By Kevin Lyttle - American-Statesman Staff
Circuit of the Americas has lined up its most ambitious racing schedule for 2017, starting with a U.S. sports car event this month.
Nine full racing weekends, two more than the previous high, are scheduled, and those don’t include the July 15-17 Corvette Invasion, which will draw thousands of cars from across a multistate region.
The circuit plans to give area residents opportunities to enjoy hands-on experiences. COTA officials said details will be revealed in the next few weeks.
The racing will kick off in three weeks with the SCCA Major, part of the Hoosier Super Tour, March 24-26. The event will bring hundreds of the top U.S. amateur drivers to Austin for a Southern Conference event put on by the Sports Car Club of America.
MotoGP will arrive April 21 for the Red Bull Grand Prix, the third stop — and only one in North America — on the 18-event FIM international motorcycle racing tour.
“That’s annually our second-biggest draw behind Formula One,” COTA Chairman Bobby Epstein said.
Last year the track reported a three-day attendance of 131,881.
For the first time, the circuit will have stand-alone weekends for the main events of the International Motor Sports Association and the World Endurance Challenge.
The IMSA Sports Car Shootout will be May 5-6. Rolex 24 at Daytona winners Jordan and Ricky Taylor plan to race, along with Scott Sharp, who won nine IndyCar races, and Chrisian Fittipaldi, who’s driven in everything from Formula One to NASCAR. The Taylor brothers, who are from Florida, won at COTA last September.
The WEC weekend Sept. 15-16 will include the Lone Star Le Mans, a six-hour race.
“COTA is the only circuit in the world that has all three major international events: Formula One, MotoGP and IMSA/WEC,” said Katja Heim, the track’s chief operating officer. “We’re particularly proud of that.”
The U.S. Grand Prix F1 race weekend Oct. 20-22 coincides with a Texas Longhorns home football weekend (Oklahoma State) and comes just one week in advance of the Mexican Grand Prix.
“We’ve dealt with the football conflict before; it will work out,” Epstein said. “As for Mexico, being one week apart means (F1 teams) will be motivated to clean up and move out faster than they would otherwise. We get the track back sooner, and that’s great. One week different than Mexico shouldn’t affect our crowd.”
COTA’s season will conclude Nov. 10-12 with a new event, the 24H COTA USA, a 24-hour endurance race that’s part of the 24H Series for GT cars, touring cars and silhouettes, meant to resemble cars the average person drives.
Kyle track closes: Area racing enthusiasts lost a grass-roots option as Central Texas Speedway in Kyle closed its doors. The three-eighths of a mile oval opened in 1998 as Thunderhill Raceway. It is looking for a new leaseholder or investors.
AM Racing held the track’s lease in 2016 but did not renew it, according to the Hays Free Press, choosing to devote its full attention to its NASCAR truck series team with local driver Austin Wayne Self. The 20-year-old finished a career-best second last weekend at Daytona.
Harris Hill Raceway in San Marcos remains open, and it largely caters to sports car clubs and motorcycle enthusiasts. It also offers the H2R Challenge Racing Series for members.
Circuit of the Americas schedule
March 24-26;SCCA Major;Hoosier Tour sports cars
April 21-23;Red Bull Grand Prix of Americas;MotoGP motorcycles
May 5-6;Advance Auto Parts Showdown;IMSA sports cars
July 5-8;Formula Sun Grand Prix;American solar-powered cars
July 15-17;Corvette Invasion;demonstration racing/car shows
Sept. 2-3;Pirelli World Challenge;high-performance sports cars
Sept. 15-16;Lone Star Le Mans;WEC 6-hour endurance race
Oct. 3-5;U.S. Vintage Nationals;SVRA collector cars race
Oct. 20-22;U.S. Grand Prix;Formula One and support races
Nov. 10-12;Hankook 24 Hours of COTA;GT and Touring cars
Note: For tickets, times and daily schedules, visit circuitoftheamericas.com.