SBJ/April 18-24, 2011/Facilities

Austin F1 track planning views for the masses

The Formula One racing facility under construction in Austin, Texas, will accommodate general admission spectators as much as its wealthy premium patrons, the sport’s core audience in other parts of the world.

The Circuit of the Americas, a $400 million project, is the first dedicated F1 track to be built in the U.S. Project officials are positioning it as a multipurpose property that can play host to music festivals and foot and bicycle races, all popular recreational activities in Austin.

CIRCUIT OF THE AMERICAS
A rendering shows plans for some of the trackside buildings.
As part of that vision, the track’s three design firms, which include HKS, the architect for Cowboys Stadium and Lucas Oil Stadium, are developing multiple grass berms around the 3.4-mile layout from which general admission ticket buyers will be able to catch different views of the action.

Those spaces and the pathways and bridges connecting them, while not unique, are absent at many of the sport’s international destinations, according to Tavo Hellmund, one of the project’s three principal investors. At some venues, fans on the low end of the ticket scale are restricted to one small area to watch the race. In Austin, they will have the flexibility to move around to several spots around the track and its 20 turns over the course of Grand Prix weekend.

Those berms are being constructed at elevations high enough for both general admission ticket holders and other F1 fans to see most of the track depending on their location, Hellmund said.

“In America, we are such a stadium society that we like to be able to see all the action, and it’s one of the reasons that short-track oval racing and NASCAR have done such a good job,” he said. “With road racing, even some of our great tracks in America, if you’re in one area, you see maybe five seconds of racing. The cars go by you and they are out of sight. That’s part of what we’re doing right now with the site work. Everything has to be planned out exactly right so the pitch angle of these berms are comfortable to stand or sit.”

International supporters of F1 who follow the worldwide circuit will continue to have their needs met in Austin through a variety of permanent and temporary suites, club seats and lounges, said Steve Sexton, president of Circuit of the Americas. The number of premium seats and their prices have not been determined. The temporary suites will be akin to the golf course-style chalets set up at PGA Tour events and for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, where Sexton was president and CEO before coming to Austin.

The F1 group in Texas expects to hire a chief marketing officer in the next three weeks. That executive will hire a sales staff to sell track sponsorships. Keeping in mind F1 as an organization controls most commercial rights for its races, Circuit of the Americas officials plan to pursue naming-rights deals for their facility. They could sell the name for the track itself or carve out individual deals for destinations and buildings. Those decisions are yet to come.

“The question is, Is it better to name the entire development or piecemeal it out?” Hellmund said. “We have some that have never been involved in motorsports but are doing so because this is a little bit more than just a motorsports facility.” He declined to identify the prospects.

Last week, officials said a 40,000-square-foot conference center with 14 executive suites would be part of the track. It’s another twist for a facility the group will market to Austin businesses for corporate meetings. F1 will have use of that facility for any Grand Prix events, Sexton said.

Food consultant Chris Bigelow is managing the selection of a concessionaire, and a key piece of that operation will be providing international food concepts for visitors from abroad, Sexton said. Proposals are due at the end of April.

F1 has not released dates for the 2012 Austin Grand Prix and the 2013 MotoGP motorcycle race, the track’s second event, announced last week. Officials are targeting June 2012 to finish construction.

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