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US GP: 'Weird' enough for Texas?

2012-11-13 09:38

RETURNING TO AMERICA: Formula 1 returns to the US though some believe the Grand Prix to be "simply un-Austin". Above shows organisers opening the track ahead of the US GP.

AUSTIN, Texas - As the Texas capital prepares to host the first Grand Prix in the USA in five years, residents of Austin say the 2012 November 18 race clashes with the city's soul.

In the environmentally-conscious college town of 800 000, where bumper stickers read "Keep Austin Weird", there is widespread opposition to the Formula 1 race.

Some skeptics have come around and embraced the race, while others are still shaking their heads over fears of clogged streets, noisy helicopter traffic and a negative impact on the environment.


Tom Smith, director of nonprofit consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, said: "Many opponents said that this is kind of the wrong image - frivolous emissions, carbon and other pollutants into the air just for amusement purposes - for a city that wants to be seen as the most sustainable city in the United States."

Officials at Circuit of the Americas, which owns the new racetrack, say they're working to minimise the environmental impact of the event and point out that F1 innovations lead to more efficient passenger cars.

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs touts the economic impact of the event, which she says will generate some R1.9-billion for the state.

Many residents are thrilled about the race at the 5.5km, R3.4-billion track facility southeast of town, as well as a downtown fan festival and concerts by Aerosmith and Enrique Iglesias.

Julie Loignon, a spokeswoman for Circuit of the Americas, "It's just another thing that makes Austin weird.

"Austin is very European, with its politics, its progressive thinking. People are going to come here, buy their boots, let their hair down, and they're going to have a lovely time."

F1 races have not been held in the US since 2007, when the Grand Prix was held at Indianapolis, and teams are eager to return to a country that is a key market for sponsors and car manufacturers but one that the sport has found hard to crack over the years.

A second Grand Prix was planned for New Jersey in 2013 but has been postponed until 2014.

F1 is expected to race for a decade at the 20-turn Austin track featuring a steep climb to a hairpin Combs has called "that extraordinary drive up into the heavens."

The fact that the race is in Austin is due in large part to Tavo Hellmund, an Austin-born former race car driver who has a close relationship with F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone.

After working to bring the race to his hometown, Hellmund eventually parted ways with Circuit of the Americas, and there were such serious struggles among race organisers that in late 2011, construction on the track was halted prompting speculation the race may not happen.


City Council Member Chris Riley wrote: "For a lot of us longtime Austinites, F1 is hard to swallow.

"We're not that big on fast cars; we're more into hybrids, electric vehicles, bikes and public transit," said Riley.

Since then, Riley has warmed to the idea, mostly because the city and Circuit of the Americas signed an environmental agreement that calls for purchasing carbon offsets, limiting traffic, providing access for cyclists, planting trees, recycling and composting, and allowing electric vehicle research at the track.

The City Council's support of the project was needed to qualify the event for R218-million in state subsidies that race officials can seek after it happens.

Riley said: "If this were just another race car venue, well then, that would detract from our character. On the other hand, if this site becomes known as being the most sustainable racetrack in the world and that's here in Austin, Texas, that's a lot closer to the character of the city that we love."

State Senator Kirk Watson, a former Austin mayor, said F1 is just another way the city brings different people together.

Watson said: "In the old days, it might have been rednecks sitting next to hippies. In this day and age, though, it's people from all over the world coming to enjoy the spirit of the town."


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