‘I did not see this as a guy’s deal. It was a peo­ple’s deal.’

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION -

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.”

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