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Racing official gives thumbs up to Austin's F1 plans
Nick Craw, a top U.S. auto racing official, took a helicopter tour Thursday of the 900-acre U.S. Grand Prix site southeast of Austin a prelude to promoter Tavo Hellmund's project passing muster with the Formula One sanctioning body early next year.

He liked what he saw.

Craw, who carries two different business cards, is president of the Automobile Competition Committee for the U.S. and also the Senate president of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile. The committee represents the interests of U.S. motor sports with the international federation, and the federation, among other things, is the sanctioning body for Formula One races.

"It will be great," Craw said of the proposed Austin track. "This has some of the most interesting, exciting and different features, drawn from other successful venues around the world."

Like many in the motor-sports world, Craw had been surprised by the May announcement that Austin had landed an F1 event for 2012 through 2021. This summer Jean Todt, president of the international federation, expressed his skepticism and called the Austin effort "just a project."

But on Thursday, Craw said: "It's a very strong team they've assembled here. I think it's a very good plan and a very solid business model. They've set the bar pretty high."

While in Austin this week, Craw met with Hellmund and track designer Peter Wahl. Wahl said he would get all the necessary information to Craw by November, and Craw, representing the U.S. committee, would present the proposal to the federation for approval in February.

"I have a very high degree of confidence that they'll bless it," Craw said.

Only last week, the inaugural Korean Grand Prix needed an eleventh-hour inspection by the federation for the show to go on. A thumbs-down would have scuttled the international racing event this weekend.

Craw added, however, that the sanctioning procedure will almost certainly change after Korea's close call.

"Is that going to happen again? No," Craw said. He said the federation will consider a proposal in November to return to the former requirement that new Grand Prix facilities pass inspection at least 90 days before their first race. "That probably protects everybody's interest a little better than running right up against the event and saying, 'Golly gee, we've got it wrong," he said. The Statesman

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