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The Circuit takes shape: A new look at the U.S. Grand Prix Formula 1 track construction

Photo by Kevin McCauley
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I'm covered in dust. My hands are gritty, my hair has silt in it and my camera lenses are caked in the stuff. I've been touring Circuit of the Americas on a breezy March morning to see how Austin's racetrack is shaping up since I last visited in October.

It's been a particularly long five months for the track, riddled with controversy, doubt, speculation and delays.

But at the site on this day, those issues are nowhere to be found. It's full steam ahead at the sprawling site, which has been undergoing work nearly around the clock since construction resumed in early December.
 
Let's take a look at how much has been completed and how much work is left to be done before Austin's first Formula 1 race on November 18.
 
This is a driver's eye view of the main straight leading uphill to a hairpin Turn One. Imagine this at 200 mph.
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As we approach the track, the massive pit building rises up in the distance from the dirt. It sticks out like a cruise ship in the desert.

We take a right and head up the hill to Turn One, the highest point on the track.

 
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From the viewing platform on Turn One, we can see most of the site. Our guide, Al Mays, points out the main straightway and grandstand being assembled. On the right edge of the photo, the wooden building under construction is the track's medical center.

 
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The lighter-colored, smooth surface is Turn One and the Turn One run-off area. On the left side of the horizon line it's possible to see the downtown Austin skyline on a clear day.

 
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Paving the track will be done towards the end of construction, so that heavy equipment won't drive over the sensitive, specially-formulated asphalt surface.

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Currently there are more than 550 workers on site.

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We leave the viewing platform and drive over the track surface through corners three to seven. These will be well defined, high-speed sweepers, but currently the track surface and the runoff area are built up and treated as one wide area.

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It's a steep climb up Turn Eight — which makes it far more exciting in person than it could possibly look on a map. The black polymer sticking out reveals how much progress has been made.

Months ago, this roadway was a 10-foot deep trench. The polymer is put down, and then specially treated soil is filled in eight inches at a time.  

 
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The ultra-tight hairpin of Turn 11 is preceded by, and followed by a straightaway. Circuit of the Americas is one of the few tracks on the Formula 1 calendar that goes counter-clockwise, which makes it even tougher on the drivers physically. 

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The Circuit of the Americas power station is up and running out past Turn 11. We take a detour off the track surface and make our way down COTA Boulevard.

This will be a public road around the track, meant to allow better access for the hundred thousand fans expected for the race. Right now it can be distinguished by silver fire hydrants which have already been installed.

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One of the track's two tunnels, which will eventually be underneath the track surface. The other tunnel is on the main straight as the track ascends up the hill.

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We share the roads and dirt paths with gigantic construction vehicles, which are constantly on the move everywhere we go. It's noticeably busier and more crowded than it was in October.

Since a worker was critically injured a month ago in a roll over wreck, the Circuit is more sensitive than ever to safety issues. The tires of these trucks are bigger than our entire golf cart buggy, we stop and make sure they signal us before we drive past them.

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We approach the pit building from the other side, near turn 18. The track's work schedule is dynamic and fleixible to adapt to changing manpower and the materials needed. 

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Crews dig out what will eventually be the 20,000 person capacity amphitheater spanning the length of three football fields. "That didn't look like that yesterday," Mays says. 

This will also be the site of an iconic viewing tower.

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The 40,000-square-foot media center is well underway on the front straightaway.

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The pit building is bustling with activity. The part where the second and third floor balconies arch upward and downward is where the podium celebrations will take place in November.

Some of the guest suites on the second floor will be offered relatively bare, so that international companies renting them for the race weekend can deck them out completely with their own furnishings, art, and high-tech gadgets, suited to their own particular style.

Welcome to Formula 1. 

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Steel for the permanent grandstands went up last week and will be complete by this summer.

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Beyond the pit building lies the facility's medical center, equipped with three medical helipads. That brings the track's total to seven helipads, one of which will be reserved for Bernie Ecclestone.

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With plenty of structures, more progress in the track surface, and lots of workers and activity everywhere, the track looks drastically different than it did in October. The FIA is scheduled to inspect the track in late August and Circuit constuction managers say it will be ready.

You can subscribe to the track's mailing list for more information. General admission tickets will go on sale this summer.

Personal seat licenses, similar to a season ticket, allow for seat ownership and are on sale now.