COTA: A circuit to behold from the passenger’s seat


It’s not often you get the opportunity to have a few laps in an Audi with a three-time Le Mans winner at a world-class circuit. Yet that was the chance afforded to me this past weekend at Circuit of the Americas, part of the FIA WEC media rides with Rinaldo “Dindo” Capello in an Audi RS 7.

Though Capello’s been retired from the LMP1 ranks of the Audi prototype program for two years, he hasn’t lost his joie de vivre, or his ability behind the wheel. He remains as active as ever in an ambassadorial role for the brand and still travels to events.

Alas, my ride came after the first round of laps were complete. Capello was wondering what kind of brakes – carbon or steel – his car he had when they were smoking upon pulling into pit lane, just prior to pit out.

Dindo Capello

“Must be steel,” he said as the smoke dissipated and I buckled in.

Immediately, as we launched out of the pit lane, you could tell Capello was reminiscing about what it would be like to drive one of the latest generation Audi R18 e-tron quattros, or even the standard Audi R8 LMS, in this moment.

While the RS 7 is an incredible beast, at 560 bhp with all-wheel drive and an awesome interior, it’s still a much heavier car and that’s not ideal for this circuit which tends to favor sleeker, more svelte and nimble type cars.

“This car is too heavy for this track,” said Capello, who still had no problem extracting the maximum out of it as we flew down the hill, through Turn 2 and immediately into the esses.

He began to wax poetic about the track before we’d even really got going.

“Love this circuit. Love this sequence. Just like Silverstone,” he said, as the esses section of COTA from Turns 3 to 7 is a near carbon copy of the Silverstone sequence that includes Maggotts, Becketts and Chapel corners.

Now when you’re feeling how heavy the steering input is, and how hard you’re thrashing to pound these corners in a heavier car, you can begin to appreciate the magnitude of what the racers are doing this weekend.

Turns 8 through 10 are a bit slower as you crest the rise and then run down the hill to Turn 11. Capello leaves his braking fairly late here, but turns into the hairpin at the proper angle to release out and launch down the back straight.

Turn 12

Then you get into the tight, twisty bits. Turns 12 through to 15, it’s difficult to get much rhythm as it’s stop-start-stop-start before you exit Turn 15 and head into the three-apex right-hander just next the COTA Tower, Turns 16-18.

This was where the extra weight was noticeable because Capello was pushing like mad through the corner. He was oversteering as we did a near-perfect, opposite-lock power slide through the right hander before plunging down into Turn 19, catching our breath for maybe a split second, hard on the gas and then back on the brakes into Turn 20.

And that was a lap – before he got it going even better on the second lap.

Interestingly as you crest the hill into Turn 1, from the passenger’s seat (and to a point, the cockpit), the climb up the hill isn’t nearly as severe as it appears from a spectator standpoint. It feels a gradual rise, rather than one that’s as severe as it looks in track maps and from either the inside or outside of the circuit.

But it’s the plunge down the hill after Turn 1, into Turn 2 where you feel your stomach drop out. It’s more noticeable than the Corkscrew at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, for instance, where it feels a slight gradual drop rather than a plunge.

And then we were on for two more laps. With Dindo bang-on at every single apex.

I knew he was pushing too, because our rides were scheduled maybe half an hour before the Austin weather went south and the rain hit.

Perhaps the only thing that could have made it better was if Capello did one lap, did a driver change, handed off to Allan McNish, another change and then Tom Kristensen jumped in to bring it home.

But the sensory experience of riding merely in the passenger’s seat at this track just showcases what a circuit this is.

Sometimes you have to pinch yourself on occasion to remind you of the awesomeness this line of work entails, and riding shotgun with one of Italy’s greatest sports car heroes at one of North America’s finest circuits certainly affords you that opportunity.

Sincere thanks to Fiona from FIA WEC and Dave from Circuit of the Americas for the opportunity.

Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing

Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.