Tilke designing Austin track, site already purchased

Veteran circuit designer Hermann Tilke will be responsible for the Austin F1 track, promoter Tavo Hellmund has confirmed to this writer. Hellmund also says the project is also much further along than has been assumed, and the track has already been drawn.

“This has been long in the works,” he told this blog. “Everything is in place.”

Although the former racer told local media yesterday that three possible venues were still under consideration, that suggestion was apparently a smokescreen.

While several alternatives were under consideration, one site was settled on some time ago, and the land – over 800 acres – has already been purchased. Not only that but initial permissions for amenities such as water and waste, which are usually time consuming affairs, have already been granted.

Although Hellmund has yet to divulge details of what he calls a “killer location”, he confirmed that the site is to the east of the city, a few miles from the airport. It is said to be in hilly countryside that has provided Tilke with a good starting point for a design.

The German has been asked to create a fast circuit with challenging corners that resemble those of classic established circuits such as Silverstone, Hockenheim and Spa. It will be over 3-miles in length.

Tilke first sent a representative of his company to Austin around two years ago, and has made personal many visits since. He is currently looking for office space in the city in which to base the project.

Hellmund is adamant that Austin is an ideal location: “Other than New York or LA, which already have 10m people, where are you going to find a place that within 150-mile radius you have three of the top 10 largest markets in the United States? That is the wonderful thing. Our position between Canada and the United States, North, South and Central America, is unbelievable.

“You take that into account, you take into account the draw that Austin is, it’s the state capital, it’s in the hill country, it’s got a huge, huge vibe and tag of being the coolest place.”

As reported previously, the race is set to benefit from the ‘Texas Major Events Trust Fund,’ which is intended to reimburse cities for costs they face when hosting big sporting events.

However, that relates only to specific events and does not have an impact on the cost of building the facility, which is apparently budgeted at $200m. The track build is being financed by private investors, and when completed the venue is likely to be named after either Texas or Austin.

One of the key elements that has helped to generate funding is that aside from F1, the circuit will be used to help develop alternative fuels.

Tavo has known Bernie Ecclestone since he was a teenager. His father was involved in promoting Indycar and TransAm races in Mexico City, and also helped to bring F1 back to the country in 1988. Hellmund Sr was also involved in the 1986 soccer World Cup and in organising music events.

While the Austin project was greeted with some scepticism, Hellmund’s enthusiasm for it is infectious and he certainly makes a credible case for it. It will be fascinating to see what happens next.

44 Comments

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44 responses to “Tilke designing Austin track, site already purchased

  1. Kevin

    Thanks Adam; great post.

  2. Tilke…

    Thanks for the post Adam, but hasn’t the world been pained enough by the work of Mr. Tilke?

    • I hear what you are saying, and Tavo Hellmund is certainly aware of such criticisms. It sounds to me however that this time instead of a swamp or desert he’s been given the sort of raw material that could produce a Laguna Seca or Elkhart Lake. He can’t screw it up…

      • Leigh O'Gorman

        “He can’t screw it up…”

        We must be careful what we wish for; however if Tilke’s brief is for a fast sweeping circuit, it could be a good circuit.
        It cannot possible be worse than Valencia though.

      • Hare

        Argh! ‘Tilke’ is synonymous with ‘boring but easy on the eye’ these days. Please Tilkey, make it exciting, don’t make it flat! Prioritise the track before the audience!

        I can’t bare to see millions lost to an unflattering circuit yet again.

        A Spa/Hockenheim with Cork Screw overtones track would be awesome! :) Make it undulate Tilke!

  3. Prisoner Monkeys

    Well, that should put to rest any concerns that anyone may have had over the project. However, I got the distinct impression that those concerns stemmed from the fact that there was no 75-page business plan made publically available within half an hour of the announcement. Think what you will of him, but Bernie Ecclestone is no sucker; the Austin proposal must have been pretty darn impressive given that he had his heart set on Manhattan, and yet Austin won him over without warning or foreshadowing. Yet people still doubted it, and I guess that’s the price of the internet – we get so much information so quickly that people instantly doubt it when things aren’t made available in the blink of an eye, despite the fact that no-one is under any obligation to release it in the first place.

    Regarding Tilke, I have no issue with him designing the circuit. Fans are very quick to criticise and blame him, but I think the problem runs much deeper than that: it’s the rulebook that needs changing. It’s far too restrictive. While Istanbul and Sepang stand out as Tilke’s finest Formula 1 circuits, he has produced some excellent non-F1 venues – like Aragon – that speak to an understanding of what makes for an excellent racing circuit. People claim a change of designer is needed, but that will not do anything because they will stil be bound by those sam rules.

    Fortunately, this Hellmund bloke sounds like he’s a racer at heart. He’s not some faceless national government wanting a circuit to improve his international image and thus buys the first tract of land that is large enough – he’s specifically gone for hilly terrain and has asked for something fast and challenging. He’s really giving Tilke a chance to shine and to build something close to Istanbul than to Shanghai. What’s more, if the reports that Tilke submitted his penultimate draft for India’s Jaypee Group Circuit to the teams, had them punch the raw data into their systems and asked for feedback on improing the circuit for more overtaking are indeed true, than Austin could be a real treat.

    That said, not all is lost if the circuit is a dud. I have highhopes for the 2011 reguations, and I’m hoping FOTA can finally nail a set of rules that takes the emphasis off aerodynamic downforce and makes overtaking easier. If they do that, then we (theoretically) should be able to get a good race anywhere we go.

  4. Doogs

    Thanks for the great post Adam! As an Austinite I’m still reeling from the pure randomness of the news. East Austin a few miles from ABIA makes perfect sense from a geography, access and land availability standpoint.

  5. FanX

    See:
    http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/sports/94860274.html

    I don’t think there’s a chance in the world this will happen.

    • Prisoner Monkeys

      That article would have so much more credibility if it actually made sense. Being a professional writer, I have to wonder how that guy managed to get a job (much less keep it) if all of his setnences are so poorly-formed and non-senseical as “According to this 5 -year-old local newspaper story, then Hellmund was born in Mexico”, I’d have to wonder if he’s experiencing some form of word salad.

      And said newspaper story doesn’t actually agree or disagree with the point the writer is making. All it says is that he’s a racer.

      • Typist

        Don’t wanna throw stones here, but.. ‘setnences’ (sentences) and ‘non-senseical’ (nonsensical?) in an email criticising a writer?

        Just kinda ironic. :)

  6. Elio C

    Great follow-up Adam!
    Doogs – I feel your excitement. I’ve been an F1 fan for almost a quarter century, been to races and worked with an F1 team. Having F1 in Austin makes perfect sense! The world will soon learn about our great city and state! Bernie – I’m ready to buy my VIP tix!! (Hopefully, Senna will be in a McLaren by 2012 – I can dream can’t i ;-P)

  7. Matt Merrill

    Best of luck to Tavo Hellmund. I hope he proves everyone wrong and gives Texas a world class race track. From reading this post, it sounds like he has done his homework and things are on track.

  8. RedLineTire

    “Well, that should put to rest any concerns that anyone may have had over the project.”

    How so? Because the promoter said all is fine?

    Enron was also a big Texas venture that seem beyond reproach, yet somehow that all came crashing down….

    I will happily eat crow at the USGP in Austin should that day come. But I’m still not convinced…

  9. Dave

    Thanks Adam – any chance that the location is in Webberville?

  10. Jimmy Moran

    I hope that this goes through as said. I live in the DFW area and a couple hour drive to F1 would be great! Went to ?5? USGP at Indy and as a fan or racing and cars in general I can say as you also can that F1 is unlike ANY other form of racing! Your body feels like a tuning fork as the cars go buy. Whole sections at Indy were filled with South Americans, so it will only help being that much closer to them! Only thing that worries me about the location is that it will have to be piggybacked with Canada and Brazil so will that affect attendance from those countries???? I fully agree with the comment that its not Tilke, its the rules. Wish him the best ( dont screw it up Herm!!!) just want to put it down first, Texas Tilke Tragedy!!! LOL no no i REALLY hope its a great track! lets make the USGP work!

  11. mt

    …and I got some ocean-front property in Switzerland…

  12. Ok Cooper puzzle me this… why did Hellmund talk to the local media saying 3 spots were in play with no land purchased (as a “smokescreen”) only to turn around 24-36 hours later and change his story to you.

    Why the deception to the media and the public. At best it’s odd, at worst this is BS.

  13. Floyd

    Great article Adam,

    As a big support of the now defunct USf1 team, I hope this plan does not go the same way and leave me disappointed again.
    A return to the US for F1 will do a world of good for F1. It will surely help get more sponsors back in to F1.

    BMW & Toyota must be surely kicking themselves.
    F1 is becoming greener, KERS is returning and return to the USA.
    I wish BMW would buy back Sauber.

  14. GQsm

    Why a smokescreen that basically lasted a day? What was the point?

    • Brian.HalcYoN

      Because it’s fun?

      I am sure there were final contracts and pricing contingent on Ecclestone’s approval. It seems everything is well positioned and set up like dominoes and you HAVE to have a back-up plan. The three sites were all likely to have been available from the same developer.

  15. So looking forward to having a world class Formula 1 circuit right in our own backyard. Bring it!!!

    Sonny Johns
    Austin, TX

  16. FanX

    Ok, last word from me on this. Are you people that naive? A guy with limited promotion experience, all local, all small time, is going to put together a $200-$300million enterprise? He’s got the governor on the other line? Really? I’m betting this guy is working out of his parents basement. Didn’t you learn anything from USF1? This is America people, the home of Bernie Madoff and Countrywide, haven’t you learned anything?

  17. Black Knight

    We can probably cut to the chase here pretty quickly if there is someone reading this who is in realestate in the Austin area. Can’t imagine an 800 acre raw land purchase going unnoticed within the last 4 years. I’m suprised that the Austin media is not checking this out.
    I have to cut this short – Bernie is on the phone from Turkey.

    • Ryan

      Actually, an 800 acre purchase is not that large. Plenty of people with money in Texas buying up hundreds of acres at a time for hunting & fishing. It’s Texas, not California, land is still relatively cheap.

    • Elistan

      Purchasing even *thousands* of acres in Texas is no big deal – happens all the time. Want 1920 acres in the Texas Panhandle? Yours for $1.5 million. 1350 acres 25 miles southwest of Austin? $33 million. (And zero mention of this, the East Peacock Ranch, in the media as far as I can tell.)

  18. Glenn

    http://maps.google.com/maps?oe=utf-8&client=firefox-a&ie=UTF8&q=austin+race+track&fb=1&gl=us&hq=race+track&hnear=Austin,+TX&ei=QBn8S53NKMWclgew0LXYDw&ved=0CCMQtgMwAA&ll=30.161974,-97.600179&spn=0.004768,0.009645&t=h&z=17

    So this was thrown around when the announcement first happened. According to the Article it looks like this will be the likely site of the track. Meets the criteria.

    • Black Knight

      I guess it does – sort of. If find it hard to beleive that someone buys 800 acres – calls it a race track site – starts moving dirt and no one asks any questions in Austin. This appears to be a lot more than a go cart track. The other problem I have is – if he is this far along, why didn’t he hold a press event on the site ? I suppose this will all come out as truth or fiction pretty quickly.

    • Mike

      That link shows a dirt bike track on 20 or 30 acres. It’s been there for years.

  19. Steven Roy

    I know Bernie is not a great believer in succession plans but what is going to happen when Tilke pops his clogs? There must be other people/companies who can design a circuit. It’s not as if Tilke is any good at it. His circuits are consistently awful so it would not exactly be a great gamble to let someone else try.

    It simply isn’t healthy to have one person/company designing every new circuit. How is there meant to be any progress when Tilke has a monopoly?

    It is very sad that we have a dozen Tilke tracks and only one Hugenholz track on the calendar. Almost a definition of mis-management.

  20. There must be other people/companies who can design a circuit.

  21. Mark C.

    I’m glad to see the USGP back but anoterh Tilke Track…Why? I can already see the design: A tight right hand turn at the end of the main stright where there are going to be four of five cars knocked out at the start and assuring the safety car appears for five laps to slow everything down and close up the pack. Beyond that there will be a number of flat straights ending in sweeping turns, but there will be a kink of some sort right before the turn which will make overtaking impossible going into the turn. Add in the usual long straights so that 20 cars will follow each other nose to tail for 80 odd laps and you have a Tilke track.

  22. Nicko

    I hope this becomes a reality – there’s great potential.

    Austin is a truly wonderful city – I say that as a European who’s been there twice on vacation. It’s not picture postcard, but easy, friendly, cool (and great weather). Think of the charm of Melbourne.

    Big elevation changes could give us the magic of Laguna Seca, Elkhart Lake, Spa, Brands Hatch

    It goes without saying that the Americans know how to put on a superb, customer-focussed show.

    If this lives up to the potential I’ll be voting with my credit card.

  23. Texige

    Don’t you guys think that while this was probably Tavo’s idea many years ago, he is just a front man for a Texas billionaire that loves F1? If Tavo was hitting up the rich venture capital crowd looking for money, the word would have gotten out. Bernie is no dummy. There is someone with enough clout to sidestep the normal channels and go straight to the guv and Bernie and get everyone in his corner. I have a sneaking suspicion of who it is but we will have to wait and see.

  24. Zonta

    ”Our position between Canada and the United States, North, South and Central America, is unbelievable.”
    ???

    • Elio C

      Zonta, get a map! Montreal is in the North East. Had NY won the USGP spot, it would have been very close to the Canadian GP.

      Having the race in Austin allows for a central location to all US and also makes it easier for fans in Mexico and central America to fly into!

  25. Ozzy

    A good circuit would simply be:

    A straight, copse, turn 11 turkey and hairpin. That section would be a long flat out section, with high speed sections, that would make it easy to get a toe and pass at the hairpin.

  26. Martin Collyer

    Adam

    A month has passed and we have heard nothing more about the GP in Austin.

    Given the shortage of time to make this race happen in 2012, shouldn’t there be some building work under way by now?

    Further announcements about the finance side?

    A confirmation by Tilke’s organisation that they are working on the project perhaps?

  27. Black Knight

    Jon Todt as at Daytona last weekend for several the NASCAR races. When asked about the GP in Austin – he made a quote to local media that no one seemed to pick up. Todt said – Austin is a “proposal”, not an actual plan. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

    The following Monday, Bernie made his statement that the New York option is still alive and/or a second GP possibility. Bernie is hedging his bets.

  28. Black Knight

    Jon Todt was at Daytona last weekend for several NASCAR events.
    When asked about the Austin GP he stated – “Austin is a proposal not a plan”. Not exactly a ringing endorsement – that was Friday. On Monday Bernie re-surfaced the New York dream to F1 media as a possible 2nd U.S. GP. I suspect that Bernie is still fishing and Austin is the bait.

  29. I am very excited for F1 to bring another dynamic event to Austin, especially in professional sports. I’m even more excited for the dollars it brings to the state, considering how underfunded so many of our city’s priorities are namely public schools and public transit.

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