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For engineering firm, a learning curve to building F1 track

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The plan to bring Formula One racing to Hudson County has brought international attention to the region, but a local engineering firm is playing a key role in designing the course that will host the world-class event next June.

Omland Engineering, based in the Cedar Knolls section of Hanover, has spent nearly a year working with Tilke GmbH, the German engineering firm that designs Formula One tracks across the globe and is now at work in Weehawken and West New York. The Morris County firm's work began late last summer, when it started to survey the public roadways and infrastructure that will host the 3.2-mile course.

But the task was far from a routine surveying and mapping project, Omland Vice President Geoff Lanza said. Because Formula One cars are close to the ground, the firm's engineers had to fly much lower to the ground than they would for a normal piece of land, he said, allowing them to gauge the road's bumps and contours within a half-inch of the ground's actual elevation.

"In a lot of projects, that doesn't matter," he said, noting that normal surveys produce accuracy within six inches. "But on a road course like this, it's very important to be more accurate than that."

The three-month project also called for the firm to map the surrounding utility infrastructure, from fire hydrants to light poles, because many of the fixtures will be moved to build the course, Lanza said. He also noted that the designers are contending with existing curbs, sidewalks and driveways.

"It's very challenging, as opposed to building a course out in the middle of nowhere," Lanza said, pointing to the Formula One course now being built in Austin, Texas. "That's relatively straightforward. This is unbelievably challenging, and a lot of stakeholders have an interest in preserving their things."

Omland serves another key purpose of helping Tilke obtain construction and permitting documents, since the German firm is not licensed to do in New Jersey, Lanza said. The firms are now working on design drawings, which could be completed by early fall.

The course will be laid out in waterfront areas of West New York and Weehawken, largely in Roseland Property Co.'s Port Imperial development. The event is expected to be the start of a 10-year program for Grand Prix races at the site, which will have the Manhattan skyline as its backdrop.

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