Riding on Circuit of The Americas
When I was fourteen years old I moved from a small country town in Australia with a population of about 2,000 people to live with my aunt in Oregon. My first day at school in America was a huge shock - the school had more students than the total population of the town I had just moved from! Talk about culture shock.
This shock just kept growing when I started going to college football games. OU stadium was a short drive from my aunts house so we went to all the home games. I had never seen a building so big in my entire life! This enormous, cavernous structure could seat over 40,000 people!
I was a keen soccer player and made it onto the JV team. The coach was a bit of a nut, for some reason he thought that eating dog biscuits and offering them to our opponents on the field was the key to victory. Despite his shortcomings as a tactician, he kept his eyes open for opportunities to expand our horizons. To this end he managed to get the team a tour of the stadium I had only previously seen from the nosebleeds.
We walked out onto the turf of this stadium and I looked up. My little brain could barely comprehend the distance from where I was standing to the seats way off in the distance. I felt like a flea looking up from the carpet! The amount of space inside that stadium kinda creeped me out. I felt smaller than I ever had before.
And that's what COTA did to me the first time I wheeled down pit lane.
I watched the MotoGP races from the bleachers by Turn 15. But the level of separation means that the riders on track might as well be on the moon for all the contact I had with them. Watching the race the next day on TV only magnified this distance. After watching Rossi and Dovi and Lorenzo duking it out for years on tracks all over the world, they were in a different universe.
And then I got a chance to ride on the same track, park in the same pits, even stand on the podium where Marquez shook a bottle of champagne after his first ever MotoGP race win. That took a moment to absorb.
It's easy to take what we do for granted. After doing hundreds of track days on more than 20 racetracks in the US and Australia, I admit I sometimes forget to appreciate just how lucky I am to be able to suit up and ride as hard as I can up to 20 times a year.
But riding on COTA brought into sharp focus just how lucky we are to be able to ride at such a spectacular facility. Everything about COTA just highlights the level of professionalism behind every aspect of the complex. The pit garages are immaculately clean. The classrooms are huge. And the track is AMAZING. The asphalt is so smooth my knee sliders didn't grind, they MELTED.
Traction is so abundant I could feel my tires dig in and grip. I got my first real understanding of asphalt abrasiveness that I hear discussed by MotoGP commentators so often. The texture of the asphalt allows water to filter through and drain away, but without sacrificing traction. We were able to test this feature last year when it rained on Sunday morning. Even with drops on my visor I felt enough confidence in my tires that I could get my knee down. On any other track with that much rain I would never want to push hard, but on COTA it was easy.
And then there's the layout. Turn 1 is a real challenge. With an uphill climb like that its easy to go in too slow. Gravity, it turns out, works well as extra braking. Coming down the hill and under the bridge is so much fun because the track is so wide, with so much traction, you can accelerate hard while leaned over, knee on the deck the whole way.
The esses are challenging. Its so easy to go too slow through here. But practise and confidence can make a huge difference.
And the story is the same through the whole track.
I dont usually enjoy straights - opening a throttle is no challenge, but the straight on COTA is truly amazing. To this day I've never seen my speed while on this section, but I know from my logger that I have exceeded 170mph.
I mentioned this to my wife one time... "You shouldn't tell me things like that!"
After a day on COTA my poor knee sliders where almost dead. I've never had each knee down for as long or as fast as I do every time I go to COTA. I've had students rush up to me ecstatic that they touched a knee down for the first time ever!
The long right hand multi-apex turn is the perfect training tool. A rider is leaned over for so long that they can experiment with body position and lean angle that the natural result is more confidence than ever before.
And the result of confidence?
I saw students improve their cornering speed, looking further through corners and using more throttle at corner exit than ever before. The track builds confidence. The wide track, ample run-off and incredible traction make for an unforgettable experience.
But be careful... I know many COTA riders who became completely hooked on track riding. COTA was the first time for many students who are now regulars, not only to COTA but all the tracks in Texas.
Yes, COTA is habit forming.
But getting into the habit of riding in a safe, controlled environment with none of the regular risks associated with street riding can only be a good thing. Every time I ride there I just think of all the speeding tickets I wont be getting!
And then, wheeling down pit lane on my way to another session, I look up at the facility and can't help but feel like that 14 year old kid again.
How lucky am I?