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HomeSportsF1 racing'We were built for racing, unlike Vegas': COTA boss not concerned by...

‘We were built for racing, unlike Vegas’: COTA boss not concerned by new F1 rivals · RaceFans

Just this previous weekend, the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas held one in all its greatest occasions on its annual calendar: the NASCAR Cup Series.

Featuring a handful of particular visitor drivers together with F1 champions Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen and a number of IMSA champion and Daytona 24 Hours winner Jordan Taylor, it was one in all a number of main worldwide motorsport occasions being held on the now ten-year-old circuit in 2023 – together with the United States Grand Prix, which can happen in October.

After a decade of the US Grand Prix at COTA – interrupted solely by Covid – Formula 1 seems to have lastly discovered a strong footing in America. Rather than fizzle out like so many different makes an attempt to determine a US race over the many years, attendance at COTA has grown over latest years to the purpose the place it now boasts the biggest crowd of the season by way of complete attendance over the race weekend.

F1’s arrival at COTA in 2012 ended its five-year absence from the USA. Now it’s one in all three American rounds on the 2023 F1 calendar. The introduction of the Miami Grand Prix final 12 months and the much-hyped addition of the Las Vegas Grand Prix close to the tip of this season means there’s successfully a race within the east, west and centre of world’s wealthiest nation.

But COTA chairman Bobby Epstein is assured the recognition of the Texan race won’t be diminished by the latest emergence of two rivals in the identical nation, as F1’s recognition enjoys a growth interval in America.

Courting the casuals

Epstein admits that when he first obtained concerned with the game over 10 years in the past: “I can’t say I was an avid, diehard F1 fan.”

“Because it was very hard to follow the sport in the US until more recently,” he told the Black Book Motorsport Forum. “Austin was a fast-growing city and I had this piece of property – my only real estate investment actually – and the idea came up about the possibility of bringing Formula 1 to Austin.

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“I really thought this was a great opportunity to do something for the communities where we live, as well as something that we could make a profit on and we’d have some fun with, and would make a big difference.”

COTA joined the calendar in 2012

It took “several years” for the occasion to develop into worthwhile, however Epstein was satisfied Formula 1 was the right occasion round which to assemble a significant new racing facility.

“The more we talked about and thought about it, we really looked at this as an opportunity to build a world-class entertainment destination, and with F1 as the cornerstone gives us a wonderful brand to start with,” he says. “It brought crowds right away. Our goal for the campus is to make this a place where people want to come and have fun and build memories with friends and family. F1 is one part of that overall picture.”

The United States Grand Prix might have secured report attendances during the last two seasons, however Epstein is underneath no illusions that the game is cresting a big ‘Drive to Survive’ wave, rising highly regarded with informal followers in addition to hardcore motorsport fanatics. He says all main motorsport sequence – be it F1, IndyCar NASCAR or in any other case – want to seek out methods of making an attempt to carry onto these extra informal race-goers.

“In IndyCar, when we’re in Indianapolis, one week you have a quarter-of-a-million people,” he explains. “You take the exact same product, put it in a different but similar venue, but a different location, and you see that attendance is ten or 15% of what it might have been, or less, sometimes. That tells you that’s where the difference is between a ‘diehard fan’ and the ‘event fan’.

“It’s not that we don’t offer the best experience for the diehard motorsports fan. But as is the case in any sport, you’re going to have to appeal to what I call the ‘second tier’ below the diehard fan – it’s not their hobby, it’s not their passion.

“We’re absolutely living, breathing, diehard fans of motorsport. But those sports aren’t going to survive on our interest alone. It’s going to have to be a step down of interest to the casual fan, who is also a fan of an event, and want to be a part it.”

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He believes COTA has sure options which significantly enchantment to devoted followers who know what makes a very good motor racing venue to spectate at. “If you’re a diehard motorsports fan, you’ll notice if you come to COTA and you’ll hopefully go away and say ‘that was the best sight line, that was the best view, I saw some action’.

“Because of the hills, you can see five or six turns from a general admission seat, and you can see seven or eight or nine from the reserved seats. That’s unusual, and the diehard fan will recognise that as unusual. The casual fan will just accept it, but they will notice.”

However Epstein is agency in his conviction that motorsport promoters can’t ignore the informal finish of the market. “We have to recognise that the percentage of people that are the diehard fans is not enough to sustain the sport alone.

“For any of the motorsport events, the sport itself might survive on TV, but we have to talk about what’s the future, not just in motorsport. What’s the future of motorsport venues, and the sports themselves? I hope we’ve done a good job of utilising that.”

Enough room for 3 US races?

When it involves the addition of two different American races on the calendar, Epstein believes there’s room for Miami and Las Vegas to coexist with COTA, because the US Grand Prix provides a special form of race expertise to the opposite two.

“Sometimes competition is good,” he says. “So as long as there’s enough fans, we can have a lot more.

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“But I think our goal is to always be unique and stand out and give the focus on the fans and just do the best we can. I do think for the ticket-buying fan base, we have to be careful and make sure there’s enough fans in the US to buy tickets to sustain it as a venue.

Las Vegas, 2022
F1 is investing heavily in the Las Vegas GP

“I think what you do have to focus on though is – and I think the fans are pretty smart – is the quality of the racing. We have a circuit that’s built for the competition.

“We have advantages over others, so I welcome the competition from that standpoint. I do think the fans that choose to be repeat visitors will choose to come to COTA because we have an advantage.

“We were built for racing. The strip in Vegas was not necessarily built for racing, but it’s a fun place. It’s an international world-class destination.

“It’s going to make great TV. I don’t know how long people go back and buy tickets for it.”

While Italy and Germany as soon as frequently held two races per 12 months, it’s uncommon to see as many as three in a single nation. “They’re obviously competitors,” Epstein concedes, however “I think we have an advantage.”

“There’s a difference, all three events right now are so uniquely different that they [can] all survive.”

One putting distinction between the brand new Las Vegas Grand Prix and the COTA spherical which can happen a month earlier than it’s on the undercard. While no support races will take place at Vegas, COTA featured Formula 4 and the W Series final 12 months.

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Epstein admits Las Vegas might show an attention-grabbing case examine of how a lot different racing followers truly need on a grand prix weekend. “You have to look at the type of support races sometimes,” he explains, “But the fans are going to answer that question.

“We’re going to find that out because, yes, Vegas is much more like dinner and a great show, and then probably the casino or whatever you go to. You get a couple of hours of the on-track entertainment. And we’re going to find out if people want more than that, because I think they do.”

He admits some races failed to attract the eye of followers final 12 months. “We saw W Series really struggle as a support race. The fans didn’t go to the seats, and they didn’t really watch it enough.

“So maybe that tells me that they’re not as important. I think we’ll find out. I hope they’re important, because it’s one of the factors that differentiates us with Las Vegas not going for.

“We think the fans want a lot of value for their investment and I think they want more content. We’ve got 30 hours of ‘programming’. If we find out that all people needed was two hours, we waste a whole lot of effort and a whole lot of money.

“I like to think that they want more content. Whether it’s support races they want or they want a music concert, we got both. But I’m not sure.”

‘Survivor’ exhibits F1’s potential longevity

The world championship has a protracted historical past within the United States from the early days when the Indianapolis 500 was a points-paying spherical to devoted street programs, the rise of road races and non permanent return to Indianapolis earlier than Austin arrived. But whereas the race has drifted between being on and off the calendar over the many years, it appears that evidently the race has lastly discovered a everlasting dwelling.

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Three races within the US is sustainable, Epstein feels

But as Liberty Media seems to be to broaden in America the place Bernie Ecclestone by no means succeeded, does Epstein consider Formula 1 can maintain onto its recognition into the longer term?

“I think it’s sustainable,” he insists.

“Let’s say we do believe the Netflix effect is real, and that it’s been tremendous, and say what are the components of that? One is the danger and excitement. That’s not going to change. I think Survivor has been on TV 20-plus years – that has that thrill effect to it. And then I think The Bachelor – that has sort of the heartthrob, romance sex-appeal. That’s what you got in F1. So the outlook from the Netflix effect standpoint should be really strong, and it’ll continue for a long time.

“Then I’d ask ‘what about the events?’. Not just the sport, but what’s the sustainability of the events and why do people go? Because that’s what we focus on. Are we going to be here five, ten, 15 years from now? One of the hardest things to buy – what you can’t buy – is tradition.

“You look at some sporting events and ask why are they still around? Indianapolis 500. Why does it draw so many people, or the Kentucky Derby? Or some of these events that were around before TV? People had to go to experience them, and it became a tradition. It becomes a family tradition. And once you have tradition, that’s it.”

Epstein says COTA’s race has already develop into a conventional fixture for a lot of who attend. “One thing COTA had, because it had a head start on the other events that are taking place in the US, is we have found now that there’s a tradition to families coming back. We see it in our repeat visitors.

“So I think we’ll sustain because we’ve created an atmosphere that people want to come back to. And then for the sports themselves, I think what they offer, and with the Netflix-type connection, the future should be good.”

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