Austin Is It for USGP

Formula One Administration Ltd. (Bernie Ecclestone’s company) and Full Throttle Productions LP announced today that an agreement has been reached for Austin, Texas to serve as the host city of the United States Grand Prix for 2012 through 2021.  Coming just days after the Monticello Motor Club suggested the race would come to that exclusive resort in New York State, this is a very surprising development. Texas must have offered Bernie a LOT of cash, especially since Full Throttle appears to be a shell company.

There are a huge number of details remaining to be worked out.  As the Austin Statesman commented:

The announcement stunned many in the Texas auto racing community and surprised and delighted some political leaders, but it left others wondering about significant details — including where a track would be built, who would build it, how much it would cost, who would pay for it and why would an Austin project succeed where others haven’t?

More disturbing is the rationale.  According to Ecclestone, “For the first time in the history of F1 in the US, a world-class facility will host the event.” Yeah, that’s what he said (correctly) about Tony George’s $100M investment at Indianapolis, until F1 got too greedy. Watkins Glen was a fantastic, “purpose-built” track, and Long Beach ushered in a new era in street circuits. So Bernie, cut the crap!!

And will Austin really pull this off?  Doubtful.  I agree with this assessment from Kevin Eason in The Times of London:

Anybody out there remember a chap called Simon Gillett and a track that went by the name of Donington [Park]? He was going to spend £100 million rebuilding Donington to host the British Grand Prix. Hmmm, thought you might.

So who are Full Throttle Productions and Tavo Hellmund, the company’s managing partner, who negotiated this extraordinary deal with Bernie? Beats me. An hour with our old friend Google did not reveal much. I have divined that Hellmund is 39, six-feet tall, a former Nascar driver with 14 starts under his belt and became well-known for drinking a gallon of water a day. It seems his father raced in the UK and was also a race promoter around 30 years ago.

Hardly the big league, is it? And where is the money coming from? Ecclestone has become used to dealing with governments in recent years, such as China or Abu Dhabi, who were prepared to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on not just a circuit, but an entire infrastructure. Gillett, a seriously small fish in the piranha pool, tried to go it alone and was swallowed whole. And two years? Can Hellmund really build a world-class venue in two years?

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