10/25/11 Today, a motor sports promotions group led by former YES network executive Leo Hindery, announced an agreement with Formula One to host the Grand Prix of America at Port Imperial on the streets of Weehawken and West New York, New Jersey. The temporary 3.2-mile street circuit is situated with a view of downtown Manhattan as its backdrop.
Bob Varsha, the Voice of Formula One on SPEED, talked about the new race, what it means for Formula One and how this new event, set for June of 2013, fits within the already announced United States Grand Prix set for the yet-to-be completed Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas next November.
Varsha, former Formula One driver David Hobbs, former team engineer Steve Matchett and series insider Will Buxton form SPEED’s live Formula One broadcast team. SPEED’s live coverage from the next round of the 2011 Formula One World Championship starts at 5 a.m. ET on Oct. 30 with this year’s Indian Grand Prix.
The following are quotes from Varsha on today’s announcement.
SPEED: What’s your initial reaction to the New Jersey/New York City marketplace holding a Formula One event?
Varsha: Formula One is predicated on taking the world’s most popular form of motor sports to the world’s greatest cities. I think a glaring omission in recent years – and really throughout the history of Formula One – has been New York City. So, I think this is huge. It’s the center of the world’s financial markets, it’s the center of the world’s media markets and it’s the center of the world’s entertainment markets. If there’s anything that’s bigger than Formula One – it’s New York. It’s just a natural they would go together. Having said that, it’s ironic that there really hasn’t been a race track incorporated in New York, a place where everything imaginable can be seen or done. The Meadowlands (New Jersey) was a compromise. There were some permanent tracks out on Long Island (New York) and events like the Vanderbilt Cup. New York does really loom large in the history of motor sports, so it’s only right that it should have a Formula One race. It’s going to take a significant effort, but I’m just delighted to see that it’s happening.
SPEED: Talk about the differences between this new race and the aforementioned Meadowlands CART Indy Car Series race (1984-1991).
Varsha: It’s going to be a much-more intimate setting than the Meadowlands. The Meadowlands was a parking lot, essentially, much like Las Vegas was back in the early 80s. (The new race is) going to run through the streets, which is the truest tradition of road racing. Road racing is exactly what it says it is – you run on roads. That’s what they are proposing for New Jersey, using the natural elevation changes of the New Jersey Palisades and the skyline of Manhattan in the background, it’s the best of both worlds. You have this high density population, it’s a residential area no doubt, especially in West New York, but there’s an awful lot of natural terrain there. You have the rocky face of the Palisades; there are parks along the route. I think it’s going to be an interesting layout.
SPEED: Talk about Formula One and where it stands on the world stage.
Varsha: This is as big as it gets in motor sports. (Formula One President) Bernie Ecclestone has always wanted to be in New York. Formula One has always wanted to be there. I think if they were presented with the question of, ‘we’re going to put another race out there.’ And given all the circumstances, where does it have to be in order to be in any way justifiable, they would have to say, ‘New York.’ It’s about the only place in the world that Formula One would stop and take a second look. Now, it’s going to face enormous challenges, a lot of thought, engineering has already gone into this.
SPEED: How does this impact the Austin, Texas race, which just signed a 10-year contract to host Formula One at the brand new Circuit of the Americas?
Varsha: Norbert Haug, who runs the Mercedes-Benz Motorsports program, has said that, ‘we don’t just want one race in the United States, we want two or three.’ And the United States has had as many as three in one particular year (1982). I think the two races – Austin and New York – are so different on paper, such as a permanent circuit (Austin) versus temporary circuit (New Jersey). Circuit of the Americas is exactly what the name implies. That is a critical nexus for fans from North & South America to come there and not only see Formula One, but see the Australian V8 Super Cars, MotoGP and the American Le Mans Series from what we’re hearing, and there are other things coming down the pike. It will be everybody’s all-purpose circuit in the Western Hemisphere. But what they are talking about in New York is the Grand Prix of America. This would be the New York equivalent of a Broadway one-night stand. Carnegie Hall, get the very best, get them out there for one night, come one, come all and see Formula One at its best.
SPEED: Having two races of this caliber isn’t unusual or unprecedented for this sport however.
Varsha: If you have a diverse enough population, and the dates are set far enough apart, they can distinguish themselves, one from the other. If the tickets are priced right, people are going to love to do both races. Having New York and Montreal as close as they are – an easy train ride or a quick flight from La Guardia, Kennedy or Newark – I think Formula One fans are willing to make that investment to see their heroes’ race on two occasions. A lot will depend on ticket price, and hopefully they will be of good value, which they are not necessarily at other spots around the world – accounting for some of the horrible spectator counts we see. With New York, and that kind of population base and that kind of market, I think it can co-exist easily with Montreal & Austin. It’s really the only racing going on in the New York City market. The NHRA goes to Englishtown (N.J.) and Reading (Pa.), NASCAR goes to Pocono (Pa.), but those are further from New York City. This is going to be right on your doorstep.
SPEED: Are there any concerns for the Austin race?
Varsha: I don’t think so. We’ll have to address some of those questions to Tavo Hellmund (Promoter for the upcoming United States Grand Prix in Austin) and the folks in Austin, but I can’t imagine why they would be concerned. The two events are going to be far enough apart in time, far enough apart in distance and there is a huge market out there for Formula One races. We saw that at Indianapolis, as they had more than 125,000 the first year. People will come. Where the New York event is going to be, in a very real way, marketed towards that Northeastern audience, Texas is going to be a completely different animal. They will draw from Mexico, Central America, South America. Not to say those folks won’t also want to come to New York and Montreal, but I don’t think this really impacts Austin in any way – other than the fan that has to make a choice between attending either one.
SPEED: With now two Formula One races, does this race signal a revitalization of road racing in the United States?
Varsha: I wouldn’t be too quick to say that because people talk about having Formula One races all the time. It’s like when people talk about should we bid on the Olympic Games? Should we bid for the World Cup of soccer? Should we bid for the World’s Fair? Or whatever huge, huge public event might be out on the horizon… I know there were people in my hometown of Atlanta talking about Formula One. I know San Diego has talked about Formula One, along with Denver. These things come up. But it takes a very special group of people to make something like this come off, and it seems like they are assembling that kind of crew in both Austin, Texas and New York.