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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — If you head south on the Florida Turnpike in Miami Gardens, Fla., this weekend, be prepared for a slowdown due to a lane closure near what locals refer to as “spaghetti junction” near Hard Rock Stadium. Orange barrels are up, an exit is closed and traffic comes to a near stop.
But this is no ordinary lane closure.
The construction of the Miami International Autodrome, a temporary racetrack hosting Formula One’s Miami Grand Prix, necessitated taking into account the Florida Turnpike that runs adjacent to Hard Rock Stadium, the centerpiece of the circuit.
The design makes for an interesting juxtaposition during sessions of on-track activity. As Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes and Charles Leclerc in his Ferrari darted through Turns 13 and 16 and underneath the turnpike that includes a slight elevation change during practice, local traffic passed by at more modest speeds than what was unfolding around the 3.363-mile circuit. Although portions of the Florida Turnpike are partially open throughout the race weekend, an area overlooking the circuit is completely shut down.
Constructing a circuit bordered by a turnpike and running through a parking lot and around an NFL stadium and world-class tennis complex fell primarily on the shoulders of Clive Bowen, the founder of Apex Circuit Design, which designed the track. Working with F1, local, county and state officials and the Miami Dolphins, the race promoters, Bowen had to come up with a design that incorporated the turnpike in a manner with which the powers that be were comfortable. And, no, removing the turnpike was not an option.
“Partially, it was just the diplomacy of being able to persuade a government entity to accept that we were going to try and build a racetrack through their live intersection, which I don’t believe has ever been done before,” Bowen said. “And it was also partially the fact that we have to accommodate the guidelines set forth by the FIA.”
When originally conceived in 2017 by Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and club CEO Tom Garfinkel, the Miami Grand Prix was to be held in downtown Miami along the waterfront. Several variations of what the track layout would look like were designed by Bowen, only for the downtown idea to fall apart because of pushback. Other areas in the Miami area were scouted, but with Ross involved, it made sense that Hard Rock Stadium eventually became the site.
The question then became whether there was enough area to build a properly sized F1 track and the necessary infrastructure to support an event of this magnitude. Constant revisions and redesigns became a regular thing as Bowen and his team worked to come up with a concept that satisfied everyone’s requirements.
During the process, Bowen flew from his base in Buckinghamshire, England, to Miami approximately 15 times, and the advent of modern technology limited the need for further travel — “Google Earth is an amazing tool,” he said. Between switching sites and the numerous tweaks, countless variations were crafted before determining the final layout.
“I think we lost count, and it doesn’t really matter,” Bowen said. “It was a huge number.”
Normally a project of this magnitude takes six months from finalizing the design to completion, Bowen said, but because of the assorted challenges, this one took a year. The actual construction took nine months, during which Hard Rock Stadium hosted a slate of events, including football games for the Dolphins and the Miami Hurricanes in the fall and a College Football Playoff semifinal between Michigan and Georgia on Dec. 31.
“The choreography of building this facility was mind-bending and at times almost impossible, but we’ve done it,” Bowen said. “That’s the thing that I think is remarkable. Not only have we delivered in nine months — we had to deliver in nine months while sharing the site with multiple other users.”
The finished product is an expansion 19-corner layout featuring three straightaways. The first is along the pits in front of the main grandstands; the second comes after Turn 10; and the third is out of Turn 16, which measures three-fourths of a mile and will see drivers exceed 200 mph. There are also three DRS zones and a mixture of high-, medium- and low-speed sections to help create overtaking opportunities.
The layout of Miami has drawn comparisons to street courses in Baku, Azerbaijan, and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. If Miami resembles Baku, it’ll likely be a popular venue among fans who’ve grown fond of the circuit, which often produces entertaining races.
“It’s like a mini-Baku-style circuit,” Kevin Magnussen said. “Very long straights and a couple of very low-speed corners and a few high-speed.”
The only unknown is how the track will race on Sunday. Bowen is optimistic his design will work as intended, and many drivers were receptive based on what they experienced while practicing on simulators.
“It was a tricky one, I found. It took me one of the longest circuits to get up to speed, at least on the simulator,” Alex Albon said. “It seems very technical. And just doing the track walk (Thursday), the curbs seem to be different to what we’re used to. Sometimes there are no curbs at all. So, I think track limits are going to be a big topic this weekend. But I’m excited. I feel like it’s obviously a good track. And I think it favors the racing, especially. The racing should be good.”
(Photo: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)