News of a possible MotoGP round in Austin, Texas sent GP fans in the United Stats into a flurry, but the proposed third US round has been anything but a sure thing since its announcement, and continues to be so even after the signing of a 10-year contract. Trouble first started brewing as the Circuit of the America’s had trouble finalizing its deal with Formula 1, a deal that was the linchpin to the circuit’s financing. With the issues with F1 resolved, and the premier car racing series set to take the green flag at Austin later this year, MotoGP seemingly is having the same problem of coming to Austin.
Reported by the local Austin news site the Statesman, the issue is both complex and relatively simple. As with Formula 1, the rights to host MotoGP at the Austin track reside with Full Throttle, a promotion company owned in part by Tavo Hellmund, who in turn was a partner of the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) project. When last year Formula 1’s contract with Hellmund was found to be in breach, F1 Boss Bernie Eccelstone terminated his contract with Hellmund, which then sent the F1 deal at Austin into a tailspin, and caused COTA to deal directly with Formula 1 in securing the racing series.
With Hellmund also being the bond that tied MotoGP to Austin, the same issue has arisen with COTA and Dorna, the media rights holder to the MotoGP Championship. According to court documents, Hellmund alleges that COTA had an opportunity to buy the rights to host MotoGP for $18 million from Full Throttle/Hellmund when it bought the similar rights to Formula 1. Clearly unable to close that deal at the time, unless the Circuit of the Americas can secure those rights in the coming months, the Austin GP scheduled for 2013 will likely not be held.
Hoping to sway COTA into purchasing the right to host MotoGP, legendary GP rider Kevin Schwantz sent a letter to Steve Sexton, President of the Circuit of the Americas. In his letter Schwantz wrote, “I urge you one final time to contact Mr. Hellmund about obtaining the rights to host a MotoGP race in Texas, after which I would be glad to open discussions with you as the new promoter. If you have not obtained such rights from Full Throttle, then unfortunately Circuit of the Americas will not be included as a round of the FIM Grand Prix Road Racing World Championship.”
“It is my understanding that Circuit of the Americas had the opportunity to obtain these rights on several occasions between late 2010 and the fall of 2011 but that Circuit of the Americas did not follow through,” Schwantz also wrote to the track’s President. Presumably Schwantz’s company, 3FourTexas, would likely become the new promotion company for the Texan MotoGP round, and if this passage from the email is true, then it would seem that COTA has been dragging its feet on securing the MotoGP rights, either because of negotiation positioning, because of securing the necessary finances, or both.
The most intriguing element of this whole debacle is a statement that Steve Sexton made to the Statesman, which said, “”We are in discussions with several major race series who have reached out to us, and our confidence is high that three to five major world-class events, including a two-wheel championship, will be on the 2013 schedule — and that these races will take place under terms favorable to the Circuit and the series owners.”
This begs the question of which “world-class” two-wheel championship the President of COTA is referring to in his statement, and it certainly raises an eyebrow about the possibility of the World Superbike Championship swooping in on the folly with MotoGP. With the premier production-motorcycle racing class on a critical mission to secure races outside of Europe, a second US round is certainly not off the table. Other possibilities include the AMA Pro Superbike Championship, or the ever-present business maneuver of complete fabrication. As always, time will tell.