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Why I’m Not Excited for the Austin GP


Will the Austin GP actually happen or not is a question that’s been floating around American racing circles since the surprise announcement last spring.  And honestly, I’m not that excited for it.  I can explain why in with two words, Herman Tilke.  Yes, Austin will be a Tilke track, so whether it’s built or not, it’s not going to be that great.  Tilke tracks suffer from “Tilke Syndrome”, which means they have too many chicanes that serve no point, and only make passing even harder.  Worse, there’s a good chance the second MotoGP race in the US could move there.  The last thing either F1 or MotoGP needs is ANOTHER Tilke Track…. they already have too many!

Austin doesn’t look like it breaks the Tilke mold.  As with EVERY Tilke Track, it has Tilke Syndrome, and until that’s cured, it’ll not produce good racing, especially for F1.  And I don’t want to hear the “how can you say this before we’ve ever seen a race there” or “give it a chance”, because we’ve seen plenty of Tilke tracks get built, and they universally are bad.  Istanbul is the best one , and that’s still not that great of track.  There’s no way this is going to be any different, especially for F1.  Motorcycle road racing isn’t as bad at a Tilke track, but still, the less on the schedule, the better.  Compare a Tilke track to a real race track, say, Phillip Isle, Monza, Road America, Spa, or Montreal, and it really becomes obvious why no one likes them.

Who Needs Austin?

Besides the fact that F1 has way to many Tilke tracks, I really worry Indycar, ALMS, AMA Pro Racing, WSBK, or MotoGP could end up racing here, and none of them need this.  Indycar already has enough issues with Infineon, Barber, and Mid Ohio; I can live without watching Indycar’s parade around a Tilke track.  As for MotoGP, I especially don’t want to see the Indy GP get traded for this.  I like the IndyGP, and it’s pretty close to where I live, or at least, a thousand miles (literally) closer than Austin.  I’m biased, of course, but having the MotoGP in Indy really does help get some non MotoGP people involved in the series.  Indy is a name that resonates in the American racing world, were as Austin…doesn’t.  Laguna Seca is hugely popular with American Road Racing and Motorcycle fans, but Austin, again, isn’t.  And again, MotoGP doesn’t need any more Tilke tracks, especially if they’re going to run India or Russia, which likely will be Tilke built.  Same with WSBK, there are plenty of Tilke’s out there, we don’t need another.

Austin GP seems to have some committed Fanboy’s/Girls, and I’ve just got to ask, what is it about F1 in America that brings out the crazy in American race fans?  The USF1 fans were the same way… they got really upset that there were questions about that team, and guess what?  They didn’t make the field, and even if they had, they would not have scored a SINGLE point.  Or the equally crazy Danica Patrick to F1 people who went on and on in 2009?  I don’t know…but I do know that American MotoGP fans don’t act like that.  Maybe it’s because  there hasn’t been a successful American in F1 since Mario Andretti, while in MotoGP, we’ve seen plenty of American World Champions.   Or maybe the people who like F1 get into these things, and bring the Crapwagon mentality over to this?

Tilke Syndrome, in Full Affect @ Austin

Of course, all of this is assuming the Austin track actually get’s built.  It’s February of 2011, and according to the website, construction started at the beginning of January.  That’s not a lot of time to get the track built… I really don’t have a ton of confidence they’ll get it done; but Korea got done, so anything’s possible.  The plan is to run the race in the summer of 2012… which means they’ve got about a year and a half to get it built, and the facilities up and running, though as Korea proves, that is actually optional, and that you can even get an award as the “best promoter” for it!  A race at Austin in the Summer… well, maybe Sepang won’t be the hottest race of the year…  Whether this track is actually finished or not, I’m not really too concerned.  I just hope Indycar, American Le Mans Series, MotoGP, World Superbike, AMA Pro Racing, and the potential NASCAR DTM and GT3 championship all avoid the place like the plague, because it does have a plague; Tilke Syndrome.  We can throw them a bone and let Austin take Grand Am… no one will notice anyways… but let’s keep real racing series at real race tracks.

Thursday Thoughts: If I were the FIA President

Thursday Thoughts this week is “What Would You do if You Were the FIA President?”  Great question!  There’s a lot of changes that need to be made, from de-Tilking the tracks to expanding factory interest and of course, removing some downforce!

Let’s start with something simple, race stewards.  I cannot believe F1 really doesn’t have the same stewards week after week!  I mean, pretty much every major racing series I watch has that, so for the “biggest racing series in the world” (and richest) to not do that is kinda odd.  Besides that, I’d also want the same safety crews week after week, because the quality of the staff at the tracks kinda varies.  Again, Indycar manages to do that, so I fail to see why F1 can’t/won’t.

Would Senna have been allowed in modern F1?

Not only consistent stewards, but also more consistent rulings.  First off, we’re keeping the team orders rule, though it’d only be enforced for Ferrari-02 style actions.  Outside of that, though, I’d want a more Liaise-Faire officiating.  With all the penalties for “avoidable contact” and the FIA freak out a couple years ago when they stripped a win from Hamilton for cutting a chicane even though he returned position, they’re just encouraging drivers to not pass or be aggressive, which is the OPPISITE of what we want.  Ayrton Senna would never have made it in modern F1, and that fact alone should be enough to cause a massive change in the way the series is officiated.

De Tilking the race tracks!

Next, although technically the FIA president doesn’t write the schedule, Tilke is banned from EVER designing a track again in his life!  Not only that, but the current Tilke Tracks will be “De-Tilked” and have the random and unnecessary chicanes taken out of them.  By doing this, hopefully the quality of the fly away races improves.  And sorry, but Singapore and Valencia are dead.   It’s also time to add a second USGP (like MotoGP) and that means a return to Indy!  Plus, a return to a French GP.  Rome…just no.  Keep Istanbul though, it’s an almost good Tilke track, and once it’s fixed, it should become pretty good.  Do both Bahrain and Abu Dhabi really deserve a race? Same with Singapore and Malaysia?  Instead, how about a race in Africa, and a second race in South America?

For the development series, implement a Road to Indy style scholarship program for GP3 and GP2.  Also find a way to get Jonathan Summerton and Conor Daly involved in the GP2/GP3 series.  Besides that, I’d work to develop some drivers from the Pacific Rim and Middle East, as if you’re going to race there, you might as well have some drivers local fans can cheer for, and maybe fill out the stands a little.

Series wise, I’d end FIA GT1 and start an FIA sanctioned A1GP style series for the off season, and encourage F1 drivers to participate in it.  Since there’s a somewhat limited amount of places to run a race in the winter, here’s where some of the random Arabian and Asian tracks can get a race!  Rally wise, I know a lot less, but I’d work to A. incorporate what’s making the X-Games rally successful and B. find a way to make the cars a little more exciting, instead of being a bunch of tiny hatchbacks!

F1’s way behind on the social media/internet thing.  Free internet streaming of racing with limited commercial interruptions would be instituted, as would allowing YouTube videos of F1.  Blogs and twitter would be embraced, as they’ve been by Indycar, and we’d try and steal some Indycar PR people to help with that!  Plus, we’d encourage more teams, and especially larger teams, to be more fan friendly, engage in social media and tours of the race shops.

Low Downforce, High Horsepower!!!!!

Last but certainly not least, take away downforce and raise (or at least keep the same) horsepower!!!!   I’d repeat that over and over again, and probably commission posters to be placed around the HQ of the FIA to remind everyone.  I like the KERS, so we’d keep that, but overall, as few electronics as possible in the car. While I’m not in love with the inline 4 engine decision, as long as they’re keeping HP up at current levels, it’s okay, and maybe it’ll help bring more manufactures back.

Actually, that’s the last point; help the manufactures realize the importance of motor racing, and especially F1.   Don’t be greedy and try and take a ton of money from them, but actually partner with them, and help promote each other!  Getting American and Japanese automakers back involved is a must!  Also someone from the Audi/VW/Lamborghini group needs to be involved!  All of that would be a lot better than the pointless new teams!

So what’s my goal as FIA President?  Make F1 and the other series stronger and more interesting, and try and expand F1’s fanbase even more.  F1’s huge, but it could be even bigger!  Improving the quality of racing and the competitiveness of racing would be my two biggest goals, followed by taking F1 to where there are actual people who’d watch it (IE, US, Argentina, South Africa) instead of running it in front of 5 people in Abu Dhabi and re-engaging the auto makers from WTCC to F1 to World Rally.  So if you want my help, I’m willing to sign onto the job for a 5th of what Todt is getting paid!