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Designer says it was challenge to create Boston Grand Prix course

IndyCar project manager Tony Cotman was seen at his Indianapolis office in 2011.GREG GRIFFO/THE INDIANAPOLIS STAR

Boston’s cluttered streetscapes made designing an IndyCar racetrack through South Boston’s Seaport District one of the more complex challenges that Tony Cotman has faced in his 27 years in the industry.

But the New Zealand native’s creative engines are fired up, and he’s inching closer to the starting line. He has finalized a proposal for a course that would steer race cars through downtown at speeds of up to 170 miles per hour next year.

“It’s a very, very complex city,” Cotman said in a telephone interview. “But every circuit has its own nuances.”

While the proposed race has sparked some controversy — and a number of approvals still have to be granted — the design calls for an 11-turn, 2.2-mile temporary circuit that would take race cars zipping past the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center and roaring down roads where residents typically commute to work.


Its sharp, sudden turns and straightaways are designed to generate excitement. The way the track is laid out would have drivers going from their top speeds down to 35 to 40 miles per hour to negotiate turns, Cotman said.

“There will be a lot of passing, and a lot of action, and it’s heightened when the people racing each other are on different strategies,” he said.

When thinking about a design for a city, Cotman focuses on the surface of the roads and straightaway lengths available, so his company, NZR Consulting, can create a good show.

One of the unique aspects of the course planned for Boston is that the roads are not flat. The streets elevate slightly in spots and then dip, which will present challenges for racecar teams and drivers looking to grip the road.

Many of the radiuses of the corners of the course Cotman has proposed are dictated by the shape of the existing turns in the roads. But designers can choose to manipulate them if necessary, using track barriers.


“It all depends. Are we trying to produce a passing zone? Are we trying to get a little bit of a quicker corner leading to a straightaway? Are we trying to entice them to brake hard? All of these aspects need to be thought about to lead to the shapes of the corners,” Cotman said. “It makes the racing a little more exciting.”

Cotman said just as important as designing a course for optimal entertainment is finding a way to mitigate the headache of such a large-scale project for residents, businesses, and commuters.

The race, proposed for Labor Day weekend next year, has already drawn some flak and needs to clear more hurdles.

In a 14-page letter sent to Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s office last month, the Seaport Lofts Condominium Association raised a number of legal issues about the event, and about access to people’s homes and parking accessibility. Noise and public safety concerns are also a concern for many.

The Grand Prix organization is currently working toward a contract for 2016 with the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, which oversees roads along the planned course.

A spokeswoman from the authority said there are still things that “need to be worked out.”

Officials from the Massachusetts Port Authority, which also owns land covered by the course, said this month they wouldn’t help pay for costs of the project, but also wouldn’t stand in the way.


The Globe’s Joan Vennocchi raised a number of the issues in her column.

Grand Prix spokeswoman Kate Norton said this is Cotman’s final proposal, but “this design could still be impacted by city and state needs.”

Cotman said he was doing his utmost to work with the community, and that he designs tracks so neighborhood access can be left open until the last possible minute.

“People are going to be impacted in some way, shape, or form, particularly if you’re living or working very close to where the track is going to be. But we spend a lot of time trying to understand concerns, and how we can minimize the impact to them,” he said.

While the overall buildout itself is easy, the last three days are the most critical.

“Because that’s when you’re starting to impact people more,” Cotman said. “At the end, it becomes very complex.”

Steve Annear can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.