‘I did not see this as a guy’s deal. It was a people’s deal.’
He wants this to work.”
Combs said she expects a U.S. Grand Prix to have an annual economic impact of $300 million for Texas. The state has pledged to put up $25 million in public funds annually for 10 years to pay the sanctioning fees for the race, which is being promoted by Hellmund’s Full Throttle Productions.
The first year’s amount has already been appropriated; in subsequent years, it will come out of the Texas Major Events Trust Fund, which will use money generated in sales and other taxes by the previous year’s race.
State records show Combs has met with Hellmund more than 20 times since he first approached her about the project more than two years ago.
“What a serendipitous moment,” Combs said. “He came to me because of my job.”
What Hellmund may not have known was that Combs was already a racing enthusiast, having followed it, in a fashion, for more than three decades.
Her husband is a computer scientist who used to race cars in the 1960s and is intrigued by the technological aspect of the sport.
Not long after the Texas F1 deal was announced in May, Combs said, she decided that they should see an F1 Grand Prix. The closest one to Austin — Montreal in June — didn’t work because of a scheduling conflict.
The British Grand Prix, meanwhile, looked intriguing. The Silverstone circuit is old and famous; it was the site of the first F1 Grand Prix in 1950 and has hosted most of the British Grand Prix races since then. The area is also home to some of the spinoff businesses that have been spawned by F1 racing.
The British Grand Prix remains one of F1’s showcase events. This year the attendance for the three-day week- Comptroller Susan Combs, with Austin race promoter Tavo Hellmund, left, and F boss Bernie Ecclestone, said a second Grand Prix race in the United States would not affect the Texas race. end was estimated at slightly more than 300,000, with 115,000 ticketed fans on hand for the Sunday race, which was won by driver Mark Webber of the Red Bull team.
One of the first things that struck Combs at Silverstone was the 3.666-mile circuit, which was upgraded and lengthened in the past year.
“It’s huge. It’s spacious, and it’s green,” Combs said. “This is not a concrete jungle. It is very respectful of the terrain.”
Combs also took note of the crowd demographics.
“I did not see this as a guy’s deal. It was a people’s deal,” Combs said. She said she saw families and people of all ages, not the jet-setters of F1 stereotype. Recently Ecclestone said that he would like to have two Grand Prix stops in the U.S. and that talks were still going on with some other U.S. sites and cities
ombs said she would be “very surprised” if F1 put another race in the U.S. and said even if that happened, it would not affect the Texas race.
“This site is the U.S. Grand Prix, and it’s in Austin, Texas,” Combs said. She added that people at Silverstone “were wildly enthusiastic about there being a U.S. Grand Prix.”
There are currently 19 races on the F1 calendar, eight of them in Europe. Earlier this month, at a fan forum in London, influential McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh said, “I don’t think we should go more than 20 races.”
An F1 stop in India is being added next year. There are three sites under consideration in Russia, which could host a race as early as 2012. In the wake of success of the recent World Cup, Ecclestone has said that South Africa could also be an attractive site.
With all those potential sites in play, something might have to give.
“The Europeans are going to have to pay more money or we will have to go somewhere else,” Ecclestone was quoted as saying on various racing websites Monday.
“We can do without Monaco,” he added.
That would be like NASCAR saying it didn’t really need Daytona. Ecclestone, however, is known to drive a hard bargain. There is speculation in the industry that his contracts call for an automatic increase in the sanctioning fee of 7 to 10 percent each year.
Combs said that won’t change the amount of the state’s financial commitment to F1.
“If there’s any escalator, that’s the investors’ problem, not the state’s problem,” Combs said.
Combs said the state would benefit from increased tax revenue from rental cars, hotel rooms, restaurant meals and merchandise — not to mention the economic impact of building the racetrack itself. Engineers at Tilke GmbH, which would oversee the track construction, have estimated that alone would create 2,000 jobs.
Combs said an F1 race would be a big step forward for the state, and she’s glad she went on the trip, even if she did spend all those airline miles.
“I had a wonderful time in England,” she said. “What a phenomenal deal.”