Austin-based USGP faces stiff criticism..and defense

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The Statesman’s Dave Doolittle has posted a piece on the first question that many had about a F1 race in Austin Texas; how easy is it to get there from here? It’s a good question to be honest because infrastructure is always a key issue to the success of any race or sporting even to be honest. Some cities get it right and others don’t.

Doolittle is responding to piece written by journalist Jonathan Ingram at Motorsport.com. In it, Ingram questions the ease and reality of Austin being an accessible and alluring venue for F1. Some of the criticism lay at the ability to catch international flights or highways in which to get to Austin. Fair enough, Ingram has a point but as Doolittle points out, it may be easier than one would expect:

Although the only current international nonstop to and from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport goes to Cancun, Mexico, there are nonstops to most major American cities, including Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York’s Kennedy and Newark.

And there’s always Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, which offer nonstops to major cities worldwide. It’s a 30-minute flight from D-FW to Austin, and you barely have time to buckle your seat belt on that flight from Houston to Austin.

Air Canada canceled nonstop service between Austin and Toronto last year over lack of ridership, but it’s possible service could be resumed if demand picked up again (for instance, if an F1 race came to town).

Ingram is a veteran motorsport journalist and I do appreciate his insight and body of work. I also can’t help but find his view of F1, while justifiable, cynical at times. F1 has certainly given him every right to be suspect of its prime movers and parochial back-slapping but in the interest of the USGP and Austin, I’d like to think that we can find some modicum of hope for America’s future in F1.

I join Ingram in his concern over the allure of a pedestrian Tilke track and while we all fear another homogenized, forgettable track; we haven’t seen it yet so we can’t really assume it will be suspect. Tilke has proven he can design some interesting corners and good tracks but he has also proven he can make perfect tracks which betray the beauty of F1. As Lola’s Steve Charsley said, the best tracks are imperfect with imperfect corners and challenging elevations that compliment the landscape. I couldn’t agree more.

While following F1 for 30+ years can make anyone a curmudgeon, I suspect we could hold the torch and castle storming until we actually have reason to light up and seek Frankenstein’s monster. I tend to agree with Doolittle and his matter-of-fact view of how, while not direct, traveling to Austin is less like torture than watching F1 cars race around a roval at Indy. I said the roval bit, Doolittle didn’t. Creative license no?

If F1 is a loathed and misunderstood, niche sport in America then it really does come down to the circuit, show and surrounding city/entertainment and for that reason, Austin may just be the perfect place as one local, Doolittle, can certainly attest to. Let’s suspend the overpolemical comments until the betrayal we are all sure will happen, happens. Donington Park was doomed by the press before it ever got launched and hindsight has it that we all knew all along that it was a joke. Well, maybe we had suspicion but unless we see the balance sheet and contracts, we are all hedging bets.

I’ve seen journalist post stories that the Austin race will never happen and that Tavo Hellmund is a junior league promoter who just got fleeced by F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone. When Red McCombs was announced as a partner, those same journalists tacked and started assaulting Austin’s lack of global, cosmopolitan appeal and access. The “it will never happen” rhetoric all but disappeared. My point is unless we know all the details, let’s not jump to conclusions. Austin and its fine folks my just surprise us all and it’s my hope that Dave Doolittle is short on his attendance guess by about 100,000. We may be storming the castle but not to kill the monster; rather to see the monster go…really fast.

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