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George courting F1 again, but maybe not for Indy

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Tony George is trying to bring Formula One racing back to the United States—but not necessarily to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

George, who was IMS and Indy Racing League chairman until last June, was in China for several days earlier this month to attend F1’s Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai April 18 at the invitation of F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone.

While there, George met at length with Ecclestone and Zak Brown, founder and CEO of Just Marketing International, an Indianapolis-based motorsports marketing firm that represents several high-level F1 sponsors.

Brown and other sources close to F1 said George was there to discuss the series’ future in the United States, examine China’s motorsports sponsorship base, and meet with global motorsports sponsors who could potentially back a U.S. F1 race.
 

Tony George George

Despite interest from IMS and local tourism officials in bringing the event back to Indianapolis, that might not be George’s intention.

The Speedway hosted an F1 race from 2000-2007, but the event left after George and Ecclestone couldn’t come to an agreement that made financial sense for both sides. F1 also has hosted a race in six other U.S. cities since 1980. Each failed, primarily for financial reasons.

Still, the allure of the growing international racing circuit is undeniable.

“Certainly, a Formula One race would be a high-profile event that could boost our region on a number of levels,” said Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association CEO Don Welsh. “The international draw is very appealing.”

But bringing a U.S. Grand Prix to New York is Ecclestone’s No. 1 choice in returning the series to American soil, and George could be part of a deal to make that happen—and could even play a part in organizing the race, Brown said.

Oddly, Chris Pook, former head of IRL’s nemesis, Champ Car, has been one of Ecclestone’s recent lieutenants in establishing an F1 presence in the U.S. market.

Jeff Belskus, who replaced George last July as head of the Speedway and IRL, said George was not in China representing the Speedway or IRL. Belskus added that he was not apprised of George’s trip in advance.

Belskus said the Speedway would be interested in bringing an F1 race back under the right financial circumstances. Motorsports business experts said Ecclestone would have to lower the F1 sanctioning fee, which ranges from $10 million to $30 million annually, to make the race feasible in Indianapolis.

F1Belskus added that he does not think George would work against Hulman-George business interests.

“I believe we have a good relationship with Tony,” Belskus said. “That’s how I’d characterize it.”

The Speedway and IRL’s board fired George after last year’s Indianapolis 500. The board—which is composed of George’s three sisters, mother and family attorney—offered to keep George as head of the IRL, but he declined.

George continued to operate his IRL team, Vision Racing, through 2009, but folded it earlier this year, citing lack of sponsorship money.

George sunk $30 million of the Hulman-George family fortune into building the 2.6-mile serpentine road course and other infrastructure needed for the USGP at the Speedway. George earlier this year resigned from the board of the Hulman-George family of companies, and protecting and maximizing a return on that investment may no longer be his primary interest.

Ecclestone has made it clear that he prefers to put an F1 race in a city larger than Indianapolis. Though there is no formal relationship between George and Ecclestone, George could be a player in the deal to get that done, sources close to the discussions said.

“Would Tony George love to broker a deal to bring back a U.S. Grand Prix? Sure,” said Brown, who confirmed his part in the discussions between George and Ecclestone.

Ecclestone has invited George to several F1 races this year and was eager to hear the IRL founder’s input on bringing F1 back to America, Brown said.

“Tony has a lot of contacts in motorsports, and he knows how to put on a U.S. Grand Prix,” Brown said. “I think if there’s a role for Tony in trying to bring Formula One back to the U.S., he’d be willing to help. Tony and Bernie have a very good relationship, and Tony has a lot of interest in seeing F1 return to the U.S.”

Given his departure from the Speedway, it’s difficult to say where George’s interests in F1 lie. Brown said George simply wants to see motorsports of all types flourish domestically.

Ecclestone also has an eye on other U.S. markets, including San Francisco, Las Vegas and Miami. Brown said long term, Ecclestone may have interest in holding two races on U.S. soil. F1 sponsors have not been shy about voicing their interest in getting into American markets.

A major thrust by F1 into the United States could imperil IRL sponsorships and other business interests, said Tim Frost, president of Frost Motorsports, a Chicago-based motorsports business consultancy.

Randy Bernard, the IRL’s new CEO under Belskus, didn’t discount that notion.

“Anything in the entertainment world from the NFL to F1 is a competitor,” Bernard said.

He hedged when asked if bringing F1 back to the IMS would be in the best interest of the financially struggling IRL.

“If it is good for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the city and the state, who am I to make a formal opinion to the contrary?” Bernard said. “But if it failed … the last time it was here, why would it come back?”

Brown thinks F1’s U.S. growth would help all domestic motorsports.

“It would only increase the spotlight on the sport of racing, and that’s good for the Indy Racing League,” Brown said.

A return by F1 to Indianapolis would undeniably boost the Speedway’s image as a premier motorsports venue, Frost said. But if F1 shuns the Speedway for another market, that could damage the facility’s reputation.

“If the world’s top level of motor racing returned to the U.S. and didn’t locate at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, you’d really have to scratch your head,” Frost said.

George, who could not be reached for comment, would appear to have at least some interest in seeing an F1 event run at the track owned by his family’s business empire.

“He still has an ownership stake in the Speedway,” Frost said. “I’m not sure why he would work to bring it anywhere else unless he’s simply convinced it wouldn’t work there.”•

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  • F1 Belongs in the USA
    I surely enjoyed the USGP at the IMS every year it was here but it doesn't make fiscal sense for a private enterprise (like the IMS) to put up $25million+ every year to host the race.

    I also understand the comments posted that Indianapolis may not have the international cache' Monaco, Abu Dabai, Spa or Monza have as both locations and tracks.

    And far from me to judge Bernie Ecclestone in any way besides admiring his amazing ability to coerce country after country to invest billions in his F1 racing series.

    I do think Bernie is portrayed as a somewhat curt and unfriendly sort by the press but he's obviously in control of every aspect of FISA.

    The real issue is bringing Formula 1 back to the United States - regardless of the location. While Long Beach, San Francisco and even Miami have the "rock n' roll" atmosphere, it makes no difference to me as I'll travel to any US location to watch the boys in those incredible machines.

    So best of luck to Mr. Pook in securing a date for F1 in the USA. If Tony George can help with this decision, best of luck to him as well.

  • What's Different This Time Around?
    Why would any U.S. city host a U.S. Grand Prix after the long list of failed prior U.S. venues with the same person still in control and negotiating promoter terms? Long Beach, Dallas, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Detroit, Watkins Glen, Indianapolis â?? what is different this time around?

    I cannot imagine any sane politician who does even a cursory check of Bernie's past involvement in the U.S. market signing on to be the next home of the U.S. Grand Prix. This event is a recipe for certain financial failure.
  • Indy was/is great!
    I'm from the UK and I go to an F1 race year. I went to Indy in 2004. From a spectator's point of view it was easily the best circuit I've been to. The city itself was great fun and very welcoming. So, as a "mere" spectator I would love the chance to go back there.
  • It Has to Be in Cali
    The only places that make sense for F1 in the U.S. are Long Beach, Laguna Seca, Sears Point, and maybe Road Atlanta.
  • talladega need open wheel fence whole track indy too
    f1 race long beach first
  • Missing the Elephant
    Courting F1? No. That is not what Tony is doing. He has his red cape and is trying to distract the F1 Bull towards anything but the current focus: LONG BEACH.

    Chris Pook has spent the past several months giftwrapping the Long Beach Grand Prix for F1. Tony is getting involved because if that happens F1 will have both the highest attended road race anywhere in North America, they will also have the 2nd highest attended open wheel race on the continent.

    Bernie doesn't want Indy, he doesn't want NYC or New Jersey. He wants Long Beach and the former leader of IMS has been dispatched to try and stop it.



  • Yes Indy
    Having worked with F1 locally in Indianapolis, I can assure you that there is no other location in the U.S. that makes more sense than at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The motorsports initiatives in Indianapolis have grown significantly. Even the college I graduated from offers a motorsports degree. You cannot deny the history of the IMS and the fact that we had the highest number of attendees of any F1 circuit in the world. Indianapolis needs a return of the USGP at the IMS.
  • Ecclestone
    Mr. Whelan 1 more thing I didn't make any negative comment on your intelligence and do not appreciate yours...just because I think the world and F1 would be better off with out the likes of the business of Bernie Ecclestone is my opinion of a greedy individual who is damaging a sport I enjoy immensely and as previously stated check the facts..the fans of this sport are disgusted with the promoter and most feel the same as I have stated previously...money doesn't make for smart , devious does though quite often...good day sir
  • Bernie
    I don't think anyone really considers BE an idiot. Modern F1 is his creature, and it is an enormous money machine. He devised a business plan many years ago, simple in nature, that has proven itself time and again.

    In the process, Formula 1 has become debased and boring. But it is a Big Show, worldwide.

    I would no more blame Bernie for "ruining" F1 than I would hold Tony George responsible for "ruining" open wheel racing. Everything ebbs and flows. Disposable income finds other paths for entertainment.

    That said, Bernie gave Tony the Death of 1000 Cuts over the USGP. He left TG with few options to make money on the event. An event which, by the way, has not particularly captured an American audience since Dan Gurney retired.
  • Mr Ecclestone
    Mr Whelan , I have been a fan of F1 for 40+ years and have seen it's many changes both in venues and technology ..and the best years were the PRE Mosley/Ecclestone era...Bernie has long ago lost touch with the fans of this sport and is purely out to line his own pockets , I don't care if you know and think highly of the man..his internationalist version of this sport F1 is losing it's fan base because of boring race venues that have been designed by his buddy Tilke , most of these places are not accessible to the average hard working fan and the places that are in Europe where the largest fan base is at are disappearing..there no longer is a French GP , Dutch GP , Austrian GP , he wanted to do away with Silverstone , Canada(actually did) and threatens other classic/traditional venues such as SPA..have you seen the empty stands in Bahrain , Turkey , China ,or Hungary as some examples and if you check the other F1 websites you'll find my opinion is a overwhelming majority...in fact you are the only person I've ever heard to come to his defense.....he charges to much $$$$$$ for admission and many of the new countries he is holding these races in most of the people don't know a thing about F1 and they just can't afford to go if they wanted too anyway..so no doubt you are wealthy man and not really an F1 fan or you would see this man in a different light..and as far as an F1 in the USA..Indy is a good place , the only reason Bernie doesn't like it(scene of his crime ) . is because in 2006 the Michelin tired cars did a walk out because there tires were unsafe in the high speed turn & straight and the FIA(Mosley , thank God he's gone) didn't do anything to rectify the situation and Bernie wouldn't do a pro-rated refund for the race(6 cars) that really wasn't..other places for a USGP would-should be considered are Watkins Glen , Road America , Laguna Seca , Barber Motor Sport Park...but NYC is just another dumb place for an F1 race..and so are also Korea , India next thing he will want to build another Tilkedrone in Peshawar...so sir that is why I call Bernie an idiot , just because he makes a lot of money doesn't make him smart,,F1 desperately needs a new promoter , this man is killing the sport
  • Parasites
    What's wrong with Indy? 15 years of the IRL is what's wrong. Heck, even Tony GEorge thinks so.
  • i know indy not what think of america chicago thou
    chicago is down road ohio michigan down the road two biggest pop.. metro area in the country and can match ny east coast in pop.. and indy has 400,000 seats indy 500 full every year indy to chicago like same distance to ny to philli so you can call it chicago area and it has lot of world class hotel yeah chicago is very sexy city you can say indy is new jersey most of f1 tracks are not in the city
  • bad idea
    Mind your tongue, my good man.

    There is no one person who has accomplished more in his chosen field of endeavor, than Bernie Ecclestone has in Formula 1 Grand Prix racing.

    This is not to say that he has not been controversial and enigmatic at times, but anyone whose influence and decision making affects the lives and welfare of so many people, accepts that with the territory.

    To call Mr. Ecclestone an idiot is without warrant and recommends the writer as being exactly what he falsely claims Mr. Ecclestone to be.

    I have personally known the man for many years, and I can tell you that if there were more men like Bernie, this world, and everything in it, would be a far better experience.

    Good Day, Sir
    • Mr. Ecclestone
      Mind your tongue, my good man.

      There is no one person who has accomplished more in his chosen field of endeavor, than Bernie Ecclestone has in Formula 1 Grand Prix racing.

      This is not to say that he has not been controversial and enigmatic at times, but anyone whose influence and decision making affects the lives and welfare of so many people, accepts that with the territory.

      To call Mr. Ecclestone an idiot is without warrant and recommends the writer as being exactly what he falsely claims Mr. Ecclestone to be.

      I have personally known the man for many years, and I can tell you that if there were more men like Bernie, this world, and everything in it, would be a far better experience.

      Good Day, Sir

    • San Francisco F1 race
      Sure - happy to put you in touch.
    • Whither the USGP?
      If it were simply a matter of having the USGP at the "best" US circuit, it would be Road America, or even Watkins Glen. But alas, the USGP now must be held where there is entertainment, world-class accomodations, easy air accessibility and glitz. Bernie wouldn't even stay in Indy for the inaugural USGP- he bunked in Chicago! I attended the F1 race at Caesar's and it was ghastly- held in a parking lot. But it attracted High Rollers. A NYC race won't happen. (I worked in Manhattan, and they hate cars.) Nor SF for reasons mentioned above. But why not Chicago?? My only complaint about Indy as a site is that the circuit isn't very interesting. And I say this as both spectator, and racer, who has enjoyed Road America. (Unfortunately RA is inaccessible to mega crowds, though it can handle 50,000 nicely.)
      In any case the decider is the TV audience. The Bahrain GP crowd was non-existant. Headcount is not important...unless you make a bad deal with Bernie and your sole revenue source is ticket sales.
    • Contact Info
      @SFF1. Sure I'd like to speak to him for insight. Can I use the contact form at SFF1.com to give you my contact info instead of an open forum?

      And I like to repeat one more time. The city of Indianapolis and of course the circuit are top shelf. I don't want anyone to believe I'm slighting them in any way. Further from the truth.
      • San Francisco F1 race
        @F1 We'd like to see that, there is a well-organized solid F1 fanbase here as well as a go-to destination in San Francisco, but Brent Jones tried to get this going in '98 on Treasure Island (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/e/a/1998/02/04/SPORTS16216.dtl)

        Can put you in touch with him if you'd like to learn from his experiences dealing with Bernie and IMG

        • indy still biggest race in world
          yeah your right indy is not monaco because indy is motorsport 100 years of history put that in the bank any way f1 should come back at indy
        • Indy...
          @ Lou Scalera. I hear you. I know people in two top teams. I'm told the problem with Indy is image. The track and facility are well...Indy which needs no representation.

          Unfortunately, the model for F1 is more rock and roll, glitz and flash. This puts Indianapolis at a disadvantage obviously. Nothing against Indianapolis but it's certainly not a Monaco...

          China and new venues are about building the global brand so they get a pass on the glitz -- for now.

          It basically leaves NY and San Francisco for the US market. Sorry to say. Perhaps Miami. Maybe. A weak maybe.

          You need more than just a track, you need jet set accommodations to include hotels, restaurants etc. This is a byproduct of selling sponsorship to high profile global companies promoting their brands. They want to be seen in all the right places.

          San Francisco is the natural winner. A world class city that just sank millions in the Embarcadero. A street race against the bay akin to a Monaco. Hollywood down the road. Famous Napa & Sonoma wine country a stones throw away. World class hotels and Michelin Star restaurants in the backdrop of one the worlds most beautiful cities. Lets not forget the fertile sponsorship grounds of Silicon Valley being right there. The problem with SF is the locals. They (being SF) aren't receptive to this so much because of the Liberal enviro concerns. The local politics is beyond bizarre. Trust me, I live here. I've floated the idea to a few well placed SF supervisors and was shocked who said "interesting idea" and who said "never in a million years" Exactly the opposite of what I thought. In fact, I'm considering funding an exploratory committee for feasibility.

          We shall see. I love Indy as it is obviously Indy, but it's a changing world...
        • bad idea
          Bernie Ecclestone is an idiot , NYC would be a horrible place for a F1 GP ,the actual proposal is to have it in New Jersey with NYC as the backdrop all it would just be is a high speed parade and the most excitement would be the possibility of a car jacking in the pit lane(paddock) , with that said..what's wrong with Indy ? ...I enjoyed the F1 there in years past..and I live in Jersey and I am a long time F1 fan

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