Formula 1

It’s a busy weekend in Austin, with Halloween and Formula 1 festivities. That means downtown road closures.

Trinity between Cesar Chavez and 4th Street will be closed until midnight for Formula One. So will 2nd and 3rd Streets between Trinity and San Jacinto. Neches between 4th and 5th Streets will also be closed all day.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon for KUT News

You might have read or seen one of the many news reports this week on the economic impact of Austin's Circuit of the Americas track.

A report commissioned by the track found that it had a nearly $1 billion impact on the local economy over the last year. That's a big number, nearly three times as much as the estimated economic impact of South By Southwest.

But what does it mean, really? What are we talking about when we talk about economic impact?

I put that question and more to Ben Lofstgaarden of Greyhill Advisors, the firm commissioned by Circuit of the Americas (COTA) to do the report (and the same firm that does annual reports on SXSW's economic impact).

"What's unique about the impact [report] that we did for COTA is that it wasn't just for one single event," he says. "It was for the whole suite of activities that they do over the course of the year." 

So it's not just Formula One, it's also all the other races, concerts and events like the X Games held at COTA throughout the year. (COTA is a separate entity from Formula One – F1 is the race, COTA is the venue.) The actual direct economic impact of all of that – dollars that can be traced directly from the track into the economy? It's $515 million. So how do you go from that to nearly a billion dollars of economic impact? There's some nuance to the numbers.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport set a one-day passenger record on Monday, as people streamed out of the city following the U.S. Formula 1 Grand Prix.

A record high 22,759 passengers departed ABIA yesterday. That figure’s just about 1,000 passengers higher than the previous record – set the Monday following last year’s F1 race.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

More than 113,000 people attended Austin’s Formula 1 Grand Prix race on Sunday. Race fans watched Red Bull Racing driver Sebastian Vettel speed to a record-breaking eighth consecutive victory.

Many of the out-of-town visitors here for the F1 races will be making their way back home today. Officials at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport predict today could be the busiest departure day ever.

Austin-Bergstrom set a record of more than 21,000 departures the Monday after last year’s race.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon for KUT News

As Formula 1 events enthrall Austin this weekend, tech companies are taking note of the innovative tools racers use.  

Besides entertaining car lovers across the globe, the technology used to design and manufacture F1 vehicles has seeped out into broader use.  Materials like carbon fiber have gained in popularity within recent years. And one big emerging product – 3-D printing – has been a part of Formula 1 for well over a decade.

Judi Radice Hays

A version of this story first ran Nov. 16, 2012.

Formula One events begin today at the Circuit of the Americas track.

F1 doesn’t have a huge following in the U.S. – it’s only in its second year in Austin – and a lot of people may not know the first thing about the sport. Here's what we learned about the basics.

First things first: what is the “formula”?

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

This time last year, many local businesses were staffed up and overstocked.

In the weeks and months prior to its first Formula 1 Grand Prix, Austin prepared to host thousands of fans from around the globe.

With the sport attracting a coterie of high rollers, business expectations were high. The Austin Better Business Bureau even urged local businesses to consider accepting foreign currency.

For some, the event brought an increase in business. But for many vendors and retailers, the crowds never seemed to show up.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Update: Austin's second Formula 1 weekend has come and gone. Now comes the exodus of fans and visitors.

Read more here: Record Airport Travel Expected as Austin F1 Ends; Downtown Road Closures Persist (MAP)

Original story: It’s Grand Prix weekend in Austin, and that means tens of thousands of visitors coming to Central Texas. It also means a free downtown festival focused on racing activities, vintage vehicles and live music.

Austin Fan Fest starts today and runs through midnight every day, except Sunday when it ends at 8 p.m.

Road closures for the festival began Wednesday and will continue through Sunday. Street closures stretch from Congress Avenue to San Antonio Street and between Second and Fifth Streets.

If you ever wanted to ride an Formula 1 track in your own car, the Circuit of the Americas is now selling the opportunity. A full-day private track rental goes for $55,000. Group rates are available at $2,500 per person.

"Response has been strong with more than 250 people expressing interest within the first few days of offering the experience online," Circuit Executive Vice President Bruce Knox said in a press release. 

For a sport that caters to people who commute by helicopter and drop $10,000 on bottle service, it's probably not shocking to see a $55,000 price tag attached to a single day of entertainment. But how does it stack up against the competition? We poked around and found out.

Whirlybirds, eggbeaters, choppers — whatever you want to call them — helicopters brought some kind of ruckus over 2012’s Formula 1 weekend. And now a group is looking at what can make for a less turbulent 2013.

Over 265,000 attendees descended on the Formula 1 track over race weekend, according to the Circuit of the America's count. And as F1 attracts its fair share of uber-wealthy racing fans, many skipped ground transportation altogether in favor of helicopters.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Good morning. Don’t be scared by that bright stuff outside – it’s called sunshine, and you’re forgiven for forgetting it after this week’s rainy weather. The National Weather Service says Austin’s in for a mild day, with a high in the mid-60s.

Lead story: There are conflicting reports this morning on whether charges will be brought against two UT football players accused of sexually assaulting a woman in San Antonio last month.

In a statement yesterday, UT linebacker Jordan Hicks’ lawyer says the investigation is now closed and no charges will be filed in the matter. But a San Antonio Police spokesperson told KUT News yesterday that the investigation is still open.

Update: Here’s more details on the tax break the Circuit of the Americas may be able to capitalize on:  It’s called accelerated depreciation, and gives COTA a fast, seven-year write off on the value of their investment, which may have been as much as $400 million. 

COTA officials says they’re pleased to have the tax break, but say they did not lobby for it. “We did monitor the issue as it moved forward, but were not directly involved in pursuing the extension itself," says spokesperson Ali Putnam.

Circuit of the Americas

Austin’s inaugural Formula 1 race may be remembered less for what it was than what it wasn’t: the traffic-choking, city-closing snarl many residents feared it would be.

Argument over what financial role – if any – the city would play regarding F1 were largely left in the rearview mirror; in 2011, the Austin City Council approved an arrangement with track promoters that let them tap the state’s Major Events Trust Fund, without the city having to pay into the fund first.

Instead, questions over Austin’s F1 readiness dominated headlines in 2012.

The promoters behind Austin’s Formula 1 racetrack may tap a state trust fund for more than F1. The Austin City Council authorized the team at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) to act on the city’s behalf in negotiating payments from the state’s Major Events Trust Fund.

The payments would be for four upcoming races, with the first scheduled for this spring. COTA's promotions group just received more than $29 million from the trust fund to help pay for costs associated with putting on November’s F1 event.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

The Texas Comptroller has paid the organizers of Austin’s Formula 1 race more than $29 million from the state’s Major Events Trust Fund.

The trust fund uses tax revenues generated by an event to cover expenses related to the event.

“We pay them back $29.3 million because we’re saying, basically, that there’s been an incremental tax increase of $29.3 million so we’re going to let you have that money to pay you back for expenses that you had bringing the event here," Lauren Willis, director of communications for the Texas Comptroller, says.

F1 photo; Bevo photo

Update: Circuit of the Americas emails KUT News the following statement from COTA principal Bobby Epstein:

"Circuit of The Americas has expressed our strong preference for an alternate race date in 2013. We understand that setting a global calendar can be very challenging, involves many factors and is out of our control. We feel confident that Formula One has taken our concerns seriously and is working earnestly towards a collective solution. Ultimately, our 2013 race date may remain as it currently stands."

Original post (Nov. 20, 4:51 p.m.): If you thought it was crowded in Austin last weekend, just wait until next November.

Good Monday morning. Austin’s in for “unseasonably warm” weather today, according to the National Weather Service. Here’s some stories that KUT News is working on, this so-called “Cyber Monday:”

“Some Central Texans have already been hard at work since Thanksgiving evening taking advantage of “Black Friday” holiday shopping deals.  And for many of them, that means whipping out the credit cards over, and over, and over again. …

Some promise zero percent interest or thousands of rewards points, but with a catch buried in the fine print. compares credit cards offers. It has compiled a list of what it calls the ‘scariest’ offers of 2012.”

“When you hear the words “Texas Railroad Commission” you’d be forgiven for thinking the elected body governs railroads in the state of Texas. In fact, the Commission is in charge of regulating the state’s oil and gas industry. …

Not surprisingly, a lot of Texans don’t understand why the State agency that regulates the oil and gas drilling is called the Railroad Commission.  The name change is something Railroad Commission Chair Barry Smitherman says he can get behind.”

Good morning. Austin can expect partly cloudy skies and a seasonably warm high in the 80s, according to the National Weather Service. Here’s some stories KUT News has been working on:

“The Austin Chamber of Commerce is calling Austin’s first Formula 1 race a ‘smashing’ success.

While the chamber acknowledges that there will be some lessons learned and that some businesses didn’t get the crowds they’d hoped for, officials say it all went pretty smoothly.”

For many Austinites, Formula One meant road closures, traffic jams and roaring choppers. But for some local nonprofits, it also meant an uptick in donations.

The Boys and Girls Club of the Austin Area and Austin Partners in Education each walked away with $26,000 in donations from F1 weekend, thanks to an agreement between Circuit of the Americas andHotels for Hope, a local hotel broker that raises money for charities.”

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport expects about 21,800 people will fly out today. That's far more than this year's Austin City Limits Festival exodus (some 18,000 people on Oct. 15).

ABIA processed more than 9,000 passengers between 4 a.m. and 9 a.m. That’s about 3,700 more people than during that same period (actually 4 a.m. to 8 a.m.) last week.

To help with increased demand, airlines added seven flights and sent bigger planes to Austin, adding a total of more than 2,500 seats. Chartered flights included 747 and 767 jets.

The airport expects to stay busy all week as F1 fans continue to fly out and holiday travel begins.

Good morning. The National Weather Service says to expect some clouds and mild winds with a high in the mid 70s – decent weather for all the F1 fans flying out of Austin today. Here’s some stories, race related and not, that KUT News has been working on:

“Thousands of F1 fans are now headed to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Officials say today could be one of the busiest days ever at the airport. To help with increased demand, airlines added seven flights today and a total of more than 2,500 additional seats.”

Almost 83,000 people traveled to the Circuit of the Americas track in southeastern Travis County today to watch German driver Sebastian Vettel seize the pole position for Sunday’s Grand Prix. And while the track has received positive reviews, transportation to and from it was not without a few bumps in the road.”