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Friday, 13 November 2015

Questions About Future Of U.S Grand Prix As Texas Cuts Funds

"Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's office said Wednesday it is
cutting nearly $6 million in funding for the United
States Grand Prix, raising questions about the race's
future just four years after Formula One put what many
saw as a permanent footprint on American soil.
Officials at the Circuit of the Americas, a $300 million
track built specifically to host the race, have said they
already took a major financial hit this year when storms
nearly wiped out two days of the race weekend in
October.
Track officials said they were promised $25 million per
year for 10 years from the state's portion of the Major
Events Trust Fund, public money spent largely to pay
Formula One's commercial management for the right
to hold the race. That deal was worked out with former
Gov. Rick Perry and former state Comptroller Susan
Combs.
But Perry and Combs are no longer in office and the
trust fund was moved this year to Abbott's office.
The race still gets $19.5 million from the state portion
of the fund and local tax money will bump it to $22.7
million, according to Abbott's office. But that's still a
$6 million cut from 2014 and down about $7 million
from the previous two years.
Circuit of the Americas officials said the race has
pumped "hundreds of millions" of dollars into the
Austin and Texas economies since 2012 and applied for
state funding under the same formula as Super Bowls,
NCAA basketball tournaments and other events.
"We're hopeful F1 will continue to race here," track
officials said.
Abbott did not take questions at a Veterans Day
ceremony Wednesday. Spokeswoman Cait
Meisenheimer said the reduced figure was calculated
under guidelines set by state lawmakers.
A recent state auditor's report criticized the generous
formulas previously used to calculate payments, which
have been tweaked with the move to Abbott's office.
"It's inappropriate for an applicant to expect the
governor to violate the legal standard and an
independent auditor's decision," Meisenheimer said.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler called the race "a very
important event for our city." Adler said he has "some
questions" about previous financing deals, but would
not commit to spending local government money to
cover the gap.
"The F1 race is the way that a lot of people in the
world are introduced to our city," Adler said. "It brings
a lot of people here. It helps brand us as an
international city."
Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone did not
immediately respond to requests from The Associated
Press for comment. Ecclestone told the Austin
American-Statesman that if funding was changed "it's
going to make it difficult to continue the race in
Austin".
The prospect of losing the Austin race, "for our sport,
would be a disaster," said Mario Andretti, who won the
Formula One championship in 1978. "It would
discourage any other entity from pursuing another way
to making Grand Prix happen. Formula One needs a
race in the United States."
The Circuit of the Americas was built with private
money and its investors include billionaire Red
McCombs. The track hosts other events, notably the
MotoGP Grand Prix of the Americas, a World Endurance
Championship race, the summer X Games and multiple
music concerts.
But the Formula One race is the key to its survival and
officials have said they are still paying off construction
debt.
The track is unique in that it is the first built
specifically for F1 in the U.S. Previous American
Formula One races have been held at Watkins Glen,
Indianapolis Motor Speedway and on street courses in
other cities.
Formula One didn't race in the U.S. from 2008-2011.
Its return to a specialized facility was seen as a major
move to gain a long-term foothold in a country where
NASCAR is the most popular motor series by far. F1 is
even poised in 2016 to have an America-led team, Haas
F1, for the first time in 30 years. A Haas spokesman
declined comment Wednesday.
The race has enjoyed a prominent late-season place on
the Formula One calendar, which has made it an
important stop in the season championship.
The races in 2012, 2014 and 2015 all played key roles
in the title chase. Lewis Hamilton's victory last month
wrapped up his third Formula One season
championship.
But the race has been plagued by steadily declining
attendance, and the storms this year were a severe
blow. The U.S. Grand Prix also depended in previous
years on fans from neighboring Mexico. But the
Mexican Grand Prix, held this year in Mexico City for
the first time since 1992, is viewed as likely to further
erode attendance in Austin."

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