Texas Comptroller Susan Combs – in effect the state’s chief financial officer – has headed off potential criticism of the US GP in Austin by insisting that the deal is already done.
Combs has committed the state to a $25m a year payment from the Texas Special Events Fund. That is designed to cover expenses related to major events, and is believed to in essence represent the annual fee paid to host the race. The state is not involved in the actual development of the circuit, but local media has suggested that not all taxpayers will be supportive.
“The legislation is already passed, it’s a done deal,” Combs told this blog. “I think they’re going to be very excited.”
Combs was at Silverstone last weekend with a group from Texas that included promoter Tavo Hellmund and other key figures in the project. It was her first visit to a Grand Prix, and from a base at Bernie Ecclestone’s motorhome the Austin delegation met a number of key F1 figures.
“It’s very, very exciting,” she said of the event. “It has lots of technology, which I found particularly interesting, and it’s a real crowd pleaser, a real show. We’re now more excited. With the incredible impact that this has on England, we hope to have a similar impact on the United States.”
She has no doubts about what a race can achieve: “It’s going to put Texas on the international and global map, it’s going to put Austin on the international and global map, and it will brand Texas as the home of cars.”
The race was also Hellmund’s first visit to a race since he became a promoter.
“I think there’s a lot of excitement,” he told me. “People are looking forward to coming to Austin, and it’s been great. I was going to try to go to Montreal, but had a scheduling conflict. I needed to bring some of my partners over and it just coincided that the Comptroller was going to make a visit to a Grand Prix as well just to see the size and the scope and everything, so the timing was perfect.
“There’s about 12 people here. Two or three of them are partners of mine. We’ve got some of our legal team, and a couple of our communications people. I needed for them to get to know the FOM system, see how things run are run at a Grand Prix.”
Hellmund insists that his plans are moving ahead: “We’re almost done with the design stuff. We’ve changed a few things based on the site, and the biggest thing is trying to finish the proper plan for the FIA Circuit Commission. I believe that’s in September. The Tilke people have been in Austin pretty much non stop and have met with our architects and our contractors. We’re hammer down.”