Kaitlin’s COTA Travel Diary – 2023 United States Grand Prix

Kaitlin Tucci of FanAmp attended this year’s USGP in Austin. She shares her experience and some useful tips on attending the race at Circuit of The Americas.

October isn’t just about picking out your best Halloween costume or starting to think about the holidays… for a Formula 1 fan, October means it’s COTA time. The US Grand Prix has bounced to different locations around the country since the early 1900s before being awarded a more ‘permanent’ home in Austin at the Circuit of the Americas in 2012. Other racing series, including MotoGP, NASCAR and IndyCar have also been held at COTA throughout the years. In other words, the Circuit of The Americas is an iconic venue for any racing fan… particularly American fans such as myself.

This year was the first year that I’ve had the opportunity to attend F1 races, and COTA was one that was on the top of my bucket list. My team at FanAmp – the global hub for F1 fans to connect, chat, follow news, and more –  decided to take a team trip to Austin for activations, race reviews, and social content for our first grand prix together. After attending the Canadian GP ‘in the wet’ earlier this year with friends, it became abundantly clear that I would have a dramatically different experience traveling to Austin with my team… ‘in the heat’.

Arriving in Austin

Our team landed in Austin Wednesday morning – to beat the traffic of people flying to Austin Thursday/ Friday and spend as much time as possible enjoying the city. The airport itself was absolutely decked out in Formula 1 memorabilia, art pieces, and, yes, a RedBull Car. All in all, the flight was smooth and it took about 30 minutes from plane exit, baggage return, to getting an Uber into Downtown Austin.

Off-Track Activities

Throughout the weekend, FanAmp hosted and attended multiple meetups, dinners, pop-up experiences, and COTA events. To learn more about our off-track experiences check out this article.

Taking the Shuttle to COTA (Friday)

Our team decided to invest in Round trip 3 day shuttle passes to and from COTA from the Downtown shuttle stop priced at $129. While this was the same stop that we went to every day… Every day was a completely different experience. On Friday we arrived at Waterloo Park (the pickup and drop off point) at 10:30am and were led through the park – that was very reminiscent of Disneyland – to the first line. We waited a short 2-3 minutes to show our passes to the ticket checkers and received wristbands that were color coordinated based on type of pass. Then we waited in a different line for about 10 minutes to board a shuttle – which were converted long haul buses.

This is where the experience went downhill. While we were aware that traffic can be congested to and from the track, there was another factor that wasn’t considered. The bus drivers were given very vague and incorrect directions… in black and white on paper. Our driver was unaware that there was a shuttle only lane and entrance, so while the trip should’ve only taken 20-30 minutes, we didn’t arrive at the track until right before Free Practice began – totaling an hour and 15 minutes for the trip.

Friday’s Free Practice & Qualifying

Entering the track on Friday was pretty seamless after our shuttle fiasco. It’s a ~10 minute walk from shuttle drop off to the gates and there were no lines for security just before Free Practice. Your bags were only searched if flagged when walking through the large scanners.

The team all purchased 3-day GA passes for around $220 from HeadOut during their 50% off sale 2 weeks prior to the race weekend. However, in nearly 100 degree heat we very quickly decided that sitting at the Turn 1 hill… let alone walking up the Turn 1 hill was not something that we wanted to do. So, as Free Practice began, we purchased Turn 2 Grandstand tickets for $17 including fees from VividSeats. This is something that many people told us is a common occurrence, so for future years, waiting until Friday to actually purchase Friday tickets is a great money saving option.

The Turn 2 Grandstand had a view of the entire Turn 1 Hill, most of the track down to Turn 5 and parts of Turn 16 and 17 (although much farther away). There was a screen as well as the iconic Top 10 tower, however both were very difficult to see without slight phone camera zoom.

After Free Practice, we headed to Turn 2 Saloon to eat, drink what water we had remaining, and bask in the limited shade. The food options were surprisingly diverse, with many different cultures represented as well as gluten free and vegan options at most food vendor stations. Food was generally priced between $10 – $20 with alcoholic/ specialty beverages (such as the best lemonade I’ve ever had) costing the same.

All in all, Friday was a seamless experience on track, we all enjoyed Turn 2, although hiking up the Turn 1 hill to get there is truly a full body workout.

Returning Home from COTA (Friday)

Similar to our shuttle experience arriving at the track on Friday, our return trip was one of the longest waits of our lives. We waited in line in the heat for well over an hour to board our shuttle back to Austin, with very few shuttles seeming to be prepared to pick people up just after Quali had ended. We finally made it back to Downtown Austin at 7:30pm (most of the time spent waiting in the heat).

Taking the Shuttle to COTA (Saturday)

Our group split into two groups taking the shuttle on Saturday:

  • Group 1 – Some friends arrived at the shuttle pick up at 7:30am in order to arrive at the track when the gates open for the Fan Engagement stage. They waited in line for about 30 minutes for the shuttles to arrive, but avoided traffic and arrived at the track at around 8:20am. However, arriving at the track with everyone trying to attend fan engagement, as well as get front row GA positions at Turn 1 – the lines for security and entry took another 30 minutes (longer for other lines that were much longer). Pro – tip from these friends: Enter through the line closest to Priority Check- In on the far side of the main gates.
  • Group 2  I traveled to the shuttle pickup at 9:00am and was at the track at the Fan Engagement stage by 10:00am. There was little to no traffic and no line for the shuttles.

Fan Engagement, Sprint Shootout & Sprint on Saturday

Saturday was by far our longest and busiest day – from fan engagement to both sprint events, to F1 Academy title races and meetups – our team was non stop.

In my previous races, I didn’t have a chance to attend fan engagement stages, but with a lineup of Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull, Alpine, and Haas… we had to go. The great thing about the Germania Insurance Amphitheater is that there are multiple types of seating options. My friends opted to stand in a general admission pit while I sat in a grassy elevated area in the back. Every seat in the amphitheater had a great view of the drivers.

After the ‘show’, we decided that our general admission tickets weren’t going to cut it for another extremely hot day on the track that was SUBSTANTIALLY more busy than Friday with the shootout and sprint races happening. I was able to get 3 Turn 19 Grandstand tickets for $110 each at around 11 AM from Stubhub- again proving that buying tickets on the day can be a cost-saving option for fans on a budget. The view at Turn 19 was 10/10 – with not only a view of the high speed turns 19 and 20 (including a view of Oscar Piastri’s near crash and multiple overtakes) BUT a view of the Turn 1 hill to our left. There was also a much larger screen than at Turn 2 and much better sound system to hear the commentators.

Other than watching A LOT of racing on Saturday, throughout the day, due to the track being substantially busier, water bottles were completely out of stock by 3pm (before the sprint race). Additionally, the food lines in the Fan Field Food Hall could take over 30-45 minutes to actually get a meal. While we expected a much larger crowd for the Sprint, it seemed like the circuit itself was not prepared for the combination of large crowds and extreme heat on Saturday.

Returning Home from COTA (Saturday)

Continuing with the trend of waiting for shuttles, Saturday was the longest wait by far. We spent at least an hour in line waiting for shuttles that didn’t seem to be arriving at a volume large enough for the Saturday crowd. We left the track directly after the sprint and even with being at a grandstand directly next to the shuttle entrance there were only 5-7 shuttles ready for pick-up at 5:45pm. Unfortunately, we witnessed many people pass out from the heat waiting for shuttles this evening, and didn’t get back to Downtown Austin until 8:00pm.

Taking the Shuttle to COTA (Sunday)

Sunday was the day of amazing shuttle experiences. We arrived at the shuttle pickup location at Waterloo Park at 10:45am. Even with what appeared to be a long, winding line around the park… we were on a shuttle and at the track by midday.

Race Day Experience

Sunday was my best race experience, thus far. While we had General Admission tickets to start the day, somehow, some way, our boss (shout-out the Founder of FanAmp, Greg) surprised the team with Main Grandstand seats. Shamelessly, I will admit, I may have shed a tear when I took my seat… directly in front of the Red Bull garage, Ferrari garage and THE PODIUM.

The view and experience in the Main Grandstand is very different from the other grandstands that are much more open and crowded, so it definitely isn’t for every type of fan – especially at its much higher price point. While the grandstand was completely in the shade, provided seats (rather than benches), and had its own food and beverage stations- there isn’t much of a view of the track other than the pit lane and starting grid straight. For my team and I, being able to watch a famed Red Bull pit stop, the cars lined up on the starting grid, the checkered flag waving, and the podium ceremony (track invasion and all), this was an incredible experience. The Main Grandstand also had the largest viewing screens, and most high quality audio of the 3 grandstands we sat at throughout the weekend.

To close out the weekend, we watched the podium celebration (from the comfort of our seats) and walked the track back to the food tent to grab food and wait out the initial crowd surge leaving the track. Fun fact: at COTA you can sign your name (or anything you want, like “Oscar Piastri, future WDC”) on the finish line!

Returning Home from COTA (Sunday)

This was, again, one of the easiest shuttle experiences of the weekend. Even with the largest crowd of all 3 days and a line that went on for what appeared to be miles, we only waited about 20 minutes to board a shuttle and were back in Downtown Austin at 7:00 PM. If you’re worried about shuttle travel on race day… don’t be… they’re ready for you.

Summary & Tips for Attending the USGP at COTA

COTA and the US Grand Prix is a once in a lifetime race weekend that is a MUST attend for any North American fans. Austin comes alive. The track makes for an extremely exciting race to watch. AND the FanAmp team will see you there for years to come!

  1. Bring your own water, bring Liquid IV/ electrolytes, AND freeze that water!
  2. BRING. SUNSCREEN.
  3. Plan for various shuttle wait times BUT absolutely take the shuttle.
  4. Check resale sites on Friday and Saturday for inexpensive grandstand tickets!
  5. Go to Fan Engagement sessions. Every seat in the amphitheater is a good seat.
  6. You can go alone! Everyone is extremely friendly- many people also choose to go alone and are also looking to make friends!
  7. Participate in the track invasion if you’re near the start/finish line.

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