1978 F1 World Champion Mario Andretti described the Circuit of The Americas as "phenomenal" after officially opening the track with a run in his title-winning Lotus.
The new circuit outside Austin began its final countdown ahead of the inaugural United States Grand Prix with a "First Lap Ceremony" over the weekend in which drivers like Andretti and Jerome D'Ambrosio were joined by VIPs and celebrities. Andretti first took to the track in the Lotus 79 with which he won the 1978 F1 title before completing more laps at the wheel of various other cars.
Andretti had been scheduled to drive a Lotus R30, but technical issues meant the car was unable to run for the majority of the day.
"It's everything I expected and more," Andretti said. "The track is phenomenal. It has all the features that you are looking for, giving you the opportunity to overtake, while negotiating some tighter corners. You can tell a lot of thought has gone into it."
Lotus's reserve driver D'Ambrosio took to the circuit in the R30 before the car hit trouble, and the Belgian also praised the new track.
"It's been a great day today. There's a real buzz about the Circuit of The Americas and it was fantastic to get out on track to demonstrate the R30," D'Ambrosio said. "It's a very enjoyable layout with a couple of really good places for overtaking, some long fast sweeping 'S' corners, and some really good high speed changes of direction like 'Becketts' in Silverstone.
"It was a shame not to get more laps, as an engine issue meant we were unable to continue running, but I had enough time to get a really good feel of the circuit. It's an enjoyable track for a racing driver and also fantastic for the fans as the viewing areas are very well placed; there should be plenty of action. The first corner is quite special and it will be interesting to see it when people are dicing for position in the race."
Actor Patrick Dempsey, best known for the role he plays on the television series Grey's Anatomy, who is also a sports car driver, road racer and racing team owner, also had his chance to take his turn in a Ferrari GT2. He shared in the enthusiasm for the track.
“It's a very fast track with a great rhythm to it,” Dempsey noted. “For F1 it's really important. I don't think they've ever had a home base in America that has worked. It's a really good opportunity for F1 to come back into this country and start a new tradition. This is a market that they need.”
D'Ambrosio agreed that the location was an ideal setting for the return of Formula 1 to the U.S. after a five-year absence.
"Austin is a superb city with a great atmosphere, and I think the city will live around Formula 1 for the week of the Grand Prix, and that's something we all can enjoy," he said. "It's really going to be something quite special."
Circuit chairman and founding partner Bobby Epstein thanked the thousands of workers who devoted the last two years to transforming 1,300 acres in Southeast Travis County, Texas, into a world-class destination for competition, entertainment and business. Epstein also expressed gratitude to the numerous public officials who supported the Circuit's development and the positive economic impact it will have for Central Texas, including Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Travis County Commissioner Margaret Gomez and State Comptroller Susan Combs, who addressed attendees.
“These individuals had the wisdom to see the potential here in terms of what Circuit of The Americas will mean for job and revenue creation in our region,” Epstein said, “as well as the incredible boost the local tourism industry and business community will experience while hosting a Formula 1 event.”
Red McCombs, another one of COTA's founding partners, was also on hand to relish the moment.
“It is a very exciting day. I've been excited since I was first introduced to this product and the fact that we now have it finished is a joy of mine,” McCombs said. “When I found out how Formula 1 is viewed everywhere else in the world, and the dramatic impact it has on the countries where it is run – it is their Super Bowl each year, it is their World Cup – realized that Formula 1 has an identity that we need in the United States. And for us to be able to do this here in Austin is so exciting I just can't wait for the people to be a part of that.”
The United States Grand Prix is set for Nov. 18.