Exclusive interview with New Jersey chief
27 August 2013 – With rumours continuing to circulate the paddock about the future of the proposed Grand Prix of America in New Jersey, GPUpdate.net spoke to race organiser Leo Hindery Jr. for an update on the present situation. After the upset of a postponement, hopes of joining the Formula 1 calendar in 2014 remain undeterred.
How has development been progressing for the Grand Prix this year?
We stumbled pretty badly; certainly we had hoped that we would be racing in 2013. We put some fairly high hurdles in front of us, the least of which was that we insisted that it be done only with private capital and no assistance from either the municipalities or the state. It’s something that I believe in strongly, but in a difficult financial market it became clear late last fall, really early in the winter that we would not make 2013.
With a lot of support and frankly more patience than Bernie Ecclestone needed to give us, we had several more months to get it back on-track. We know that with his blessing we now have a 15-year executed sanctioning agreement that will allow us to race some time each June. Were it not for similar support from the Tilke organisation, specifically Peter Wahl and no less from [FIA Race Director] Charlie Whiting, I think I’d be pulling out what little hair I have left!
There are obviously a lot of rumours being spread around the paddock at the moment. Are you confident with the position you currently find yourselves in?
Yeah, we are. We grew such just before [a meeting with media] at the Canadian Grand Prix this year. We didn’t go to Canada lightly and it was shortly before that we executed with FOM a 15-year agreement. And that was critical for us, because we’re not asking for municipal or state support. You can’t raise for a private endeavour without longevity and the sport has a history, from time to time, of giving short-term sanctioning agreements. So when we went up to Canada and said, ‘look, we’re back, we’re comfortable that we’ll be here,’ that was formally with this agreement in hand.
The only obstacles in front of us now are execution, they’re not structural. The course never changed its configuration from the time we first identified it. It’s been clearly and frequently vetted by Charlie and his colleagues on behalf of the teams. The support we’ve gotten early on from [Hermann] Tilke and Peter Wahl has really held things stable. It’s not exactly the budget that we anticipated back in 2011, 2012, but it’s stayed close enough that we’ve now been able to get them to again sign the agreement.
And in terms of the coming months, what will be the major challenges for you?
Nothing right now. I think if we’d have had this conversation a couple of months ago I would have suggested that we hadn’t yet made permanent the paddock and pits. But that’s now substantially along and about two thirds of that construction is behind us. The rest of it is a street course and that hasn’t changed. The permits and the approvals from the various regulatory authorities are all in hand, so I don’t see any impediment other than actual execution. We have 37 vendor contracts for everything from beverage to paving.
What’s good about the course is that half of it is along the river and the other half is across the top of what is called the Palisades, which are these glacial formed cliffs. There’s nobody living in the circumference of the course, and boy has that been a blessing! You contrast it with Singapore and Shanghai. It’s made it much easier because nobody has been inconvenienced and nobody will be inconvenienced by the course. Everybody who lives on the exterior could access his or her home as we’re racing the cars, let alone during this period when we’re doing some construction.
With the arrival of the Circuit of The Americas last year, do you see New Jersey playing a key role in strengthening America's place on the Formula 1 calendar?
I think you have to give credit to São Paulo, Montreal and our two. But in roughly the same time zone you’re going to get four races with prominent television viewing and consistent time frames. All of them are very different and are a lot of fun to visit. If you’re a tourist from any part of the world, particularly Europe, it’s an easy flight over here and you can do Montreal and our race. And then Austin is a fun and funky town with a very different layout. I talked to the guys who run Montreal and Austin, and they feel that it’s a plus and not a negative to have two, three or four in the Americas.
I imagine a youngster such as Alexander Rossi graduating would be a boost...
The one thing we’re obviously missing is that we don’t have a young American driver in the sport. Either Rossi (21) or Derek Daly’s son, Conor (21). I haven’t seen one better than Rossi or Daly yet. It’d be fun if we had two, three or four on the edge.
As a whole, New Jersey holds the potential to be a season highlight, doesn't it?
When Sebastian Vettel drove the course, which was easy to do because it’s pretty well laid out, he said without any prompting from myself or my colleagues that it races like Spa and feels like Monte-Carlo. I think Charlie, Seb and others will tell you that we probably have one of the most entertaining courses. We’ve got 19 turns, 3.2 miles, lots of passing zones and a tremendous elevation change both up and down.
But when you come to these things [Formula 1 events], the race is the last thing you do. You show up in the area ideally several days in advance and enjoy the hospitality. New York is one heck of a fun place to be entertained and to entertain yourself.