While its cross-border Canadian cousin was playing host to the F1 circus at the weekend, the Circuit of the Americas was making headlines for various reasons as it ramps up its efforts to join the fray in November.
Stealing the limelight was the announcement that the Austin venue had appointed American racing legend Mario Andretti as an official ambassador, but of more importance perhaps was the news that, with an FIA inspection pending this week, management had managed to reach a settlement with project originator Tavo Hellmund.
According to reports in the local Austin American Statesman
newspaper, circuit chairman Bobby Epstein has confirmed the settlement, although no-one appeared happy to discuss details.
"Late last night, the parties in this case were able to conclude their dispute in a confidential, out-of-court settlement," Hellmund's attorney, Brad Seidel, said Saturday, "We hope this bodes well for Austin's F1 project, and we look forward to seeing Tavo's dream of a fantastic race happen in November."
Hellmund had been seeking unspecified damages, claiming the circuit had stopped paying his $500,000 yearly salary, and his suit was due to have been determined as either a court or arbitration issue today [Monday 11 June]. Although he had been the driving force between persuading Bernie Ecclestone to take F1 to Texas, Hellmund had been increasingly distanced from the project after a rift developed between himself and other investors around a year ago. Matters came to a head when Hellmund claimed, in November, that the project was not only falling behind schedule, but was also suffering from a lack of finance, temporarily putting the whole F1 bid in jeopardy.
Epstein and other investors and circuit officials responded by claiming that Hellmund had 'stopped showing up for work' and had not finalised the deals to bring both F1 and MotoGP to CotA, before Ecclestone's axe was prevented from falling after Epstein reached a new agreement over payment. According to the report, Hellmund's suit claims the two parties had previously reached agreement on an $18 million settlement, but that was when he held the promotional rights to the F1 race. That buyout subsequently fell through and Hellmund's deal to promote the race was then cancelled by Ecclestone because no money had been handed over to secure the event.
While the F1 race is safe, and the circuit has since added an American Le Mans Series round for 2013, there has been no word on the future of the much-hyped MotoGP event, which had been arranged by Hellmund and former rider Kevin Schwantz, but no longer features on the venue's official website.
Although it is still a long way from being completed, the circuit is due to play host to an FIA delegation, headed by Charlie Whiting, later this week, as the governing body's technical director and safety delegate takes advantage of the annual trip to Canada to inspect progress with the Hermann Tilke-inspired construction programme. The visit is not expected to carry any great importance, as a final inspection will take place closer to the scheduled race date, but Whiting should be able to gauge whether things are on target to be ready for Austin to takes its place as the penultimate round of the season.
Whiting was joined in Montreal by CotA's newest ambassador, as Mario Andretti paid a flying visit to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve around duties at the IndyCar Series event at Texas Motor Speedway.