Trouble at COTA? Texas newspaper claims $250 million in state funds may be in jeopardy

San Antonio Express-News suggests Circuit of the Americas may not have been in compliance with request for aid.

Trouble at COTA? Texas newspaper claims $250 million in state funds may be in jeopardy
Bobby Epstein, US GP promoter
Bernie Ecclestone and Tavo Hellmund, Texas Grand Prix promoter
(L to R): Alexander Rossi, Marussia F1 Team Reserve Driver with Mario Andretti, Circuit of The Americas' Official Ambassador
Circuit of the Americas atmosphere
David Coulthard drives the Red Bull F1 car on the Circuit of the Americas in construction
Construction of the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, home of United States Grand Prix starting in 2012
Circuit of The Americas, United States GP

A story posted on the San Antonio Express-News website suggests that money being paid to the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, from a Texas state fund designed to encourage the attraction of major sporting events, may be in jeopardy.

The article, titled “$250M in state funding for F1 track in question,” discusses how COTA was always intended to benefit from the Major Events Trust Fund, established to attract Superbowl-type events to Texas.

That Formula One and the track that hosts it would be eligible has always been a controversial topic with critics of the administration, both in Austin and outside the state capitol. But the problem cited in the Express-News story appears to be a technicality-based argument that claims, in essence, that the proper legal application for the money – which includes data supplied to and by Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone – may not have been in compliance with Texas regulations.

The story quotes Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson as saying: “The process was botched from the beginning ... it was clear then and it’s even clearer now, the statute was not complied with.”

An attorney for the state comptroller’s office, which is most directly responsible for administering the funds, said that even if a proper written application was not made, it is possible that “the application to Formula One Management Limited was oral, not written, so that a public information request would not elicit a copy,” which would seem to raise a whole new area of concern, if paperwork is not required for portions of a request that could result in millions of taxpayer dollars spent.

No luck with interview requests

The story said that neither Ecclestone, nor Bobby Epstein, head of COTA, has responded to requests for interviews. The track’s public relations officer resigned in June, and her replacement resigned in September, so Motorsport.com hasn’t been able to contact the track for a statement. Motorsport.com did contact Tavo Hellmund, who created and developed the project until he departed following disagreements with Epstein and other investors, but he declined to comment.

The $250 million mentioned in the story’s headlines is what could be paid by the state over a 10-year-period. Reportedly COTA has received at least $60 million from the Special Events Trust Fund, and from a separate fund for smaller events. COTA has the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship and World Endurance Championship races next weekend, SVRA vintage races October 10-12, and Formula One returns on November 2.

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