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Updated: Austin F1 Track Suspends Construction

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, November 15 2011

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

(Editor’s note: The following story has been updated today by its author.)

Organizers of Circuit of The Americas, a $300-million motorsports/entertainment venue being developed in Austin, Texas, abruptly suspended construction Tuesday in a contract dispute involving promoter Full Throttle Productions LP and circuit officials.

Full Throttle Productions, headed by Austin businessman Tavo Hellmund, has a 10-year contract to play host to Formula One beginning in November 2012. But those rights have not been transferred to Circuit of The Americas, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

Construction will remain suspended until a contract assuring the Formula One United States Grand Prix will be held at the facility on Nov. 18, 2012 is complete, according to a COTA news release. The race contract has not been conveyed to COTA, as per a previously agreed upon timetable.

While construction at Circuit of The Americas reportedly has progressed as scheduled with over 300 workers at the site daily, all work has been suspended. Delivery of the Formula One Grand Prix race contract would allow construction operations to resume, organizers said in the release.

“We have spent tremendous resources preparing for the Formula One and MotoGP™ Championship races, but the failure to deliver race contracts gives us great concern,” said Robert A. “Bobby” Epstein, a founding partner of Circuit of The Americas. “We believe the United States is vital for the future of Formula One and its teams and sponsors. Given the purpose-built (Hermann) Tilke design, creating a unique fan experience and iconic challenge for drivers, we hope that Texas will not be left behind. More than 100,000 fans have expressed an interest in purchasing tickets for Formula One alone.”

The Texas project is fronted by Hellmund, chairman of Formula 1 United States and managing partner of Full Throttle Productions LP. Hellmund has signed a 10-year agreement to host the United States Grand Prix beginning next year with Bernie Ecclestone, president/CEO of Formula One Management and Formula One Administration.

Circuit of The Americas is owned and managed by Formula 1 United States. Business partners include Full Throttle Productions LP, McCombs Partners and Prophet Capital Management.

“It is in the best interest of all parties to reach a timely resolution,” Red McCombs, chairman of McCombs Enterprises and founding partner of Circuit of The Americas, said in the news release. “Local businesses, fans and the State of Texas are counting on us.”

Later Tuesday, Full Throttle Productions released a statement regarding the suspension of construction, albeit without attribution: “After years of effort in getting F1 to Austin, Full Throttle Productions and city, county and state officials have done all we could. It is the responsibility of Circuit of The Americas to bring it across the finish line. For the sake of everyone, we are hopeful that they can reach an agreement with Formula 1.”

McCombs is founder of the Red McCombs Automotive Group, co-founder of Clear Channel Communications and a former owner of several pro sports teams. Epstein is the founder and managing general partner of Prophet Management, a hedge fund and private investment company. Steve Sexton, former president of Churchill Downs Entertainment, is president of COTA.

In September, the American-Statesman reported on the possibility of a split between Hellmund and investors – including McCombs and Epstein – who had not secured rights to hold the race. Over the weekend, Ecclestone told Autosport.com: “There are two parties. One is building a track, the other has the contract, and they’ve forgotten to talk to each other.”

During an elaborate news conference in April, COTA and the FIM’s MotoGP World Championship announced they had signed a 10-year contract to bring the motorcycle series to the track beginning in 2013. Officials bragged that COTA would become the first motorsports facility to host the automobile and motorcycle world championships on an annual basis.

In June, COTA management announced it had reached a five-year agreement to bring the Australian V8 Supercars Series, considered among the fastest-growing motorsports tours in the world, to southeastern Travis County beginning in 2013. Already popular in Australia and New Zealand, the series is scheduled to make its inaugural visit into North America at Circuit of The Americas.

Additionally, Brian Z. France, NASCAR’s chairman of the board/CEO, said during the summer he would be interested in exploring the possibility of staging a Camping World Truck Series or GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series event at COTA. The Truck Series currently competes twice a year on the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway quadoval in Fort Worth, a three-hour drive from Austin.

F1’s return to the United States took another turn last month when the sanctioning Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) and officials in New Jersey announced that a second race would be staged in the “Garden State” in June 2013 on a street course in Hudson County. Bordered by the Hudson River, the race’s backdrop will be the Manhattan skyline located across the river. The 3.2-mile circuit is scheduled to include 19 turns. Promoter Leo Hindery Jr. said the deal with the FIA is for “a decade.”

Circuit of The Americas is under construction 20 miles southeast of downtown Austin in Travis County on a 970-acre site along the SH 130 corridor near FM 812, two miles from Austin Bergstrom International Airport. Its signature element will be a 3.4-mile, 20-turn road circuit with capacity for 120,000 fans. The track will feature elevation changes of up to 133 feet.

Tilke GmbH has designed the track. Recognized as a global leader in the construction of modern-day racing facilities, Tilke’s list of clients features the Bahrain International Circuit, Korean International Circuit, Sepang International Circuit, Shanghai International Circuit, Istanbul Park and the lavish YAS Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.

COTA is billed as the first purpose-built Grand Prix facility in the United States designed for any and all classes of racing, from motor power to human power. Support buildings will include a media center, medical facility, 14 executive meeting suites, a conference center and banquet hall, as well as expansive outdoor live music space. Proposed amenities include a driving/riding experience, motorsports driving club, kart track, grand plaza event center /tower and trackside recreational vehicle park.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, November 15 2011
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