Circuit of the Americas Hits Pause Over Coronavirus; Staff Layoffs Planned (Updated)
A string of major event cancellations has left the track treading deep water.
The current state of Circuit of the Americas, the track which hosts the United States' rounds of MotoGP and Formula 1, is uncertain in the face a wave of coronavirus-related cancellations and postponements and increasing restrictions on large gatherings of people, reports the Austin-American Statesman. Officials from the venue confirmed that many workers at the facility had been laid off due to the immense effect the pandemic is having on the race track's bottom line.
"In the next 90 days alone, events representing nearly 600,000 ticketed visitors have been postponed, canceled, or are in jeopardy,” COTA Chairman Bobby Epstein told the Statesman.
Epstein continued to explain that the number of employees working at the track is roughly half of what it was before the coronavirus pandemic.
COTA hosts a variety of events outside of motor racing, including concerts, conferences, soccer and rugby; however, there's one common thread with all of these: they're big. Large events are particularly bad due to the contagious nature of the COVID-19 coronavirus, which still has no proven vaccine. Today, the city of Austin and Travis County enacted a stricter ban of events hosting 250 people or more until May 1, taking nearly every large public event off of COTA's schedule as a result. Furthermore, international travel bans that were instituted as the coronavirus spread made it impossible to host large international events like MotoGP.
Two April racing events at COTA have already been affected by the pandemic so far: MotoGP, which has been rescheduled to November, and IndyCar, which was canceled.
Additionally, the USL Championship that Austin Bold FC soccer team is a part of announced that it will suspend its season for at least 30 days. The Bold plays its home games on the field between turns 15 and 19 at COTA. Austin Bold General Manager Roberto Silva was one of the employees who was laid off, and the team was notified that it would be at least 10 days until practice would resume again, per the Statesman.
"Without concerts, races and games, we have limited use,” reads a statement posted by Circuit of the Americas on Twitter. “Understandably and importantly, public safety takes precedence over celebratory gatherings. It is our greatest hope that our community remains healthy and, when the virus passes, we reunite for many years of treasured moments with friends and family.”
It is unclear whether smaller events such as the track days, driving schools and club races on COTA's calendar will go on as planned. The Drive reached out to COTA for clarification, and will update this article as soon as we hear back.
Circuit of the Americas also shut down the race track for most of December and part of January to complete expensive repairs to some of its bumpiest turns. Track officials remain unsure when they will be able to start hosting their usual mix of events. Austin avoided any confirmed COVID-19 cases longer than many large cities—however, six people in the city recently tested positive for the virus.
UPDATE: A COTA representative reached out to The Drive following publication to clarify that its statement doesn't mean the track is completely closed, though the nature of its "limited use" operations remains unclear.
"COTA is not shut down... COTA is working with a smaller workforce to keep all afloat so when we can safely be on the other side of this pandemic we can be fully functioning once again," the spokesperson wrote.
Our original story has also been updated to avoid further confusion. We've asked for more specific details on the plan, and we'll continue to update this post when we receive them.
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