WEC’s COTA comeback comes in its finest hour

With another spectacular edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours in the rearview mirror, it’s now time to look ahead to the second half of the FIA WEC season, with 26 hours of racing across four events left and World Championship titles in both classes on the line.

Up next is the trip to Brazil, where for the first time since 2014 the WEC will compete at the Interlagos Circuit in São Paulo. Like at Spa, Imola and Le Mans, the event in Brazil’s most populous city is expected to draw a huge crowd.

But the Autódromo José Carlos Pace is not the only circuit welcoming the WEC back after an extended absence this season. The Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, will play host to the sportscar racing’s premier globetrotting championship in September (on Labor Day weekend), for the first time since 2020.


The last time the WEC visited COTA, sportscar racing was struggling for relevance. The race was held in February that year, coincidentally as a stand-in for São Paulo after its event that season was canceled. It also took place a few weeks before the world froze for the Pandemic and while there were rumblings of a new virus on the horizon, that weekend the paddock was more focused on the state of the championship and its murky future.

Just three top-class cars made the trip stateside, with a single Rebellion R13 taking on Toyota’s all-conquering TS050 HYBRIDs. Even though Rebellion emerged triumphant, with an American driver in Gustavo Menezes as part of its lineup, the fans that did make the effort to watch trackside would have found more entertainment in the hotly-contested GTE Pro battle. It was won by Aston Martin, which got the better of Porsche, Ferrari and Corvette on its way to victory.

Rebellion won in a tiny top class last time WEC visited COTA. JEP/Motorsport Images

But that wasn’t the headline of the weekend. In fact, the 2020 edition of Lone Star Le Mans is often remembered for its news cycle, as in the build-up to race day the story broke that Aston Martin was shelving its original Valkyrie Hypercar program. That left just Glickenhaus and Toyota as the only confirmed Hypercar entries for the category’s debut season.

How amazing it is then, to see the WEC return to one of the most exciting and technical circuits on the planet after four years away, in an infinitely stronger position.

When the WEC paddock springs into life this time, race fans countrywide will get their first taste of the astonishing 2024 Hypercar pack. All nine factories will feature on the entry list, racing their prototypes that all look and sound dramatically different. More specifically, it presents a rare chance to see Ferrari’s double Le Mans winning 499Ps, the multiple title-winning Toyota GR010s, Tom Brady-backed Porsche 963s from Hertz Team JOTA and the suite of brand-new cars from Alpine, Peugeot, Isotta Fraschini and Lamborghini.

As such, there’s a real buzz again for Lone Star Le Mans, with drivers and team members alike excited to travel to one of the more exciting destinations in world motorsport for what promises to be a special race.

“Everyone wants to be on this grid now because the racing is so good and there’s action all over the place all the time,” Cadillac Racing driver Earl Bamber told RACER. “It’s some of the best racing in the world right now, especially in Hypercar and I think for fans going to CoTA, seeing this field will be a great spectacle.

“It now feels like a big deal, it’s lifting its level more and more and the paddock in WEC is a place people want to be.”

And it’s not just the competition that fans and competitors alike are looking forward to when the WEC heads stateside once again, the circuit itself is a star in its own right.

“CoTA is a very technical track, very difficult to get right. There is a lot of lap time to be found with drivers exploiting the kerbs. We don’t drive there a lot, so it’s a tough track to nail. But it’s a challenge we all enjoy,” Bamber’s teammate Alex Lynn added.

“Sector 1 is by far my favourite. It’s one of the best sectors in world motorsport. You’ve got that huge hill to Turn 1, then the big downhill sweeping into what is really a recreation of Maggots and Becketts from Silverstone. It really is amazing behind the wheel, and to watch from grandstands and viewing banks.

“Austin in itself is such a cool place too. Racing in the US is cool, but that city just adds to it. The people there are so welcoming and for that reason I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love going there.”

In recent seasons – with CoTA off the schedule – Sebring held the USA’s slot on the calendar. And if you know your sportscar racing history, you’ll know just how important that airfield in Florida is to the sport.

Hosting a double-header with IMSA and the Sebring 12 Hours had its merits. For fans trackside it made for a true festival and celebration of endurance motorsport. But logistically and commercially, it was a tough nut to crack for the WEC, which on a monthly basis is becoming more relevant, popular and stable as a championship right now.

With the WEC’s organisers keen to capitalise on this current ‘Golden Era’ and build up standalone events at key locations that appeal to both the championship’s fans and stakeholders alike, a tough decision needed to be made. A WEC race at Sebring on a separate weekend from IMSA’s 12 Hours was explored but logistically didn’t work, Indianapolis was also in the mix, but its chances fell foul of scheduling limitations.

Therefore, championship CEO Frederic Lequien told RACER, it made sense to return to Texas this year. Everything’s ‘bigger’ there after all… Right?

“Sebring was a fantastic event,” he explained. “The welcome was nice, the history is incredible, but it was confusing for our audience, for the viewers in Europe. The format was difficult to understand, racing on Friday with IMSA on Saturday. It was confusing and because we are an FIA World Championship, we deserve to have a standalone event.

“On top of that, it is true that it was challenging for the teams to set up the tents in the paddock. It was charming, it felt very local, but last year’s race did feel like the end of the story.

“But we knew we must go to the US, it is an important market. We are a World Championship so we must visit North America and we love the fans there. We evaluated various circuits and looked at which tracks could welcome the WEC with enough garages with F1-style infrastructure or close to it. And immediately COTA was top of the list because it was the only one.

“On top of that, we love the layout of the track, and the team at the circuit are so good to work with them. So the final decision was easy to take.”

Imola attracted record crowds earlier this year. Jakob Ebrey/Motorsport Images

Imola produced a record WEC crowd (outside of Le Mans) of more than 70,000 fans back in April, then Spa beat that record in May with over 88,000. Le Mans was a sellout and tickets for the race in Brazil are believed to be in short supply now after the local government’s recent push to promote the event. As a result, the expectation for CoTA is that we will see another head-turning fan turnout.

The track is spectator-friendly, tickets are priced fairly and the US manufacturers involved – Cadillac, Ford and Corvette – are all keen to activate on home soil.

“The WEC today is so different to the WEC five years ago. It will not be easy to sell the event out, but we are investing in this event. It’s a market we believe in, the OEMs do too. It’s why we have looked to put our races on the network channel MAX, we want to elevate it,” Lequien said.

“We are realistic, we don’t expect to have the same number of fans as F1 in Austin, but we believe it will be more than we’ve ever experienced before.

“It’s going to be a great atmosphere, with such good access to the paddock and so many incredible views trackside. And we have already signed up the circuit for 2025 because we know that fans, teams and drivers will want to come back for more.”

Story originally appeared on Racer