One of the few drivers with experience racing on the Circuit of the Americas track at this weekend’s U.S. Vintage Racing National Championship is historic Formula 1 driver, Bud Moeller. On Saturday, Rochester Motorsports caught up with Mr. Moeller before his feature race in the event sponsored by the Sportcar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) to gather his impressions of driving the course for the second time.
“It’s great to be back at COTA,” Mr. Moeller said. He was disappointed, he said, that, despite a renewed last-minute effort, the Historic Grand Prix group was not able to coordinate a support race for the Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix next month as they did for last year’s inaugural Grand Prix, but he was happy to be back out on the track as part of SVRA’s inaugural vintage racing national championship. Over the weekend, more than 500 cars spanning 100 years of history compete in 13 different groups of races.
Unlike most of the other drivers this weekend who were learning the circuit for the first time, Moeller knows the course. This, however, led him, he said, to skip some of the steps that the other drivers employed this week in preparation for their races, so it took him a couple of laps to get the feel of things again.
Asked about the course itself, this driver who has raced in historic F1 cars on some of the most iconic tracks around the world, said that COTA is “tons of fun to drive.” Asked about differences in this track from some others, he said that having more run-off areas in a newer track like COTA may make it safer, but the older tracks have more “character” partly because they are less forgiving.
COTA was designed by German Herman Tilke, who also designed, among others, two of the new F1 tracks leading up to November’s U.S. Grand Prix – the Buddh International Circuit near New Delhi where F1 raced this weekend, and the Bahrain International Circuit coming up next.
According to Mr. Moeller, Tilke’s tracks, from a racer's perspective, tend to have a couple of good passing turns and a series of other corners that are interesting to drive but where passing is less possible.
Moeller commented on the wide mix of cars in SVRA’s Group 9, where the span in years and technology alone run into the decades making the competition uneven, to say the least. Moeller said his focus in that case turns to class competition. In the Grand Prix support race last year at COTA, he drove his 1980 Gilles Villeneuve Ferrari 312T-5. With the Ferrari currently in the shop, this year, he took out his 1979 Ensign N-179. He said his greatest competition in the historic F1 class would be former pro racer Doc Bundy driving a Mario Andretti 1978 Lotus 79 car.
In fact, it wound up that Moeller came in second in class to Bundy in the Group 9 feature race on Saturday, right where he said he would be when we spoke earlier in the day. One of the surprises of that race, at least to this writer, was that Moeller, who has driven Formula 1 cars as a hobby for over 20 years now, was also able to pass several other newer, more powerful cars in Saturday's race.
While he took home second in class and placed sixth overall in a field of 38 open-wheel race cars, most notable perhaps is that he did so in a 1979 F1 car while beating others that a car of his Ensign's vintage and period technology would not be expected to overtake like a 2006 Swift 016a and a 2001 Lola T97/20 IndyLights.
"The old guy/car still has a few tricks!" Moeller said when asked about it after the race.
That, indeed, could be the motto of the weekend for this first U.S. Vintage Racing National Championship at Circuit of the Americas.
Top 10 results for the Group 9 Feature Race were (Note: race ran 20 mins. + 1 lap):
1st Chris Bender, 1982 March 821
2nd Doc Bundy, 1978 Lotus 79
3rd Michel Gensini, Dallara F1 BMS-191
4th Mark Brannon, 1997 Lola 97/20
5th Paul Morgan, 2002 Dallara Indy Car
6th Bud Moeller, 1979 Ensign N-179
7th Daniel Morgan, 1997 Lola Indy Lights
8th Marc Giroux, 1997 Lola T97/20
9th Bruce Hamilton, Swift 016a
10th Travis Engen, Lola T97/20
Racing continues at Circuit of the Americas through Sunday with several feature races running back-to-back until 5 p.m. COTA will host its second Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix November 17. Tickets are still available. For more information about Circuit of the Americas or SVRA, see their websites.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Connie Ann Kirk, Ph.D. is the author of several books. With a historic racer, she is working on a new book about racers and racing. Connie posts occasional musings about the sport at her blog, Motor Sport Muse.