During the informal MotoGP test at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) on March 12-14 we sat down with the man newly appointed to manage the $400 million, 3.4-mile, 20-turn facility that sits just outside Austin, TX.
Motorcyclist: Before COTA, you were Vice President of Operations at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where you worked for 20-plus years?
Mel Harder: Twenty-two years, yeah. It was a dream job to be able to work there and to do the things I was able to do. To work with MotoGP, Formula 1, Indy Car, NASCAR; the top level of all racing series. I’m trying to take that knowledge and experience, bring it to a new facility, and be familiar with my surroundings, but also help to develop this.
MC: Where do motorcycles fit in at COTA, and also for you personally?
MH: For me personally, when I moved [from Indiana] I brought my clothes and two motorcycles. Those were my priorities [smiles]. So, motorcycles as a pastime are something I’m really passionate about. As far as professionally, at Circuit of the Americas, I think MotoGP has a home. It’s exciting to be able to host MotoGP in this area, I think it’s a great fit, a great market for it, and there’s a lot of enthusiasm for the event. The track and the facility are amazing, and a fantastic fit.
MC: What other motorcycle events can we expect, if any?
MH: Well, that’s a good question. They’ve looked at AMA, they’ve looked at World Superbike, prior to me being here. Those are obvious places that you look, but then you look at doing something with motocross. I think there are other opportunities and those are things that we’ll try to explore.
MC: Is there room, budget-wise and property-wise, for a motocross facility here?
MH: That’s the great thing. The property here is 1400 acres total, and they’ve used about 300 acres for the complex now, so there’s a lot of development that can be done. It’s definitely a possibility.
MC: Can you give us some more numbers? How much did it cost to build this place, when you started, stuff like that?
MH: About $400 million has been the investment, and they started building early in 2011. That’s when it really kicked off and got underway. But, they did an amazing job building this facility, developing the land, and running their first event, the Formula 1 race, which is the most complicated motorsports event that you can possibly do.
MC: What’s on the front burner at an event like this, when MotoGP motorcycles come here for the first time [even if it’s just a test]?
MH: Really it’s just me getting familiar with the people who work in MotoGP, and understanding what their roles are and how everyone’s working together. And then just a lot of listening. I want to listen to the teams, listen to the mechanics, the suppliers, the media, and just take it all in and hear what they have to say. Then we’ll get into the details of putting on really high-level, world-class events.