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US GP has a long-term future, says COTA's Epstein

Bad weather hit revenues significantly at what turned out to be last year's title decider.

News 10 Mar 2016, 10:32 IST
Bad weather was a huge issue in the last Grand Prix

US Grand Prix organisers are hoping singer-songwriter Taylor Swift will attract new fans and a sell-out crowd to their Formula One race in Austin, Texas after the venue was confirmed on Wednesday following months of uncertainty.

Circuit of the Americas (COTA) chairman Bobby Epstein told Reuters that the race, previously in doubt due to the threat of reduced state funding, now had a bright future.

"I think it’s going to be here for a long time," he said in a telephone interview.

Swift, a 10-times Grammy award winner whose fifth album '1989' sold almost 1.3 million copies in its debut week last year, will be the headline act on the Super Stage after Saturday qualifying on 22 October. Epstein said the aim was to reach people who would not otherwise come to a Formula One race and encourage regular fans to make it a family outing.

"That’s the real key. How do we expand our audience? That’s what this headliner does," he said.

"In the past we have chosen headliners that are a great match with our existing demographic. But I don’t need our existing demographic alone. We need the future.

"We think we’ll sell every ticket that we’ve got and it’s because of the combination of both Formula One and Taylor Swift," added Epstein.

The race has seen attendances fall since some 125,000 on race day in 2012, when there was a weekend crowd of more than 250,000, but Epstein said the circuit could manage far more.

Bad weather

Bad weather hit revenues significantly at what turned out to be last year's title decider, with Britain's Lewis Hamilton taking the championship with Mercedes. Saturday's final practice took place behind closed doors due to flooded conditions and, when fans were admitted, qualifying could not go ahead and was postponed until Sunday.

Epstein said the circuit took a big hit financially, ironically because it had not rained enough when it really mattered.

"We wound up getting 27 inches in eight days. But we only had insurance purchased for 24 hours prior to the race," he explained. "And believe it or not that was our lowest rainfall total of the five-day period.

"We missed it by three-eighths of an inch."

A week later, a tornado wreaked further damage. Media reports in November said that state subsidies, based on a formula for calculating how much economic activity the race generates for Texas, were being reduced to about $19.5 million from $25 million.

At the time, Epstein was quoted as saying to local media that it looked like organisers were 'screwed' but he said attitudes had changed.

"I think we’ve had enough conversations with the state to know that they recognise this is a good thing for Texas. I feel good that if we perform we will comply with the statute and will get the full reimbursement," he said.

"The big crowd is part of it, and also in complying with the statute there are certain things that you need to demonstrate in terms of impact. We may not have filed in a sufficient way to demonstrate the whole impact."

Epstein said that the circuit may have been "complacent in some of our reporting", but were better prepared now. The threat of a massive property tax bill had also lifted, he added, enabling COTA to secure more funding.

He was confident last year's weather was a freak event.

"They say it was a once in 2,500 year event... so we’ve got a few years of good weather ahead. We’ve got 2,499 years to go."

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