The US Grand Prix is set to return at a permanent track in the booming Texan city of Austin in 2012.
The man behind the project is Tavo Hellmund, a 44-year-old who briefly competed in British Formula 3 in the 1990s. Hermann Tilke has already designed the track, which is said to be fast and replicates classic corners from elsewhere.
The site, which overlooks the city, is said to feature a lot of gradient changes as well as lakes and trees, and thus the topography has given Tilke a better starting point than he has had in other countries.
Tavo Hellmund is well connected, as his event-promoting father was behind the Champ Car events in Mexico City in 1980-81, and was involved in bringing F1 back to the country in 1986-92. The younger Hellmund has thus known Bernie Ecclestone since he was a teenager.
Speaking to Motor Sport about why Hellmund got the deal, Ecclestone said: “Well, I trust him. He’s got a different way of looking at things. He knows about F1.”
As to the potential hurdles the promoter faces, Ecclestone said: “I think he’s going to face hundreds of them. He’ll have to jump over them all as he gets there! Building the circuit, for a start, is not going to be easy. But we’ll get it done, no fear. He’s got a lot of help from the government.”
The Texas authorities are clearly backing the project, and state law has been changed to ensure an F1 race would be eligible for a subsidy from the Texas Major Events Trust Fund, created to help big cities with expenses arising from hosting major sporting events. The Austin race will apparently benefit to the tune of $25 million per year, and the ‘expenses’ covered will in effect be Bernie Ecclestone’s sanctioning fee.
Hellmund says that he has already purchased well over 800 acres to the east of the city, not far from the airport, and has resolved key permit issues. He insists that he has the funding for the $200m project, although no state money is involved in the actual development. At least some of it has been attracted because of the track’s intended secondary use for developing alternative fuels.
Famous for its live music scene, as well as being the 15th largest city in the USA, Austin scores highly on surveys in such areas as quality of life and future prospects. It was also recently voted number one university party town by Playboy magazine.