US Grand Prix in Texas given OK by F1

By Jim Vertuno

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 7 2011 2:41 p.m. MST

AUSTIN, Texas — Yeehaw! Formula One is returning to the United States in 2012, bringing its ultra-fast cars and flair for the exotic to the land of longhorn cattle and cowboy hats.

Barbecue in the pits, anyone?

Formula One's 2012 calendar with the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin on Nov. 18 was approved Wednesday at a World Motor Sport Council meeting in New Delhi, India. Race organizers announced a 10-year deal with F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, ending a contract dispute that threatened to kill the race and a new $300 million track being built for it.

Work on the Circuit of The Americas had been stopped for several weeks during the dispute. Race officials said construction would resume immediately and would be finished in time for the race.

The Austin race will mark F1's first in the United States since 2007.

"Now it's time to make it happen," said Steve Sexton, president of Circuit of the Americas. "We never did run out of gas. We may have slowed down and tapped the breaks a little, but now we're at full speed."

F1's presence in the U.S. will increase in 2013, the first in a 10-year deal that will put a race in New Jersey along the Hudson River waterfront across from Manhattan.

Details of the Texas race contract were not released. Financial backers include billionaire businessman Red McCombs, a founding partner of Circuit of The Americas.

"Mr. Ecclestone received his check today," McCombs said in a statement. "We want to thank the fans supporting us, the local officials and businesses that have encouraged us, the State of Texas, Circuit of The Americas' staff and Bernie himself."

Circuit of The Americas officials had pledged to pay F1's original $25 million sanctioning fee, but a dispute over a final contract and the long-term financing had not been resolved. Wednesday was considered the final day to reach a deal because the 2012 calendar had to be set. Sexton said the sides came to agreement on Tuesday.

The initial dispute was caused by F1's decision to scrap a previous contract it had with Tavo Hellmund, a former driver with family ties to Ecclestone who was originally granted the right to stage the U.S. Grand Prix.

The deal with Hellmund was recently canceled over a contract breach, and F1 officials instead began negotiating with Circuit of The Americas, who complained on Thanksgiving that Ecclestone was making "unrealistic" and "unfeasible" demands.

"Formula One is a strong brand and Mr. Ecclestone negotiates accordingly," Sexton said Wednesday.

Sexton said Circuit of The Americas will continue to seek money from the state of Texas' Major Events Trust Fund to help pay for staging the race. The fund has been used for other events such as the Super Bowl.

Austin would seem an unlikely destination for a Grand Prix event on a circuit that includes stops in Shanghai, Monte Carlo and Budapest. But with a metro-area population of about 1.7 million, Austin is a 3-hour drive or less from Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.

Ecclestone first announced the race and a pending 10-year contract in May 2010. Organizers lured F1 to Austin with the promise to build a track specifically for an F1 race.

The U.S. Grand Prix was previously held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on a road course built inside the oval track. Other F1 races in Long Beach, Las Vegas, Detroit, Dallas, Phoenix and other cities were run on street circuits. Watkins Glen, N.Y., hosted a Grand Prix from 1961-80.

The ratification of the 20-race calendar also means that the Bahrain Grand Prix is scheduled as the fourth race of the season on April 22. The 2011 race in Bahrain was supposed to be the season opener in March, but was called off amid violent anti-government protests.

Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull will start his bid for a third straight F1 title at the Australian Grand Prix in March. The season again ends in Brazil.

Although Vettel dominated this year, the races were the most exciting in many years. There were intriguing duels between Vettel and McLaren drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button in China, Canada and Germany as Vettel showed signs he could be beaten early in the season before reasserting his supremacy in winning the Belgian GP.

The majority of drivers were pleased with rule changes in 2011 that made racing more exciting, with a greater emphasis put on overtaking and the new Pirelli tires also favoring attacking drivers.

FIA plans to streamline races further next season.

There will be a maximum race time of four hours to ensure that a lengthy suspension of a race does not result in it lasting up to eight hours. Before the safety car returns to the pits all lapped cars will be allowed to return to the back of the pack, ensuring a clean restart without slower cars holding up those in contention.

Also, a driver can use all his allocated tires on the first day's practice, whereas previously only three sets were allowed, and for the first time there will be a three-day test carried out during the season, although FIA did not say when.

AP Sports Writer Jerome Pugmire in Paris contributed to this report.

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