McLaren CEO has ideas for Austin track to suc­ceed

Whit­marsh sug­gests pair­ing race with an­other one nearby

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By John Ma­her

Martin Whit­marsh, the chair­man of the For­mula One Teams As­so­ci­a­tion, wants to see an­other U.S. city join Austin as the site of a F1 race.

“Dip­ping our toe in for one week­end a year isn’t enough. I think we maybe need more than one Grand Prix in Amer­ica,” said Whit­marsh, the 52-year-old CEO of McLaren Rac­ing, which leads both the team and driv­ers’ cham­pi­onship stand­ings this year in F1.

He said a sec­ond stop, in addi- tion to the U.S. Grand Prix slated to be­gin just south­east of Austin in 2012, would ben­e­fit the race be­ing pro­moted by Tavo Hell­mund and Full Throt­tle Pro­duc­tions. An­other Grand Prix in the United States, on ei­ther the East or West Coast, Whit­marsh said, would al­low F1 to bet­ter pro­mote the sport.

“Maybe we need to send our driv­ers to the David Let­ter­man show,” Whit­marsh said.

Right now, the only F1 race in North Amer­ica takes place in Mon­treal, in June.

“It would be nice to have it backto-back (with the Mon­treal race),” Whit­marsh said of the pro­posed Austin race. “Or maybe in the same loop as Brazil.”

The Grand Prix of Brazil will be

Con­tin­ued from C Nov. 7 this year. Whit­marsh pointed to the Sao Paulo track as one of best in F1, one that of­fered chances for over­tak­ing, as pass­ing is known, and ex­cit­ing races. He said he would like to see a sim­i­lar setup in Cen­tral Texas.

“If some­one gave me a green field, I would look at the clas­sics,” Whit­marsh said. “If it’s a great race track, teams don’t com­plain about the fa­cil­ity.”

Whit­marsh also said For­mula One could use an at­ti­tude ad­just­ment when it re­turns to the U.S. af­ter a three-year ab­sence. The last Grand Prix in this coun­try took place in In­di­anapo­lis in 2007.

“Per­haps there’s been too much ar­ro­gance. The U.S. doesn’t need For­mula One,” Whit­marsh said, adding that it was up to F1 to make the sport com­pelling to U.S. au­torac­ing fans.

On Fri­day, Whit­marsh was in Budapest watch­ing his team run prac­tice laps at Hun­garor­ing in ad­vance of Sun­day’s Hun­gar­ian Grand Prix. He also was re­spond­ing to re­porters’ vol­leys about F1’s con­tro­ver­sies du jour — the front wing used by the ri­val Red Bull team and Fer­rari’s on-track flip flop of its driv­ers at the re­cent Ger­man Grand Prix.

Whit­marsh wasn’t so sure Red Bull’s wing was le­gal, and he said the McLaren team would not tell a driver to lose a race to a team­mate in or­der to gain an edge in the driv­ers’ points.

He also took some time to talk to the Amer­i­can-States­man about the planned Grand Prix for Austin. Like al­most ev­ery­one else, he said he was sur­prised by the May an­nounce­ment of the pro­posed race and cir­cuit.

“It came out of the blue,” Whit­marsh said, speak­ing by tele­phone. “I was concerned that the land wasn’t se­cured.”

In the past week, the track site, about 900 acres in south­east­ern Travis County, has been un­veiled, and race or­ga­niz­ers also in­tro­duced a lead in­vestor, San An­to­nio busi­ness­man Red McCombs. Whit­marsh said he hasn’t been to Austin and was un­fa­mil­iar with McCombs. When in­formed that McCombs had owned a pair of NBA teams and an NFL fran­chise, Whit­marsh said, “He’s an ex­pe­ri­enced sports fran­chise holder. That sounds en­cour­ag­ing. Those are pro­fes­sional, well­run sports. … He’s com­ing in with his eyes wide open.”

Whit­marsh said stag­ing an F1 race was a huge un­der­tak- ing and a very chal­leng­ing one for pro­mot­ers.

There are no driv­ers or teams from the U.S. on the 2010 F1 cir­cuit, but Whit­marsh said, “The U.S. mar­ket is huge and im­por­tant to our part­ners. … Ev­ery sin­gle team wants to be there.”

Ac­cord­ing to “For­mula Money,” a study of F1 fi­nances au­thored by jour­nal­ists Chris­tian Sylt and Caro­line Reid, last year there were more F1 cor­po­rate spon­sors head­quar­tered in the U.S., 36, than in any other coun­try. A U.S. Grand Prix also could make for good TV, Whit­marsh said, be­cause time-zone dif­fer­ences mean an af­ter­noon race in the U.S. airs in prime time in Europe, the tra­di­tional home of For­mula One.

F1 rac­ing has had a check­ered his­tory in the U.S., par­tic­u­larly af­ter For­mula One left the Watkins Glen cir­cuit in New York af­ter 1980 and made stops ev­ery­where from Detroit to Dal­las to Las Ve­gas.

“We need to make a proper job of it, the way we haven’t in the past,” Whit­marsh said. “We’ve got to com­mit to a venue or venues. We can’t keep chang­ing around the way we have. … The U.S. Grand Prix has been tran­sient for too long.”

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