Texas circuit shaping up for big debut

LONDON Mon Jul 9, 2012 5:09pm EDT

Formula One commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone speaks on the phone during the Monaco F1 Grand Prix May 25, 2012. REUTERS/Max Rossi

Formula One commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone speaks on the phone during the Monaco F1 Grand Prix May 25, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Max Rossi

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LONDON (Reuters) - Organizers of Formula One's newest grand prix in Austin, Texas, say tickets for the November 18 race are selling strongly with construction solidly on schedule.

Speaking to Reuters during a fact-finding visit to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, Circuit of the Americas president Steve Sexton said F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone and the governing FIA were pleased with progress.

The race will be the first U.S. Grand Prix since Indianapolis in 2007. Another in New Jersey, against a backdrop of New York's Manhattan skyline, is due to be held in 2013.

"We're in the time of year now where we've a lot of daylight and no rain, and so we're making more progress than we even thought we'd make," said Sexton, happy not to have Silverstone's problems with rain and waterlogged car parks.

"We're on schedule to be complete. (FIA race director) Charlie Whiting was at our site two or three weeks ago and took a look at it and said we're doing fantastic. He was very pleased."

Sexton said tickets had been on sale for a month already and were "going strong" with out-of-state visitors accounting for a majority of the "thousands and thousands" sold so far.

The race has been positioned from the outset to bring tourists to Texas.

Formula One's last two new circuits, in India and South Korea, were both barely ready by the race weekend with organizers racing against time to lay track surfaces and complete buildings.

Sexton assured teams and fans that would not be the case with Texas.

"We anticipate there will be small-scale last-minute details," he said. "We don't anticipate any large last-minute approval that will be necessary."

BUSINESS PLAN

The first layer of asphalt will have been laid around the whole circuit within the next week, drainage is being laid in at least half the track and roads are being cut in. Temporary seating will start going up in August.

Interior work to circuit facilities is under way and catch fences being put up.

Sexton said the Austin organizers met periodically with Ecclestone to discuss progress and ensure everything was up to the Briton's expectations.

"He seems happy at the moment but there's nothing the matter with high standards," he added. "He drives a hard bargain but with the same token he has a great respect for the people that he works with and thus the venues have a great respect for him."

Making a profit from the race might be harder, with Ecclestone's fees running to tens of millions of dollars elsewhere, but Sexton said Formula One was only part of the picture.

"The business plan was not built entirely on Formula One profit. It was built on the profit of a year round operation with four to five major motorsport events, and Formula One being the signature event," he explained.

There would also be music festivals, with a 17,000 person amphitheatre on site and a major music partner to be announced in the next month, and other sporting events as well as driving club activity and product launches.

While NASCAR is not on the radar, there have been discussions with IndyCar and others.

"Almost... every other major motorsports series has approached us to talk about racing because of where we are located. Texas is a big state, very attractive, 20 million people within 250 miles," said Sexton.

"It's not just a flat circuit it has some unique attributes to it, topography that is very appealing from a driver and a fan perspective because you can see multiple turns from a lot of the views on the east side of the facility."

(Editing by Alison Wildey)

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