Austin Hits the Fast Lane

Fasten your seatbelts: Formula One is coming to town

So much for not being a pro-sports kind of city: After a year of negotiations, Austin has beaten out New York to host the Formula One United States Grand Prix for 10 years.

On Tuesday, Formula One Group President Bernie Ecclestone announced that his firm had struck a deal with promoter Full Throttle Productions LP to build a dedicated race track in the Austin area and hold the U.S. Grand Prix here from 2012 to 2021. Since its first season in 1950, F1 has become one of the world's biggest and most lucrative sports, with fans traveling long distances to attend races and major manufacturers, including Ferrari and Mercedes GP, investing millions in their teams every year. Mayor Lee Leffingwell became involved in the negotiations about six weeks ago. "When I first heard about it, I thought it was too good to be true," he said, "and now I have discovered it is true."

There has not been a U.S. Grand Prix since Indianapolis in 2007, and the tour has not been to Texas since the 1984 race in Dallas. Hosting a grand prix will put Austin in the company of major cities such as Monte Carlo, Istanbul, and São Paulo. State comptroller's spokesman Allen Spelce said, "I was Googling it yesterday, and I couldn't believe how huge it is internationally." New York's Monticello Motor Club had also been in the bidding for this new F1 era in the U.S. – beating them to the deal "puts Austin on an international stage," Spelce said.

Aside from the sporting prestige, a new facility with the potential for year-round events and auto-testing could bring massive investment to the area. According to an informal economic impact study by the comptroller, the agreement could bring in excess of $300 million a year to the state. No state or city money was spent on soliciting the event, and construction of the track will be privately funded, although the project may be eligible for funds from the state's Major Events Trust Fund. "Most cities spend millions just in the application phase, trying to woo Bernie [Ecclestone] and F1. We haven't spent a dime," said Matt Curtis, Leffingwell's communications director. But with a 2012 deadline to complete the tracks, Curtis said, "It's really going to take dedication from the state and the city to expedite things."

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