260 days. That is how long curious Austinites, die-hard F1 fans and everyone in between had to wait since the first F1 USGP Press Conference in July 2010 and this week's coming out party in Austin, Texas. In Tavo's defense, to say they have been busy would be an understatement.
We arrived at the Palmer Events Center on a typical April afternoon in Austin: 80' F (27' C), sunny with a few clouds in the sky, and so many people frolicking about in the neighboring Zilker Park, you begin to wonder if anyone works a typical 9-5 job in this town. As evidenced throughout Austin's cohesive, collaborative, laid-back yet get-down-to-business vibe, we passed by the sunny fun-loving people in the park and walked into the Palmer Events Center, where we were transported to a high tech press conference with a platform for innovation and excitement, and some cool backdrops. The stage was bordered with two giant screens looping some new and some familiar snapshots of Austin; the Williams F1 car served as a focal point and photo op; and about 100 media and invited parties began to fill the room.
We mingled, ran into our friend USF2000 Driver Rodrigo Sanchez, met a few new folks and took our seats behind the "Reserved Row," not knowing who would join us, but impressed when we were joined by Del Valle School Board President Richard Vasquez, Austin City Manager Marc Off, Texas Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, Texas Sen. Kirk Watson, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell (hard to see from this angle) and Council member Mike Martinez.
SPEED TV's iconic Bob Varsha welcomed everyone and noted that he had visited the construction site and was "impressed with what was being accomplished at the track site." Before introducing the founding team on stage, Red McCombs, Tavo Hellmund and Bobby Epstein, he also shared his newfound love for the city of Austin, and shared our sentiments that it is an active and entertaining town supported by the welcoming and fun-loving people of Austin.
You may recall that McCombs and Epstein were announced as the major financial backers at July's press conference and Tavo is the ring leader in this entire project. McCombs quickly took over and before announcing first order of business, the naming of the track, he reminded people of the scale and magnitude of this project, equating it to "a SuperBowl every year" for the city of Austin. There has been so much buzz around this press conference in the past week, including speculation about what was going to be announced, that we were confident a title sponsor would be named, thereby revealing something of the sort: "The AT&T Williams Momentum Park." That was my calculated guess because AT&T is headquarted in Texas and has strong business and historical ties to central Texas, that Williams F1 car keeps popping up, and Momentum Park was a name that was referenced via some online research.
Alas, McCombs, Epstein and Tavo revealed the track as "Circuit of the Americas - Home of the World Championships, United States," or "COTA" for short. I've heard some mixed reviews of the name, but the thought behind Circuit of the Americas was to tie in the United States with Canada, South and Latin America, where I think F1 fans might rival US F1 fans in number. I'm unable to embed the video here, but SPEED TV just posted a great 8 minute+ video of the highlights of the press conference. If the full press conference is published, we will share that video with you in the future. For now, you can watch the SPEED TV video of this F1 USGP April Press Conference by clicking here.
McCombs then invited Steve Sexton, F1US and now COTA President, to the stage and Steve also shared Varsha's sentiments of the warm welcome he has received as a new Austin resident. Then the discussion transitioned from the "Who" to the "What and Where." This is not just a race track, folks. The Circuit of the Americas is a destination: a high-end, multi-purpose development that has grown from 970 acres to 1,100 planned acres. Tavo began to paint a clearer picture of what we can expect at the Citcuit of the Americas:
- 40,000 square foot, 3-story tall conference center bordering the 300 yard pit area
- 14 executive suites, each 3,600 square feet with elevators, kitchens, latest A/V gear, high-speed connections and capacity for 75 people each (to be used by teams and sponsors on race weekends for meetings and hospitality)
- Main grandstand includes luxury suites for business entertaining and capacity of about 750, including commercial kitchen and cafe
- Media and conference center - business conferences, seminars and receptions, and converting to international media center
- 500-person banquet hall (private or corporate dinners and nonprofit fundraising galas)
- 5,400 square foot Medical Building with year-round use as a training facility (professionals and students) and converting to trauma care center for driver-athletes
- Live music entertainment venue during race and non-race weekends, including indoor and outdoor space, and spanning the equivilent of 3 football fields wide with a capacity of 35,000
- 22-story Observation Deck providing breath-taking and memorable views of the destination set amidst the gorgeous Texas Hill Country
- Entertainment and festival venue with capacity of 35,000
This article, "Circuit of the Americas Partners with Texas Schools," is a great overview of the educational institutions that have jumped on board with COTA and their specific roles "linking classroom learning to practical application work." We are really hoping to hear that Austin's own University of Texas at Austin and Texas State University-San Marcos are also jumping on board!
Tavo continued to highlight the business and economic impact of the facility not only during this fast-paced construction phase that we are currently in, but also the sustained opportunities for local and global companies for the duration of the 10-year contract with Formula One Management and F1 racing:
- Agreement with Austin Energy to build a new energy sub-station in Del Valle
- Research and development opportunities almost solidified with two large auto manufacturers
- Potentially 1300-employees tied to the multi-purpose facility
- Construction expenditures alone of over $400MM, with a focus to keep 80% or more of that in the pockets of local Texan businesses
- In addition to plans for on-site retail, the COTA team is in talks to bring a major hotel developer to the development
- In the course of a single F1 race weekend (which, as we know, is only 3-5 nights out of the facility's 365 days of planned business), you can expect 300,000 guests to spend 3-5 nights in the Austin and surrounding Central Texas areas and spending an average of $1400-1600
Tavo then shifted the focus back to the "Who and What" by introducing two icons in an equally exciting motorsport field: 1993 World GP Motorcycle Champion Kevin Schwantz and 2010 MotoGP "Rookie of the Year" Ben Spies. Schwantz made the highly-anticipated announcement of the addition of MotoGP motorcycle racing to the circuit's lineup. MotoGP is to the world of motorcycle racing what Formula One is to the world of automotive racing: they are both the cream of the crop in their respective fields; partnering the highest advancements in technology and innovation to deliver non-stop excitement to their large international audiences. The introduction of MotoGP's partnership with The Circuit of The Americas facility was met with energetic support from the crowd as Schwantz also reported a 10-year agreement was met to bring MotoGP to Texas from 2013-2022.
While I was live-tweeting snippits of the press conference via our Twitter feed, I heard Schwantz ask Spies "How excited are you to be able to come and race in Austin in 2013?" His response was "Very!" and I think you can expect to see an expansion of our COME AND RACE IT© product line to show our support of MotoGP's introduction to the Texas lineup.
As the press conference wrapped up and we were directed to make our way to the shuttles leaving for the construction tour of the facility, we snagged two great interviews with Bob Varsha of SPEED TV and Christian Epp of Tilke Engineering. You can enjoy them on our dedicated Press Conference page or via our Vimeo Channel.
For all high-def photos and official facility renderings, check out our Gallery.
Next up from us: our recap of the site tour, and hopefully next up from COTA: the "When" and more announcements on the "Who" regarding this decelopment of epic, Texas-sized proporstions.
In the meantime, tell us what you thought of the Press Conference and enjoy the first-ever video of the drive up Turn 1 at The Circuit of The Americas!