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Austin MotoGP race in jeopardy
Tavo Hellmund holds the rights to Austin's MotoGP race and Circuit of America's owners refuse to buy him out
Adding to the drama that has dogged Austin's Formula One race track project, the Circuit of the Americas is facing contract issues with what would be its second biggest attraction: a MotoGP international race slated to begin a 10-year run at the $300 million track in 2013.

Motorcycling legend Kevin Schwantz, who figured to be the public face of that race, has been mum on the subject for months. But in February, Schwantz sent a letter to Steve Sexton, the president of Circuit of the Americas, saying, "I urge you one final time to contact Mr. (Tavo) Hellmund about obtaining the rights to host a MotoGP race in Texas, after which I would be glad to open discussions with you as the new promoter. If you have not obtained such rights from Full Throttle, then unfortunately Circuit of the Americas will not be included as a round of the FIM Grand Prix Road Racing World Championship."

MotoGP is motorcycling's equivalent of automobile racing's Formula One. It's the pinnacle of the sport worldwide and is very popular in Europe. The annual circuit has two stops in the United States — Indianapolis and Laguna Seca in California. At both locations, the three-day event might draw 130,000-140,000 fans, including upwards of 60,000 for the Sunday race.

Laguna Seca's CEO/general manager Gill Campbell has estimated the MotoGP race generates about $100 million in revenues for the surrounding communities, about one-half of the economic impact of that track for an entire year.

There are, however, a couple of key differences between Formula One and MotoGP. One is that it's apparently easier for a track to make money with MotoGP than with F1, where the race guarantees are much higher. Another is that, while American drivers have been virtually non-existent in Formula One for the past two decades, American riders have enjoyed success in MotoGP. Texan Ben Spies is now one of the sport's best.

Spies was on hand last April, as was Schwantz, the 1993 world champion, when the MotoGP contract with Circuit of the Americas was announced at a splashy press conference at the Long Center.

That day, Schwantz, who had input in the design of the 3.4-mile circuit, said, "For me this is a dream come true, that the MotoGP World Championship will be in my home state of Texas. I am such a believer in the sport and know how popular motorcycling is in Texas. I am sure that this will be a resounding long term success."

Back then, a pleased Red McCombs, an investor in the track, said, "This is a big deal."

And, apparently, it was a good one with MotoGP rights holder Dorna and Schwantz's 3FourTexas.

In his letter, Schwantz claimed, "For the benefit of the Austin facility and our Texas fans we entered into the most promoter-friendly contract in MotoGP with Full Throttle, the creator and an owner of the Circuit of the Americas project ... It is my understanding that Circuit of the Americas had the opportunity to obtain these rights on several occasions between late 2010 and the fall of 2011 but that Circuit of the Americas did not follow through."

Full Throttle is Hellmund's promotional company. In a lawsuit filed last week, Hellmund claimed there was an $18 million deal for the Circuit of the Americas to buy his share of the company and the rights to the Formula One and MotoGP races, but that the deal wasn't consummated as planned in an Oct. 25 meeting last year in the London office of Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone.

In December, the track was able to renegotiate a contract for the Formula One race with Ecclestone after Hellmund's original contract was determined to be in breach.

No such deal has been reached regarding the rights to MotoGP.

Schwantz, a long-time friend of Hellmund's, wrote Sexton, "In the past others at the Circuit of the Americas have indicated that their group has attempted to obtain these rights from Mr. Hellmund for amounts ranging from $4 million to $17 million but that Mr. Hellmund declined."

Schwantz claimed he knew such offers hadn't been made and requested documentation of any such offers.

In January, Circuit of the Americas began taking requests for personal seat licenses ranging from $1,000 to $5,000, and to some fans MotoGP became conspicuous by its absence.

A release describing the circuit said, "It will be the first purpose-built Grand Prix facility in the United States designed for any and all classes of racing, from motor power to human power, and be the U.S. home to both the Formula 1 Grand Prix and V8 Supercar World Championships." The Statesman

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