Could Bernie be looking at two USGP venues?

The pressure is on in Formula 1 circles to get a United States Grand Prix back on the calendar as quickly as possible. The US is a huge consumer market and, despite the economic troubles of late, the average American has more money to spend than consumers elsewhere. The problem is that the only venue that can instantly host a race is Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which spent a fortune getting ready for F1 10 years ago. The race did all right, despite the best efforts of the F1 world to mess things up, notably in 2005 when most of the cars withdrew from the race because of fears over the safety of the tyres after attempts to find a compromise with the FIA failed. Looking back now it seems that the whole business was probably a power struggle between FIA President Max Mosley and F1 commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone. Whatever the case, F1’s failure to adhere to the age-old rule that “the show must go on”, did not end of harm to F1’s reputation in the United States. There was still a decent crowd in 2006 and 2007 but Indianapolis Motor Speedway boss Tony George was under pressure from his family to keep down costs – as he was shelling out fortunes to keep his Indy Racing League (IRL) alive – and he would not pay the sum demanded by Ecclestone for a new contract. So F1 turned its back on the Brickyard, saying that Indiana was not the place to entertain its high-flying corporate guests – a fair point. The problem is that since then Ecclestone has so far been unable to find anyone willing to pay the kind of money he wants for a race. The government has no interest in getting involved and states and cities acros the US are suffering because of the economic downturn. The only hope, therefore, is for Ecclestone to find a private investor who has something to gain from funding a race.

George, in the meantime, has been shipped out of Indianapolis by his family and is no longer involved. However, it seems that he has some control over the rights to the phrase “The United States Grand Prix at…”. This means that he could be involved in any other race wishing to use that name, be it in Alaska or New Mexico. The rights to such an event would normally belong to the national sporting authority – in this case, the Automobile Competition Committee of the United States (ACCUS) – but it seems that these were delegated to the IRL, an ACCUS member, when the race was being run at Indianapolis. It is not clear whether Ecclestone agreed not to have other race names, such as “The Washington Grand Prix” but it is logical that this would be part of such an agreement.

While Ecclestone is not keen to take F1 back to Indiana, he might be willing to do that to get F1 back into the US, particularly if such an arrangement led to a race being established elsewhere. The Hulman-George Family is not going to be wanting to spend more that Tony George was spending, so unless Ecclestone bring down his price the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is not really an option, unless someone else is willing to make up the difference between what Bernie wants and what the Speedway is willing to offer. And even if that happens the Speedway will always be in Indiana and the F1 corporate types will still not want to go there… Thus the recent visit to Shanghai of Tony George must be about more than simply another race at Indianapolis.

Ecclestone often says that he wants a race in New York. Recently he has talked specifically of a race in New Jersey, with the New York City skyline as a backdrop and easy access to the city by public transport. This can only mean that there are discussions going on with the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, New Jersey. This is owned and operated by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (NJSEA), an independent body established by the State of New Jersey in 1971 to oversee the complex, which today consists of three main venues: the brand new 82,500-seat Meadowlands Stadium, which is the home of the New York Jets and New York Giants National Football League teams. This opened a few days ago and replaces the neighbouring Giants Stadium, which will now be demolished.

The complex also boasts the Meadowlands Racetrack (a popular horse racing facility) and the Izod Center, a multi-purpose indoor arena which has been home to the New Jersey Nets basketball team and the New Jersey Devils hockey team. It is also a popular venue for concerts. This has little future as the Devils and the Nets are moving elsewhere and it is located next to a new development called Meadowlands Xanadu, which aims to become the largest retail and entertainment complex in the United States when it is finally finished. This will offer not only a baseball stadium but also venues for concerts and indoor sporting events. There will also be entertainment, shopping and convention halls. It will feature America’s first indoor snow park, and a skydiving simulator. In addition there is to be a observation wheel (sponsored by Pepsi) which will provide views of Manhattan. The project will ultimately include four office blocks and a 520-room hotel.

This all sounds remarkably like the ingredients that have been put together in Singapore where hotel baron Ong Beng Seng worked with the local government to launch the super-successful Singapore GP, as it would benefit his hotels, restaurants and retail outlets. What is most interesting is that the Xanadu project is now funded by a private investment firm called Colony Capital, which owns a chain of 41 hotels and resorts around the world, operating under the Raffles, Swissotel and Fairmont names. Colony also operates gaming resorts in the US and is also the owner of the French soccer team Paris Saint-Germain, so it clearly understands the value of sport as a means of drawing customers to its businesses.

Meadowlands was used for Indycar racing in the early 1980s but two different tracks laid out in the parking lots failed to attract crowds and the race lapsed after 1991. Much has changed since then, however, and the most significant advance has been the construction of a rail link which opened last year with trains running to Secaucus Junction where there is a connecting service to Pennsylvania Station in New York City.

NASCAR has long been trying to get into Meadowlands but has thus far failed to do so (which would no doubt amuse Ecclestone). The local authorities may be happy to go along with such an idea as they clearly want a higher profile for the facility. They are bidding for the 2014 Super Bowl and are part of the US bid for the FIFA World Cup in either 2018 or 2022.

There are few environmental issues with a race track as the area is criss-crossed with major freeways, has no housing and a record of environmental misuse. It is under the flight path of Teeterboro Airport, New York’s executive jet facility, and of Newark Liberty International Airport, which is located 13 miles to the south-west.

25 thoughts on “Could Bernie be looking at two USGP venues?

  1. In your opinion, Joe, how far should F1 go to secure an American race? It’s obviously an important market and, taking a long-term view, would it not be better to get established in a venue and develop a following even if it’s not the most cost-effective race? Particularly given they’re already going to the expense of flying out to Canada.

    Also, what is preventing the many great American road courses from holding F1 races – places like Elkhart Lake, Road Atlanta, Laguna Seca… Is it purely a question of safety or is it lack of infrastructure, circuit location, local interest, or all of the above?

  2. Wow, I’d go to Indy any day over the Meadowlands and I only live 3 hrs from NJ vs 14Hrs to Indianapolis. I guess it depends on whether you are a racing fan or a shopping, siteseeing fan. An awful lot of effort went into your piece and the reality is while I really enjoy F1, there is a lot else to do here in the US and attracting F1 race fans is different than stuffing the seats with bimbos who come for a one time performance. F1 Corporate types, catering to them first seems delusional, your true fans, the F1 enthusiasts, are the ones giving the Corporate types a job.

    Joe, are you slipping away to the life of leisure, where fancy dinners and fine wine are your priorities. I still follow the sport to see the high tech cars and adventurous drivers guiding them with precision around a unique road course.

    The hell with the New York skyline, Bernie can paste a picture of it in his jet window if he is so impressed. I’ll take the Grand Canyon as a backdrop over New York anyday.

  3. I remember Meadowlands from the IndyCar series of the early ’90’s and it really wasn’t a great circuit – it was far to tight and slow for good racing.
    So tight in fact, it was almost reminiscent of Monaco only with a concrete background. Kind of like Valencia actually, but with more grey….

  4. Is there any word on a revival of the French Grand Prix?

    It is quite disappointing that a country with such great heritage as France has disappeared, without any plans even for a return in the short term.

    Going to Magny-Cours or Paul Ricard would be at least a short term fix.

  5. I’ll also like to state again for the record: New Yorkers by and large do not like nor care about auto racing.

  6. The Meadowlands Indycar races were not too bad for their time-mid 1980’s- but there would have to be a LOT more for a street-type race at that location these days considering the Singapore track.

  7. With all the development you describe going on there, would htere be any room for a race track (not to mention a decent one)?

  8. The New Jersey Devils are located in a new facility in downtown Newark, NJ completed back in 2006/7. And the team’s management is a bunch of pikers!…lol and they just got eliminated in the Playoffs!…hahaha good! Go Bruins!

  9. One track in the US that would be great for F1 would be Miller Motorsports Park located in Tooele, Utah.

    The Full course is a 23-turn, 4.486 mi (7.220 km) road circuit run counter-clockwise. The front stretch can see cars reaching speeds of 200 mph (321.9 km/h). This just screams F1 in my opinion. The facilities are nicely done and can easily accommodate a full F1 Paddock.

  10. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again; Indianapolis is the ONLY place capable of holding a USGP without injecting millions of dollars into circuit redesign etc etc. Huge crowds are always present, with locals VERY enthusiastic whether they know F1 or not.
    I’ve been to several F1 races, both here in the US and in Europe and ALWAYS enjoyed the Indy USGP the most.
    Loads of hotels, easy in and out of the city, no crazy traffic…..oh and TURKEY LEGS!!!

    What more can an F1 fan want??

    Bernie needs to ask for less $$ if he wants a USGP, period. F1 will NEVER be front page news here, there are far too many other domestic sports to occupy our time. NASCAR gets a small column every week in the national press and look how popular it is.

    US F1 fans WANT the GP at Indy. Any1 else care to comment?

  11. Don’t believe its the Meadowlands Joe – poke around Google and check out the Liberty State Park area. That’s the site in question this time around…

  12. Hi Joe,

    If they want to make F1 popular with the American fans just have a competition to come up with calling it something other than the United States Grand Prix at….. and thousands will enter and get interested in F1 again. I don’t think he is a very well liked bloke by motor racing fans in US (IRL split and ducking out of tyre gate before the race was over) and if your family shun you too, sooner or later you need to realize it could be you that is the issue and you need to just dissapear out of the public eye.

    Considering I now live in New England this is sounding better all the time. Possibly 3 GP’s within a 2 or 3 hour flight or 5 hour drive. Heaven!

    Bring it on Bernie and hurry up!

    P.S. Can you give some idea of date for evening with Joe in Montreal. I’m trying to book my hotel but knowing my luck I’ll book it starting Thursday night and you will have it on a Wednesday 🙂

  13. Joe,

    I can tell you this….NASCAR was shot down in the tri-state area by rabid opponents both in government and the populous. Sadly, I think the same would be done by the same people to a proposed F1 event. Too bad, because living in the area, I wouldn’t need to stay at a hotel and blow big money like I do when I go to Canada.

    Personally, I’d really like to see F1 in either Miami, Las Vegas, or Southern California. I think these areas fit the protocol of glitz and glamour as well has having the infrastructure of hotels, restaurants and entertainment readily available. That is something Indianapolis just didn’t have.

  14. At this stage in the game it isn’t Joe – but there are some big plans in place for that side of the river, and a semi-permanent race course ala Melbourne or Montreal is what’s being contemplated IMO. The Liberty National development was a massive investment and the Barclays was held there last year with success. In addition, areas around Liberty National will be undergoing some pretty distinct changes in the upcoming years and the investment associated with installing a semi-permanent course could fit those plans nicely…

    Just looking at Bernie’s comments on the matter, he stated that the race would be on the river with Manhattan as a backdrop; that’s not the Meadowlands. The Liberty area is under development, it’s in need of rehabilitation, it’s on the water, they’ve run an international sporting event there already, it has much better transportation access via car, ferry, and rail, etc. etc. etc.

    The Meadowlands failed before and there’s no reason to believe that things would be different using the same site again. I think Bernie knows that and wants something with a lot more “wow” factor than the Meadowlands complex can offer…

  15. tblincoe: for some reason I think that some people would have a bit of a problem with a state park being turned into a giant, asphalt, racing circuit.

  16. Why not share the USGP over several tracks alternating from season to season, like the German GP recently does with NĂĽrburgring and Hockenheim participating?

    Barber and Indy most certainly have the necessary safety facilities in place already. Miller looks like it wouldn’t be too far away from the expected facility status either. It even has some kind of a Tilke look to its track design.

    I guess we’ll see how that develops.

  17. I’ll back Jonathan, because Indy is the only track with the capable infrastructure, but not expecting it. While visiting family in Indy last week, I heard cars on track and went to see nascar cars tire testing. Joined 50 people one day and perhaps 300 another day, it’s amazing to turn off of a city street down and under into such a facility.

    Too bad a rebuild of a U.S. road course with natural terrain to F1 standards appears to not be economically feasible. I think the only F1 viewed in the States will be that on the SPEED channel for some time.

  18. Joe,

    I thoroughly enjoy your insight into the world of Formula 1. It is generally a real pleasure to read your views and opinions. I am compelled however at this time to comment on the negative attitude I feel you are writing about the city of Indianapolis and the perceived lack of its ability to host a F1 race. I have personally attended over 30 Indy 500’s and I enthusiastically attended every F1 race that the IMS held. Without any hesitation, the fans, whether they were from Canada, South America, or from across the United States loved the entire set up and always spoke highly of how easy it was to get around the town and how nice the IMS grounds were. Indianapolis has the ability to hold some of the largest conventions in the US and with a new and improved airport and a 1200 room Hilton being built downtown, Indianapolis can hold it’s own with anyone. The Super Bowl is being held here in 2012 and the festivities that surround that event go on much longer than an F1 weekend! Please reconsider your stance concerning Indianapolis as a venue for Formula 1 as the debacles that occurred at the IMS were obviously not to be blamed on anything the city couldn’t do or provide.
    As a lifelong resident of Indianapolis, you could not find a better or more enthusiastic base crowd to have backing any event that occurs at the IMS. I eagerly await the day that F1 makes a triumphant return to Indy!

  19. RE: Wanting it at Indy. Just my opinion but after experiencing the first 5 races both in campgrounds across from the track and $500 a night hotels downtown I can tell you I DONT want it there. I can’t think of a more lack lusture effort put in to a motor race event ever. I could understand one year but missing the boat year after year was crazy. Over priced lodging, boring and will probably be remembered as a massive missed opportunity to build on the first massive crowd in 2000. Luckily we were good at entertaining ourselves.
    The problem is Indy is not a large enough metro area and with most midwest cities you are hundreds of miles away from the next large metro area. This means the majority have to transport in and camp or get robbed by hotels anywhere within a 20 miles radius. It’s not cheap to fly in to Indy either. You then have to entertain those fans by providing events that not only you find interesting but the rest of the world does. Not just things that Indy area is famous for or jumping on the blues band wagon like most other mid west cities do etc.
    Not completely dogging the place as they deffo got my respect on ticket prices and crowd control but if you are going to put a world class event on then hire a world class events manager to make sure people are thoroughly entertained for the money they pump in to the local economy. You can’t just do what you normally do for the 500 or Nascar and expect the same results.
    Location is everything which is why I think NYC/NJ will win in the end….. if it ever happens.

  20. I was reminiscing about my days attending USGP’s at Indy, when I stumbled across the cover of the raceday program from 2005 Indy, and what is prominently featured on the cover? A burnout scene zoomed in on a smoking, smoldering tire! Oh the Foreshadowing!

  21. I am sorry to throw cold water on Bernie’s parade but I think he continues to over-estimate the American appetite for F1. Notwithstanding those of us who awake at the crack of dawn for our fix of F1 on Speed TV, the sport does not generate enough media attention. I would suggest BCE et al. engage in a better marketing and media campaign before announcing a race in New Jersey.

    The IRL has attempted street races to enliven the franchise, but the racing is not up to snuff (see: San Jose or Houston). Why? Because open-wheel cars are not entertaining when the turns are right-angle and the straights are too narrow for overtaking. And New Jersey is not Monaco.

    So best of luck to all, and I hope one day the race returns. But if F1 wants to succeed in the US again, it will take much more of a marketing effort, and a more inspired choice for a home.

  22. The idea that F1, a niche sport that left the US with its tail beneath its legs after alienating the few people who were actually paying attention, will parachute in to race at some non-existent track that overlooks a city that doesn’t care a snot about motor racing is ludicrous. Let’s not forget that New Jersey is facing an existential budget crisis and that building and development all over the country have either slowed dramatically or ground to a halt. It amazes me that every random thought from Bernie, who craps out dozens of these Twitter-esque bons mots every grand prix, is taken with so few grains of salt. Of course he’s weighing his options and looking at every possible opportunity to tap into the American market. But for the time being F1 is either coming back to Indy or it’s not coming back at all. The political, financial, and environmental machinations required to put on an American race anywhere else are overwhelming, especially with so many other countries knocking on the door, hat and fat check in hand.

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