U.S. GP in Austin given 50-50 chance by friend of promoter

A friend of the promoter trying to bring Formula 1 to Austin, Texas in 2012 gives that race a 50-50 chance of happening. The good news? That’s up from 10% when the news of the race first hit a month ago.

The comments come in the latest story on the race at the Austin American-Statesman. This one is focused on the promoter, Tavo Hellmund. The story, in fact, asks the question: Who is Tavo Hellmund?

You can check out the link if you want to find that out. I’ll stick with what the story tells us about the grand prix or things that seem relevant to the race. It does seem to be the source of the Bernie Ecclestone quotes throwing a little water on the GP fire.

Here are some key parts of the piece:

Though Hellmund has said his investment group is complete, he said he’s still being approached by wealthy car enthusiasts who are interested in getting in on his deal, which up until the announcement appeared headed for the Monticello Motor Club in New York. As the audacity of Hellmund’s coup settles in, disbelievers are becoming believers.

[Former race car driver and self-decribed Hellmund “friend” Tim] Dollahite said: “At first I gave this about a 10 percent shot. I figured it was a power play on New York. Right now I’m giving it about a 75 percent chance. For 2012, 50-50.”

Rumors in the motorsport world say Hellmund is being backed by foreign investors; in an interview with the American-Statesman this week, Ecclestone said the backers are from the U.S. but declined to name them. Ecclestone also said he expects the race to happen in 2012 — or else.

“That’s what the contract says,” Ecclestone said. “It might turn out to be expensive for Tavo. We’ve got some penalty clauses, although I wouldn’t want to use them.”

[snip]

A repeat event in Mexico City the following year didn’t fare as well. The disorganized race was stopped a lap short by mistake. Knight said Gustavo Hellmund threw another great party, but CART officials were later summoned to the hotel lobby to pay their bills, which were supposed to be picked up by [Tavo’s father] Gustavo Hellmund.

The elder Hellmund, who now splits his time between Mexico and Europe, is currently involved in real estate, not promoting. But in 1986, he helped bring Formula One back to Mexico City after a 16-year absence. That race, promoted by brothers Jose and Julian Abed , lasted until 1992 and helped cement Gustavo Hellmund’s relationship with the powerful Ecclestone.

By then Hellmund’s son had the racing bug. Tavo Hellmund had spent six months in 1984 working in Europe as a gofer with Ecclestone’s F1 team, which was headed by 1981 and 1983 world champion Nelson Piquet of Brazil.

[snip]

Hellmund turned more of this attention to promoting. Full Throttle Productions’ Texas Thunder & Lightning Racefest at Thunderhill Raceway , with stock car and midget car racing, is heading into its sixth year. He also dreamed of staging an F1 event in Austin and turned to Ecclestone to make it happen.

When the big news hit that Austin had landed a coveted F1 race, Hellmund’s e-mail suffered a meltdown as 18,000 messages poured in within three minutes. Hellmund, who was traveling, was soon making frantic phone calls and giving interviews when his cell phone ran out of juice, rendering him incommunicado.

So Tavo Hellmund seems to have the connections he needs. But what else does he have?

As commenter Black Knight noted earlier today, it would be nice to see some substantial progress coming from Austin. The way I interpret the Statesman’s story, I think the folks at the paper would like to see something substantial, too.

We’ll keep an eye on it and our fingers crossed.

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