Smith: COTA hopes to shake off recent struggles with Taylor Swift

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Yesterday’s announcement that Formula 1 would be returning to the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas this October was met with a collective sigh of relief.

Not only does it ensure that F1’s bid to crack the American market remains on course after months of uncertainty, but it also keeps a fan and paddock favorite on the calendar for the foreseeable future.

It’s a major victory for the sport in the USA – yet oddly enough, the catalyst to lead to an even bigger and brighter future may not be anything to do with F1.

Has Taylor Swift just helped to solve COTA’s problems?


It would take some argument to say that Taylor Swift is not currently the biggest pop star in the world. Her fifth album, 1989, has sold over eight million copies worldwide and led to an astonishing world tour that graced 10 countries and saw an array of celebrity guests make an appearance on stage over 85 shows, totalling a box office figure of over $250 million.

Despite being released in October 2014, the album is still producing singles. The upcoming New Romantics is set to be the seventh to spurn from it, while songs such as Shake It Off, Style and Bad Blood have been smash hits. Music aside, Swift has also established herself as an icon and role model for young women all over the world.

And she’ll be performing at a venue built for Formula 1 this October.

Austin has a strong music scene, which was something that the bosses at COTA were conscious of during its construction. The amphitheatre at the track can hold up to 14,000 people and is widely regarded as the best music venue in the city, while also ensuring that the facility does not go unused when there isn’t a race weekend. It’s a function that chairman Bobby Epstein always had in mind.

“The amphitheatre wasn’t an afterthought,” Epstein told me last spring. “It wasn’t ‘what else are we going to do here?’; it really was ‘how do we make it world class?’

“Austin is known for music culture. It has a lot of great acts but it didn’t have a great venue for over 3,000 people besides the basketball arena at the university. There was nowhere to hold those events.

“A great city deserves a world-class music experience. The venue when you walk in for the concerts and festivals, you never even know you’re at the race track. You don’t ever see the track.

“We get one million visitors per year. F1 is certainly a big part of it, but there’s over 20 concerts that happen that have over 10,000 people. These are big acts that are coming out.”

And Taylor Swift is the biggest of big acts.


The uncertainty about the future of the United States Grand Prix was largely triggered by the wash-out of last year’s race weekend, which Epstein himself called “financially devastating”. All you had to do was stay at the track to see the passion and resolve of the fans braving the rain. Impressive as that may have been, it didn’t help COTA’s revenues.

So when it came to reassessing the amount of tax relief that the US GP receives from the state of Texas, there was a shortfall. The calculation used was based on the wider economic impact and the amount of people coming from out-of-state for the race, leading to a $5 million cut from Governor Greg Abbot. It threw the race into doubt, potentially leaving a black space in the calendar.

However, a deal has been brokered that ensures the long term future of the race according to Epstein, who told Reuters: “I think it’s going to be here for a long time.”

From the press release issued by the track, it was clear that Swift was the big news. The concert is going to be the big selling point to get people to COTA in October – and it should work. It is currently her only planned concert for 2016, so undoubtedly fans will flock to see her perform.

In turn, COTA’s gate figures increase. That then it can be used to prove to the state that the race is worth offering tax relief to. The popularity of Taylor Swift may actually help secure F1’s long-term future in Austin and, for that matter, the USA.

And of all the people who do venture to Austin primarily to see Swift perform, it is impossible that some won’t become curious about F1. They’ll see fans around them in the crowd wearing team merchandise. They may even see the cars or head along to watch the sessions. It creates interest.

This is how F1 needs to appeal to new fans. It cannot rely on the old belief that people will watch just because – they need a reason to. Taylor Swift is a pretty good reason, as COTA should find out this October.

The 2016 United States Grand Prix is firmed up, and although, to quote Miss Swift, “band aids don’t fix bullet holes”, it seems that the future beyond this year looks bright COTA. The escalating hosting fee is something that must be kept in mind though. It’s not out of the woods yet.


With an American team now on the grid in the shape of Haas F1 Team and an American driver very much a part of the paddock in Alexander Rossi, losing the only American F1 race would have been a disaster.

There is a great desire to have more than one race in the USA. Bernie Ecclestone has been pushing to get a welcome to New York for many years, but the planned Grand Prix of America just over the Hudson River in New Jersey looks dead and buried. Laguna Seca is another track linked with a race recently, while FIA race director Charlie Whiting’s visit to Watkins Glen earlier this week even started rumours about F1 returning there.

There is such a burning desire to have more races in the USA. Multiple events would be beyond fans’ wildest dreams, yet it is crucial that what is already going is safeguarded.

“[Fans] have never had it this good,” Epstein told me last spring. “If this one doesn’t work, I don’t think the sport will work in the US.”

So has Taylor Swift helped just saved F1 in the USA? To some extent, yes. But it is Epstein and his team at COTA who have really saved the race. After a turbulent year, they have pulled a masterstroke to get the world’s biggest recording artist to come and perform after qualifying. It’s a two-pronged attack: come for F1, stay for the concert; or come for the concert, and stay for the F1. Either way, you’re through the gate.

This appears to be a clean slate for COTA; a new beginning. After weathering the storm of 2015 (quite literally), it will celebrate its fifth grand prix in October – a huge achievement – in style. I know places in the city that will be overloaded with fans throughout the grand prix weekend with the Austin Fan Fest, not to mention the inevitable influx of concert-goers. It should make for the biggest US GP yet.

“In the past we have chosen headliners that are a great match with our existing demographic,” Epstein told Reuters.

“But I don’t need our existing demographic alone. We need the future. We think we’ll sell every ticket that we’ve got and it’s because of the combination of both Formula 1 and Taylor Swift.”

COTA is a world-class facility that deserves grand prix racing. It will rightly remain at the top table of motorsport in 2016.

And all of that negativity? By the looks of things, come October, COTA’s just gonna shake it off.

Jett Lawrence wins Pro Motocross opener, remains perfect at Fox Raceway; Hunter wins in 250s

How they finished in the 450 Overall at Fox Raceway
Align Media

PALA, California – In his 450 bike debut, Jett Lawrence scored a perfect round at Fox Raceway in Pala, California to win Pro Motocross Round 1. He posted the fastest time in both qualification sessions, won the holeshot in both motos, and scored a pair of wins to take the overall victory and the early points’ lead.

Chase Sexton stalked Jett Lawrence throughout Moto 2, but could not find his way past. – Align Media

No one seriously questioned Lawrence’s opportunity to make noise in the 450 class. Few would have been surprised to see him podium in his Pro Motocross National, but Lawrence outperformed all expectations by dominating Moto 1. He entered the weekend with zero points and his eye on 20th in the standings so he would receive an automatic invitation to the inaugural SuperMotocross World Championship (SMX).

He well surpassed expectations.

“It’s awesome,” Lawrence told NBC Sports’ Jason Thomas. “I can finally smile. I’ve been trying to stay serious and not get too excited with emotions coming up – and now I can finally let loose. The second one was a little harder, I couldn’t hear him but I’d look back and I’d still see the red bike. It was like a chess match.”

By the end of the race, Lawrence made up 30 percent of the points he needed to claim 20th and served notice that he will be one of the favorites to win the championship. He closed the gap even further in Moto 2, but the two races had entirely different storylines.

While Lawrence was able to run away from the field in the first race and win with a 10-second advantage, Honda teammate and defending Monster Energy Supercross champion Chase Sexton pressured him for the entire 30 minutes plus two laps that made up Moto 2.

Lawrence is the 16th rider to win in his first Pro Motocross race, the 10th to do so in an opener and second youngest, (behind Rick Johnson, 17 when he won at Hangtown in 1982).

Sexton was within two seconds of Lawrence for the entire moto. He rode a patient race with the realistic expectation that the 450 rookie Lawrence might make a mistake. Lawrence bounced from rut to rut in this race, but would not be forced into losing his focus.

“Toward the finish line area I had some decent lines, I thought maybe, if I could get close enough, I could make a move,” Sexton said. “I tried my hardest; I got close. I made a bit of an attempt with maybe 10 minutes to go and messed up. Jett was obviously riding really good. We were pushing the pace and it was a fun moto. It felt a little like last year.”

With his 1-1 finish and the overall victory, Lawrence remains perfect at Fox Raceway after sweeping Victory Lane in five rounds his 250 career.

Dylan Ferrandis returned to the track after suffering a concussion in the Supercross season in Round 4 in Houston. He attempted to return for the Daytona Supercross race, but another hard crash on Media Day set him on the sideline.

“Earlier this week I was pretty far from a podium position, so got together with the team and we made it happen,” Ferrandis said. “It was very hard. [Aaron Plessinger] was pushing me and I had to dig very deep.”

RESULTS: How they finished in the 450 Overall at Fox Raceway

In a pre-race news conference, he indicated that the best course of action was to get up to speed before he fully sent his bike into the turns. But adrenalin is a wonderful factor and once he got into the pace of the race, he held off charges from Cooper Webb in Moto 1 and Plessinger in Moto 2. Ferrandis’ 3-3 finishes in the two races earned 40 points and puts him back in the conversation to be among the top 20 in the combined SuperMotocross standings.

Plessinger and Webb each ended the day with 34 points. Plessinger won the tiebreaker for fifth overall in the standings. But it was an adventurous afternoon for Plessinger who had to overcome a pair of falls in the first Moto to finish fifth.

Round 1 of the Pro Motocross season marked the return of Webb after he suffered a Supercross series ending concussion in a heat race at Nashville.

“This was a last minute decision,” Webb said. “I sat out last summer and I didn’t want to do that again. Once I got cleared from the doctor, it was game on.”

The battle between Lawrence and Sexton gave Honda a 1-2 finish in this race for the second straight year, but perhaps most importantly, it provided a glimpse of what can be expected during the opening rounds.

I think there is more to come from Chase,” Lawrence said. “He had that crash in practice so it rung his head a bit, but I know it’s going to be a war in the outdoor season. I know there’s going to be times when I’m behind Chase and can’t get around him. It’s going to be an awesome season and I can’t wait to race my teammate.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Jett wasn’t the only Lawrence to win Fox Raceway Motocross. Hunter’s win in the 250 class marked the first time in history that brothers won a Motocross National on the same day.

The reigning 250 East Supercross champion scored the overall victory with a third in Moto 1 and a victory in Moto 2. A poor start in the first race forced Lawrence to mount a charge from behind. Riding with discomfort, Lawrence was out of his rhythm early. A spirited battle with Jo Shimoda and Justin Cooper for third through fifth forced him to push through the pain of an injury suffered at the start of the week.

“The start was crucial,” Lawrence said. “I had a massive crash Monday and could barely ride press day for three laps, I was in so much pain. This one goes out to Dr. [Rey Gubernick]. He has magic hands.”

Lawrence’s strong start to Moto 2 put him in a better zone and he pulled an eight-second advantage over the second-place rider.

Haiden Deegan got a taste of the Motocross series last year, but that was all it was: a nibble.

Deegan failed to crack the top 10 in either of two starts and had some questions for himself before the race began. Deegan did not believe there were high expectations placed on him for this race, which is precisely how he described his first Supercross attempt. In that inaugural SX race, he finished fourth and was as surprised as anyone in the field.

Again: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Deegan surprised himself again by finishing second in only his third Motocross National. He finished sixth in Moto 1 and second in Moto 2, giving him a second-place finish overall.

“I’m actually a little surprised,” Deegan said. “A lot of people said I wouldn’t even be close to this. I guess we’re proving people wrong and that’s what we’ve got to do Second place in my first full season. I’m hyped.”

Deegan is closing in on his first 250 win.

Click here for 250 overall results

RJ Hampshire had to overcome a pair of falls in Moto 2 to score the final podium position in the overall standings. – Align Media

RJ Hampshire made a statement in Moto 1. An entirely new discipline allowed Hampshire to grab an early advantage. But then a poor start to Moto 2 provided an entirely different challenge. Two falls on Lap 1 dropped Hampshire to 39th in the running order.

“I didn’t have a great start and got mayhem in that second corner and went down,” Hampshire said. “Picked [myself] up in last and made some really good passes and then going uphill on the [backstretch], someone got out of whack – took me out and I was dead last again. I didn’t really know if I had a shot at the podium, but I was digging really deep.”

It took half of the race to get back into the points in 20th, but Hampshire kept digging. Passing riders one at a time, he climbed to 11th in Moto 2 and salvaged enough points to give him the third position overall.

Maximus Vohland made a statement of his own by holding off a determined Lawrence on the last two laps. Lawrence was able to pressure Vohland when they were slowed by a lapped rider who fell in front of the battle.

Tom Vialle was in a position to take the final overall podium spot with a solid third-place finish in the second moto. He did everything he could, but Hampshire’s determined charge from the back of the pack was capped off with a two-position advance on the final lap to slide onto the final step of the box.

2023 Supercross Race Recaps

Salt Lake City: Chase Sexton ends the season with win
Denver: Chase Sexton wins, takes points’ lead with Eli Tomac injury
Nashville: Chase Sexton keeps hope alive; Cooper Webb out
New Jersey: Justin Barcia wins muddy race; first in two years
Atlanta: Chase Sexton is back in the championship picture
Glendale: Eli Tomac wins 51st, breaks tie with James Stewart
Seattle: Eli Tomac wins and ties Webb for first
Detroit: Chase Sexton inherits win after Aaron Plessinger falls
Indianapolis: Ken Roczen gets first win in more than a year
Daytona: Eli Tomac extends Daytona record with seventh win
Arlington: Cooper Webb wins for second time, closes to two of Tomac
Oakland: Eli Tomac ties Ricky Carmichael with 48 wins
Tampa: Cooper Webb gets first 2023 win
Houston: Eli Tomac bounces back from A2 crash to win third race of 2023
Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Eli Tomac wins opener for the first time

More SuperMotocross coverage

Record Supercross attendance reported in 2023
450 Champion Chase Sexton takes back what he gave away
250 West Supercross champion Jett Lawrence ends dream career
250 East Supercross champion Hunter Lawrence overcomes doubt and injury
Cooper Webb returns to action at Pala
Caden Braswell joins Troy Lee Design
SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Supercross finale