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Proposed F1 projects in Mexico, Argentina and South Africa
Tavo Hellmund
A little more than a year ago, when plans for a local Formula One circuit were announced out of the blue, many people in Austin wondered: who the heck is Tavo Hellmund?

Now, Hellmund, who had to scrap and scrounge for sponsors in his days as an open-wheel racer, is apparently becoming well-known in the high-rolling world of Formula One.

During a recent conversation at the Circuit of the Americas office downtown, Hellmund revealed that he and his special events and sports production company, Full Throttle Productions, are doing consulting work for proposed Formula One projects in Mexico, Argentina and South Africa.

Mexico last held an F1 Grand Prix in 1992, but Hellmund said two sites are being considered . Hellmund also has visited Argentina, which last staged an F1 race in 1998, to meet with promoters. Hellmund said the track site there would be north of Buenos Aires. While he hasn't traveled to South Africa, Hellmund said he has had phone conversations about an F1 race there.

"The demand for F1 may be at an all-time high," said Hellmund, who quickly added, "The U.S. Grand Prix is the most important thing ... The next thing is to promote the U.S Grand Prix."

One asset Hellmund brings to any project is his long-time friendship with the prickly 80-year-old boss of Formula One, Bernie Ecclestone. Hellmund's rapport with Ecclestone was critical to not only landing the U.S. Grand Prix for a 10-year run beginning in 2012, but in changing the proposed date for the inaugural event from June 17, when Austin likely would be sweltering, to Nov 18.

"Was I, on a weekly basis, nagging and begging Bernie? Yeah," Hellmund said . "The credit goes to Bernie. He could have said no."

Another big race at the 3.4-mile Circuit of the Americas, the MotoGP series that begins in 2013, also will apparently avoid triple-digit heat.

"It's safe to assume the MotoGP will not be in the summer," said Hellmund, who said the race will fall in the spring. MotoGP, the pinnacle of motorcycle racing, hasn't released a full calendar for 2012, let alone 2013, but Hellmund said Austin's race would not be paired with those run in Indianapolis and at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, two summer events.

Hellmund cited the relationships he and track investor and motorcycling legend Kevin Schwantz have with Carmelo Ezpeleta, head of MotoGP's rights holder Dorna, as reasons to think Austin's event won't occur in the summer months.

The third major series that the Circuit of the Americas has signed — for at least a five-year run beginning in 2013 — involves the Australian V8 Supercars. The Aussies would appear to be headed for a late spring date — possibly on a weekend when NASCAR doesn't have a Sunday race.

The most intriguing possibility for the U.S. race would be if it followed a format similar to the Gold Coast 600. There, 18 guest drivers are paired with V8 Supercar regulars for two 300-kilometer races in which the guest drivers must do at least one-third of the driving in each endurance-style race.

Some NASCAR stars are familiar with Supercars, including Dale Earnhardt Jr.

A fourth series, some form of sports car racing, likely would get a late September date. The American Le Mans Series has previously expressed interest, but Hellmund said discussions are going on with several sports car racing organizations.

As for the circuit being built southeast of Austin , vertical construction is slated to begin soon, and it may not be as involved as some fans assume. While the main grandstand will be a permanent structure, Hellmund said most of the seating will involve scaffolding, as is used at many Formula One tracks.

Hellmund said one advantage of scaffolding, especially for a new track, is that it can be moved relatively easily if the sight lines don't work out quite as planned. It also can be assembled quickly. Each year Montreal erects its stands in a few months. The Statesman

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