: Upwards of $5,000, just for the right to purchase tickets for future events.

Granted, the “personal seat licenses” the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) racetrack is selling are for the best ones in the house: a perch in the 9,000 seat, 26 row main grandstand. Licenses are also available for seats along three of the course’s main turns, including Turn 1, which “sits atop a dramatic 133 ft. elevation and features the clearest sightlines for the track’s signature turn,” COTA promoters write.  Along with being eligible to purchase tickets for every F1 event at the track, license holders will also receive a “priority position” for purchasing tickets for other race and entertainment events there.