An American Dream In The Making Following A 'Fantastic' Opening Act At Austin’s City Limits
The dream of F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone to have an F1 Grand Prix in close proximity to New York City is still being targeted for mid '14, while a newly built circuit near Austin, Texas could secure F1’s long-term future in the U.S. In addition to its increased American presence, Ecclestone has been talking with officials south of the border about restarting the Mexican Grand Prix in '14. And the Canadian GP at Montreal’s Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve is a fixture on the schedule.So, F1 is gaining traction in North American, but its history in the U.S., which stretches back to 1950, is one of unrequited love. The circuit is hoping that its move to the NYC marketplace -- or at least N.Y. adjacent in New Jersey -- will finally see that courtship consummated. New Jersey/New York F1 Race Promoter Leo Hindery Jr. told SBD Global, “The U.S. needs a premium Grand Prix. This dream was much more Bernie Ecclestone’s than anybody’s. Bernie has expressed an interest in being in the New York area for a very, very long time, but one of the things we’ve learned in recent years is when you get too near a major metropolitan area the quality of the racing sometimes doesn’t meet the expectation of the teams and the drivers.”
A LONG SEARCH: Organizers spent a long time searching for the right place for the race and ultimately settled on the New Jersey location along the Hudson River opposite Midtown Manhattan. Hindery said, "The key criteria for the drivers is can they pass, is there elevation change where the engineers get rewarded, and is it a challenging race, in other words a number of turns. It’s not the straights that are interesting, it’s the turns." The course chosen for the American Grand Prix delivers, Hindery said. "It’s a road course. It will be used once a year. It is 3.2 miles. It has a tremendous amount of elevation change and 19 turns." Hindery discounted talk that the race would be a threat to Montreal as fans, especially international ones, would have to pick one over the other. Hindery said he and counterpart Canadian Grand Prix President François Dumontier believe overseas fans "will do both." Hindery said, "You could go to Montreal, which is just an amazing, fun, tourist city, but it’s a different city, by a lot, than New York. And then you come down to New York for the following Sunday." Hindery claims he's complied with state requests for clearances and has lined up sponsors, issues that derailed the race last year.
CELEBRATED COMEBACK: The groundwork for F1’s U.S. Renaissance was laid in November when Austin’s Circuit of America’s hosted its first Grand Prix, an event the famously understated Ecclestone labeled "fantastic." COTA President Steve Sexton agreed with Ecclestone’s assessment. Sexton told SBD Global: "We had a very successful first event and look to build on that performance. Our F1 race was the second-highest attended of the ’12 season (117,426) and the three-day attendance of 265,499 was the third highest for any host city last year." On first blush, Austin seemed an odd choice for F1 to pin its expansionistic hopes. It had no motorsports history, no major professional sports franchises and is barely a top 50 media market. But it does have a cachet as one of the hippest entertainment centers in the country. Sexton said, "I can’t speak to Mr. Ecclestone and his group’s deciding factor on why Austin, other than it’s a hot, popular market now in the U.S. for people in terms of entertainment. Not only is it the live music capital of the world, but it is getting very well known in the domestic and international community as a technology leader. There are 20 million people within three hours of Austin. F1 is known really for technology and glamor, and Austin fits that characteristic.”
IN FOR THE LONG HAUL: Whatever the draw, COTA has a 10-year contract with Formula One Management and aims to increase its ’12 attendance number over the years. Sexton said, "Every indication we have, from the media coverage, the fan feedback, the awareness and the interest that we’ve seen in the U.S. Grand Prix gives us indication that it’s got considerable growth opportunity as we move through the years, starting with ’13." A telling indicator for the race’s sustainable success is that in ’12 more than 60% of fans came from outside of Texas. Sexton said fans came from "more than 40 countries, primarily Mexico, England and Canada, and then kind of evenly distributed throughout the other international countries and markets."