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    Science & Technology

    The Race is On

    Published: Nov. 13, 2012

    Circuit of the Americas: Designed by Longhorns

    Mark Waggoner

    Mark Waggoner

    Creating a brand-new facility for a sport that’s largely unknown in the U.S. presented challenges and opportunities for the design team.

    Architect Juan Miró, a professor at the School of Architecture and principal at Miró Rivera Architects, jumped at the chance to help introduce Austinites and visitors to Formula One. He worked with Mark Waggoner, M.S. CAEE ’99, one of the project’s two lead engineers (along with another Longhorn, David Platten, M.S.E. ’80), to create the grandstands, the soon-to-be iconic observation tower (with its striking “red veil”) and all of the structures — besides the track itself — at the new Circuit of the Americas complex, just southeast of Austin.

    Juan Miro

    Juan Miró

    Watch the video above to hear about Miró and Waggoner’s experience designing the country’s only Formula One racetrack.

    Read a firsthand account from Waggoner about the intricate design of the tower.

    Check out a slideshow to see some great images of the track as construction wrapped up.

    How Do They Make Those Cars Go So Fast?

    All eyes will be on the world’s top-ranked drivers at the Circuit of the Americas racetrack. But long before the racing season starts, engineers, aerodynamicists and computer scientists use computational fluid dynamics (CFD) to devise improvements to the cars. CFD uses advanced mathematics and computer simulation to model and predict how the laws of physics and racing conditions will affect a car’s performance on race day.

    Formula One engineering graphic

    “[CFD] is critical as the teams seek to evaluate improvements that can earn them even hundredths of a second in lap time,” says Dipankar Choudhury, vice president of research for Pennsylvania-based ANSYS Inc., which provides CFD software and consulting to several F1 teams, including Red Bull, Ferrari, Sauber and Force India.

    “What was once a scientific novelty, [CFD] is now a practical tool,” Choudhury says. Not only can CFD result in faster lap times, but it can also improve vehicle safety for drivers who routinely go from 185 to zero miles per hour in a matter of seconds. (Read more about CFD and its role in racing strategy.)

    CFD isn’t only useful for making cars behave like rockets. At the Cockrell School of Engineering, CFD projects are under way in several departments, including mechanical, aerospace, chemical and petroleum engineering. The Institute for Computational Engineering and Science (ICES) is home to some of the world’s foremost experts in numerical methods and engineering simulation. Additionally, UT’s Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) houses some of the country’s fastest supercomputers, which are equipped to perform complex CFD calculations.

    Read more about the groundbreaking technology behind F1, along with other potential applications of this advanced research.


    An earlier version of this article said the race cars could go 300 miles per hour. It has been corrected to reflect the actual top speed of 185 miles per hour.

    • Quote 2
      diooda said on Nov. 29, 2012 at 9:23 p.m.
      before you cry about the environmental impact, remember that the greatest damage will be done by people who were transported to the race. That is, lover envirofriendly ACL and SXSW (I'm just assuming you're into this event ... tell me I'm wrong) is about as much (if not more) damage to the environment due to any major sporting event.
    • Quote 2
      Vidhu said on Nov. 22, 2012 at 10:12 a.m.
      I agree with Jim (Nov. 14 at 06:20 PM). The money wasted on this frivolous excitement could be better used and channelized. Kevin, common sense is always better than 'educated' debate : feeling privileged to have the worlds most POPULAR sport come to our hometown is not a matter of pride. Something being POPULAR makes it all right ? And what do you mean by WORLD's most popular ? Obviously, your 'world' is made of America and Europe, the rest of the world being the third world at another plant somewhere. The temporary trickling down of some percentage of the big money (a gross waste otherwise) to our city's small businesses is not a permanent, long term solution to their problems. We must create better, constructive reasons to attract people to Austin like film / TV shootings, healthy sports, music, art etc. The 'money will come' is a weak rationale many of us seem to using to justify this wasteful excitement wrongly called 'sport'.
    • Quote 2
      Mahesh said on Nov. 19, 2012 at 2:15 p.m.
      @Jim. The waste due to 24 cars F1 is negligible compared to the ineffecient cars that are on the Austin roads. Look at the cars on mopac at 8am and at 5pm and you see hundreds of one occupancy cars going up and down every day. This happens in every city. This is a complete waste of time and money. There is a need for effeciency here. Better public transportation? As far as investment into F1 goes, there has been no goverment funding into it but they have got some tax breaks. F1 creates hundreds of jobs for the locals and boosts the local tourism businesses(hotel, restaurant etc ) temporarily. It is a win-win for everyone.
    • Quote 2
      BillW said on Nov. 18, 2012 at 10:37 a.m.
      As a person who has never been interested in car racing in any form, I am intrigued and interested by the design of Austin's F1 track and facilities. I'll probably actually watch the final race! And, some day, I want to go out to the track and see it firsthand. I'm happy and proud of the UT design team; I think they did an outstanding job and it's something Austin will be proud of. And of course it's going to generate a lot of income into Austin's economy. Thank you for a good report.
    • Quote 2
      Brett R Pasquarella said on Nov. 16, 2012 at 8:14 p.m.
      The lead Civil Engineer from Carlson, Brigance,and Doering, inc., Charles R Brigance, Jr., P.E.,is a UT grad class of 83 and Tommy Carlson, CEO, is a class of 73 grad. You can't see the drainage,water, and waste water systems but again they make the site go just like the geotechnical design.
    • Quote 2
      Bryan Moulin said on Nov. 16, 2012 at 10:38 a.m.
      To echo J. Kuhn's comment, yes, the three lead geotechnical engineers (James Bierschwale, Jeff Kuhn, and myself) are all UT Alumnae also. It's a good feeling to see so many Horns involved in the project.
    • Quote 2
      J. Kuhn said on Nov. 16, 2012 at 8:48 a.m.
      All of the Geotechnical Engineering work for the F1 track was performed by UT alumnae as well. Hook'em!
    • Quote 2
      John Clark said on Nov. 15, 2012 at 10:13 p.m.
      F1 is auto racing at the absolute apex of the sport. For European manufacturers, it's a laboratory where engineering advances are tested and proved, then adapted to mass-produced automobiles for the world market. The cars themselves are works of engineering art. 750 hp from a tiny, 2.4 liter V8, natually aspirated and limited(!) to turning 19,000 rpm. This is a big deal for Austin, for Texas, and for the USA.
    • Quote 2
      Julio said on Nov. 15, 2012 at 9:59 p.m.
      The structural components of the buildings of this site were far from being a challenge. The REAL challenge was the geotechnical work behind it. Bad example by UT in emphasizing this part of the construction, in which the most important thing of this is the TRACK itself. The buildings are just accessories. Expansive clays on the site make it so difficult that the construction of the track was an art itself, and still gave some problems. The foundations of the buildings are a challenge as well. UT just ask another Alumni, Jeffrey Kuhn, who worked in the construction of this facility and was involved with the work on the track, the main part of this site.
    • Quote 2
      HomeShield said on Nov. 15, 2012 at 4:25 p.m.
      that is so cool... I wish Sacramento had something like this. Maybe I should move my pest control company to Austin ;)
    • Quote 2
      Curtis said on Nov. 15, 2012 at 3:40 p.m.
      Of additional note, the wayfinding strategy and associated orientation, directional, and identification elements for the Circuit of the Americas venue were designed by, among other members of our firm, UT graduates Curtis Roberts (BArch ’89) and Ranulfo Ponce (BMathematics ’91).
    • Quote 2
      Ken said on Nov. 15, 2012 at 2:05 p.m.
      Exciting for Austin and a great influx of much needed revenue for the economy. Glad to know that some fellow 'Horns had a hand in the design!
    • Quote 2
      Joe said on Nov. 15, 2012 at 1:09 p.m.
      Jim, why don't you try to learn a little more about F1 before immediately deriding it. Hundreds of thousands of people will be in town, ready to spend their money in the local economy. Also no driver has died since 1994. That's a better track record than some Olympic sports(luge anybody?). And before you cry about the environmental impact, remember that the biggest damage will be done by people being transported to the race. That is, your beloved envirofriendly ACL and SXSW (I'm just assuming you're into these events...tell me I'm wrong) do about as much (if not more) damage to the environment as any major sporting event.
    • Quote 2
      Maria said on Nov. 15, 2012 at 12:45 p.m.
      Interesting - I didn't know the track was locally designed. I don't know what to make of it all just yet; we are waiting to see what the weekend is like. Who knows? Maybe my husband and I can figure out a way to make some income from the influx of visitors to Austin. I make damn good tamales! But for the F1 crowd, I'll probably have to dust them in gold. That is, if the city doesn't charge me thousands of dollars for a permit!
    • Quote 2
      Jim said on Nov. 15, 2012 at 12:28 p.m.
      Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. The commenter above should find out a bit about the topic if he cares anything about credibility. First, F1 races are "road" races, not Indy style races on ovals. Second, they are a test bed for increased safety and environmental impact (think hybrids, light weight rigid structures, aerodynamics, and efficiency). Regenerative braking has been in use for several years (see KERS or kinetic energy recovery systems). Try reading the links with an open mind.
    • Quote 2
      will shepherd said on Nov. 15, 2012 at 12:26 p.m.
      F1 is the test bed for development of technology that finds its way into passenger cars and business. Examples include carbon fiber, turbochargers, electronic transmission control, tire compounds, traction control, fuel injection, fuel management, kinetic energy reclamation (think hybrid) and vehicle aerodynamics. All of these make passenger cars more efficient or safer which are positive for the environment. F1 tracks are quite safe. While there are frequently accidents due to drivers pushing the edge, there hasn't been an F1 driver death since Ayrton Senna in 1994. It has bee estimated that 80% of the fans at F1 are from out of state. The positive economic benefit of their visit is substantial in the hospitality industry. This is in addition to the employment from the $300M construction of the track and future development around the track. Not to mention the worldwide exposure that Austin will get which will undoubtedly result in future investment.
    • Quote 2
      mike said on Nov. 15, 2012 at 12:24 p.m.
      No race car is capable of 300 mph, even in Texas.
    • Quote 2
      Ricardo said on Nov. 15, 2012 at 12:11 p.m.
      It is great to know that fellow horns participated in the design and construction of COTA. Jim, it is great to hear your valuable negative opinion. Thank God that every single one of the 120,000 daily fans, and the 5 million worldwide viewers get to spend their time and money as they see fit. I am also worried about the environment, how about fixing I35 , I can assure you that daily traffic there is worse for the en environment than any single sporting event anywhere around the world. If the investors are rich, why are you so bitter about their investment? Or sure they ask every neighbor in Austin if they like,f1, music, football, etc???
    • Quote 2
      Jon said on Nov. 15, 2012 at 12:03 p.m.
      Uh... F1 is not raced on a circular track, not to mention no F1 racer has died since 1994. This is going to bring massive tourism dollars to the city, so it's doing a lot of good.
    • Quote 2
      Carl said on Nov. 15, 2012 at 11:57 a.m.
      It is entertainment and a hobby for people who enjoy mechanical technology. Aside from that, most technological advancements made for cars are created by this sport. Unless you are someone who never wastes money on beers, smokes or extra foods and never seeks out entertainment such as games (video or athletic), movies, gambling, or even books that aren't purely educational, then who are you to attempt to judge anyone or anything based on your interests and opinions? And how dare you make such a judgement on the people listed in this article that do find the car races interesting and important. Check your facts better next time you attempt slander.
    • Quote 2
      Cody said on Nov. 15, 2012 at 11:41 a.m.
      This is excellent for Austin and America as a whole. Racing is a loved sport by millions of people, and F1 racing is something that many race fans wish they could witness here in the States. F1 combines a high level of excitement and unparalleled ingenuity that will get people from all parts of America buzzing and in turn boost the economy of the city. As far as concerns of pollution and potential fatalities, we as civilians produce exponentially higher pollution levels than the entire motorsport world combined and racing fatalities and very rare to say the least.
    • Quote 2
      Kevin said on Nov. 15, 2012 at 11:34 a.m.
      Jim, that was probably one of the least educated responses I've ever seen. You are wrong on every point made. I won't go into economics or even environmental impact because your head is probably too thick to understand, but I will say that nobody has died in formula one since Ayerton Senna in 1994. The carsand tracks these days are specifically designed with driver safety in mind. We should feel privileged to have the worlds most popular sport come to our hometown.
    • Quote 2
      shantay said on Nov. 15, 2012 at 11:25 a.m.
      Seriously, Jim? What good does it do for the city? Do you have any idea how many out of state visitors will be spending money (generating sales tax revenues) in the area? This track is an impressive structure. Miro-Rivera is one of the top architecture firms in Austin, no doubt.
    • Quote 2
      Ben said on Nov. 15, 2012 at 11:18 a.m.
      Jim, go look at the hotels and restaurants in Austin this weekend and come back here and say it does nothing for the city. A city of small businesses needs events and attractions like this to flourish. The people who attend these events are not afraid of spending money. I'm going to assume by your statement that you also hate football and wish UT would stop playing on Saturdays because the traffic makes it hard for you to get around in your smart car. Auto racing is a sport enjoyed by many. Like anything, there will be people who like it and people who do not. Excess free time and money are things people work hard to obtain. Don't be bitter because you have neither...
    • Quote 2
      Melody S said on Nov. 15, 2012 at 11:12 a.m.
      Jim, to answer your question - I agree that most of the money is made for the fat cats. I think what we expect is that some % of that money spent DOES trickle down into the local economy, especially supporting our bars and restaurants. But all these people staying in the Hiltons, Marriotts, etc...doesn't help us much at all. Corporate hotels barely pay a livable wage for the local employees and that money stays a hot second in Austin before getting sucked out. My beef is with the headline, which is misleading. They didn't design the track? I mean, cool that they designed some stands and some buildings, but...the track is what everyone is going to think you're referring to, and it's just not true.
    • Quote 2
      Dave said on Nov. 15, 2012 at 10:25 a.m.
      Congrats to the UT architects on this accomplishment. The track complex and the race represent a brilliant fruition of art and science. It's great for Austin to host this international phenomena.
    • Quote 2
      Adam Pate said on Nov. 14, 2012 at 10:36 p.m.
      I'm extremely disappointed that, yet again, the university has failed to capitalize on the race-car design program at Cockrell. For over 30 years, Longhorns have been designing and building race cars in a program that now has over 500 registered college teams worldwide to compete in a program that started at UT Austin. This program molds hands-on engineers that are coveted new-hires in industry. Yet, nary has there been a whisper about this program from UT among all the F1 excitement; a missed opportunity for the school in a big way. If you want to generate financial support from F1 sponsors, show them that the school has a top-notch FSAE program (which, by the way, the school should be more supportive of). Am I the only one who sees the obvious parallels?
    • Quote 2
      Jim said on Nov. 14, 2012 at 6:20 p.m.
      A complete waste of time and money for something that will be bad for the environment, with a strong potential for loss of life, with it's car crashes. What is so exciting about cars going around in a circular track anyway? People with way too much time and money on their hands. Besides making money for the fat cats, what good does this do for the city of Austin?
    • Quote 2
      M. Mullings said on Nov. 14, 2012 at 10:19 a.m.
      F1 cars do not go 300 miles per hour. They DO go 300+ kilometers per hour (close to 200 mph).
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