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GP Week : Issue 176
20 GPWEEK.com // 20 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: OPINION AUSTIN BLOWS ITS COVER Prior to the decision that Austin was to be awarded the United States Grand Prix, on 25 May 2010, a lot of people in F1 – indeed, most people outside of the USA – would have struggled to find the state capital on a map. Having spent the week out here, paddock peeps have discovered a city at odds with the usual Texan stereotypes: oil fields, cattle ranches, gun-toting republicans. Instead they’ve found a demographic melting pot; a college town that’s the one blue dot on a red map, celebrated for its live music, Mexican food, convivial boozers, entrepreneurial energy, and a hippy culture. For me, it’s rather surreal to be here with the Formula One circus because I used to live here in 2004-5 . I used to daydream about what it might be like were a race track to sprout from the shrubland on the outskirts of the city. It seemed an impossible flight of fancy. Back then, you’d have struggled to find a man on the street who knew what a McLaren was. Instead, the only international sport that got attention was the Tour de France because an Austinite was cleaning up. How times have changed. The streets of downtown Austin were packed with people ahead of the race, with various F1 team and sponsor stands doing their best to educate fans on what F1 is about, and concerts by Aerosmith and others designed to whip up some fever. The queues of traffic crawling into the Circuit of the Americas and the packed grandstands each day proved the promotion worked and America put its hand in its pocket. These were full price tickets, with many fans from out of town incurring even pricier hotel room costs. It wasn’t a Korean giveaway to paper the stands. No need for the camo tarpaulins they always needed in Turkey. America has a lot of die-hard fans. A delegation of us saw first-hand how full-on nerdy some of them are when we attended Will Buxton’s Speed TV karaoke send-off in a downtown Irish pub. But it will have been the first taste of F1 for most of those attending the race. For F1 to work in the US, it’s always been clear that you need overtaking and you need crashes, other wise the audience won’t be entertained. Also, it needs to be glamorous. Motor racing in the US is a blue collar sport, whereas F1 is generally white collar. With the NASCAR final scheduled the same day as the US Grand Prix, they were never going to win that audience anyway. F1 needs to go the other way and car ve out a unique market. I have always pushed hard for F1 coverage in the fashion and lifestyle media, culminating in a cover story for September’s Vogue Spain. Fashion photographer Antoine Verglas, who basically made Claudia Schiffer, was at the COTA shooting for Forbes Magazine, which is another step in the right direction. On Friday night I attended an event hosted by Britain’s ambassador to the US, Sir Peter Westmacott (whose garden I once got locked in while he was ambassador to France, but that’s another story), to promote the UK’s contribution to F1. In attendance were key Texans such as governor Rick Perry and Austin’s civic leaders. Speaking to them, it was clear they’d gone through the data projections, they were on message about F1’s benefits and what Texas can contribute to the sport in return. But that’s just words and dot matrix print outs. Once they actually digest the results of the race weekend, the economics and the heightened global awareness, it will blow their minds. Austin is, or should I say was, the best kept secret in America. Sure, they have the Austin City Limits and SXSW music festivals, but those are almost cult events. They generate a lot of tourism, but minimal TV exposure. Austin has no professional sports team. There’s the college football team, the Longhorns, and that’s it. With such a modest track record in events and sports, to pitch for F1 was unbelievably bold. Bonkers even. But it’s worked. Formula One has put Austin on the map and the pin will stick deeper over the next decade. Its profile will grow internationally just as Singapore, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi’s have. Austin is the 13th largest city in the country, but it’ll now leapfrog several of those ahead of it in the awareness stakes. After New York, California, Florida and Las Vegas, Texas could become the new go-to place. From a purely selfish point of view, I’m sorry the secret is out. OPINION ADAM HAY-NICHOLLS F1 Editor