On Tuesday, Austin Grand Prix promoter Tavo Hellmund held a press conference with his primary financial backer Red McCombs, former owner of the Minnesota Vikings National Football League team and San Antonio Spurs National Basketball Association team. Hellmund and McCombs insist the track will be ready in time to revive the United States Grand Prix in 2012. The three-mile track, designed by Herman Tilke, will be built on a 900-acre tract of land 10 miles south east of Austin’s airport.
Beaky Simms is a veteran Formula 1 mechanic who started his career in the 1960s and these days runs the Risi Ferrari ALMS team based in Houston. Simms is an old friend of Bernie Ecclestone and talks regularly with the F1 impresario. He told me last week that financial support for the US GP is beginning to take off.
“Bernie’s discovered how much money there is in Texas – in Houston and Dallas,” said Simms. “There are plenty of wealthy and successful Texans who are falling over themselves to do business with Mr Ecclestone, and the track is going to be a proper race track with fast corners and elevation changes. I think this race in Austin is going to be a big success.”
The Austin road circuit will be first track built in America specifically for F1. Hellmund says this fact is essential to the race’s long-term success, pointing out that the US GP enjoyed its longest period of stability and success when it was run from 1961-80 at Watkins Glen in upstate New York. None of the many street circuits that followed – Long Beach, Las Vegas, Detroit, Dallas or Phoenix – lasted more than a handful of years and Long Beach was the only of these temporary venues that generated any enthusiasm or cachet.
Hellmund and McCombs will have to spend a lot of money and effort to have their track ready in time for 2012, but they may be onto something with a permanent F1-style track located in south-central Texas. Austin is close to San Antonio, about 200 miles south of Dallas and 150 miles west of Houston. The city is Texas’s state capital and is also a college town renowned for its arts and music scene, so it should prove to be a refreshing change from the likes of Vegas, Detroit and Phoenix.
The F1 team owners continue to talk about a second US GP, but they’re getting way ahead of themselves. They need to work with Ecclestone, Hellmund and McCombs to make sure Austin happens in the best possible way rather than dreaming about races in New York or San Francisco. The left-leaning politics and anti-car culture of this pair of great American cities ensure that motor racing will never occur anywhere near their environs.
The FIA and F1 team owners may not have paid attention, but NASCAR was utterly stymied in its recent attempts to build on oval track on Staten Island, adjacent to Manhattan. Also, the Philip Morris Corporation spent many millions of dollars 15 and 20 years ago trying to make a New York GP happen. And about a year ago New York mayor Michael Bloomberg (below on left) met with Ecclestone to talk Grand Prix racing in Manhattan. “We’d be delighted to host Formula 1,” Bloomberg said. “How much will you pay us?”
So it’s Austin, make or break. If the race in Austin doesn’t work out, America will almost certainly be lost to F1 forever. Both F1 and the United States need Austin to be successful.