Formula 1 Race: Austin, Texas, Welcomes Inaugural US Grand Prix

Formula 1 is among the most viewed sports on the planet, but not in the U.S.

November 16, 2012, 2:18 PM

Nov. 17, 2012 — -- Millions around the world are focusing their attention on the U.S. this week.

No, it has nothing to do with the recent presidential election. What's got millions around the globe glued to their seats is the inaugural U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, which will occur on Sunday.

The Circuit of the Americas was built over the past year for a price tag of roughly $400 million.

Julie Loignon, a vice president for the 120,000-person-capacity track said Friday that the event was sold out.

Austin has really thrown out the welcome mat for the fans and the 24 drivers that will make up the grid, even increasing the speed limit to 85 mph on some highways just in time for the race.

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Fans are pouring in from all over -- Austria, Italy and the United Kingdom, just for starters. But it's the enthusiasm from "George," an Austin local, that might be most important in ensuring the race's long-term heath.

The grand prix was threatened when some Texans objected to the hefty price tag, but that doesn't bother George.

"After two years, we'll make back all that money in tourism, and more," he said.

Formula 1 racing is among the most popular sports on the planet by television viewership, with some claiming it is second only to soccer.

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The rabid fans are attracted by the cars, which are the most technologically advanced in the world. They have V8 engines that scream at 18,000 rpms and, literally, shake your insides as they fly by.

But while Formula 1 is extremely popular overseas, it has never done that well in the world's No. 1 market. There are no U.S. drivers in the sport (the closest is Sergio Perez, from Mexico), and the FIA, Formula 1's governing body, has often seemed indifferent to the fans here.

Formula 1 last raced in America at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2007, but it's what happened the year before that that did lasting damage to the sport's image. After a problem with the tires used by most of the teams, only six cars started the race.

The management of Formula 1 seems to have a greater commitment to America this time around.

It's even planning a second U.S. Grand Prix on the streets of New Jersey in 2014. The track ownership in Austin signed a 10-year contract, proving a commitment to make Formula 1 a success deep in the heart of Texas.

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