Circuit of the Americas President Jason Dial said after a very successful inaugural year, the racetrack is “going to avoid the sophomore slump.” The Austin circuit, which will host the U.S. F1 Grand Prix on Sunday, has been taking proactive measures to achieve this goal -- from offering raceday tickets aimed at locals to convincing hotels to keep their prices in check. He said, “What it comes down to is making sure that all those who thought about coming last year, but didn’t, come this year.” Dial, when asked about ticket sales for this year’s F1 event said, “We are very excited what this weekend is going to hold. We are going to be up 30 percent on our general admission. We are up very strong in our high-end hospitality. We are really seeing a great pull there as well.” The growth in general admission seems to be partly due to the circuit’s decision to offer raceday tickets for Sunday’s grand prix -- an option that did not exist last year. Meanwhile, when COTA welcomed the F1 circuit last year, it made sure that the Univ. of Texas football team did not have a home game on the same weekend. Not this year. UT will host Oklahoma State at 3:30pm ET Saturday afternoon. While the two parties tried to coordinate and avoid a scheduling conflict, it simply did not work out this year. Dial: “The reality is, I’m not sure if it really hurts us or not. We are trying to have a price point that allows people to try us, to try and get to know F1" (HJ Mai, SBD Global).
REPEAT PERFORMANCE? USA TODAY's Rick Jervis notes F1 organizers and sponsors are "eagerly waiting to see if the only U.S. track on the Formula One circuit could replicate the crowds that came out for its inaugural race last year, when 265,000 people attended throughout the weekend, including 117,000 for the Sunday race." COTA ambassador and former driver Mario Andretti said, "The stability Austin will provide in this venue to increase its popularity in the United States and around the world is immense" (USA TODAY, 11/15). In Austin, Dave Doolittle notes, "At last year’s inaugural grand prix in Austin, large decorative stars that had been painted on the track edges before the race suddenly disappeared in the days leading up to it," but they will "return this year, at turns 18 and 19, near the end of the 3.4-mile circuit." COTA Chair Bobby Epstein said that F1 management "had the stars painted over because of 'creative differences.'" He added that F1 management also "interfered with advertising logos that were superimposed near the circuit during television broadcasts ... adding that there will be no stars at Turn 4 for that reason" (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 11/15).
HITTING THE TRACK: NBC is broadcasting the race from Austin on Sunday afternoon, and the net's "Today" on Friday featured a behind-the-scenes report from COTA. NBC's Gabe Gutierrez reported live from the track, saying when Americans "think about racing, most people talk about NASCAR," but F1 organizers are "trying to build on that one lap at a time." F1 driver Lewis Hamilton said the technology that is involved in F1 is "far beyond a lot of the different sports that are around." Gutierrez said, "Hamilton may not be a household name in the (U.S.), but in Europe he's racing royalty." Hamilton and Gutierrez then rode together in a street car on the track, with Gutierrez telling Hamilton, "You, my friend, have the best job in the world" ("Today," NBC, 11/15).