By Jim Vertuno
AP Sports Writer
AUSTIN, Texas — The U.S. Grand Prix will run in 2016 after months of speculation that its financial struggles could scuttle Formula One’s only race in the United States.
Circuit of the Americas President Bobby Epstein said race officials had paid Formula One its rights fee last week.
“We’re excited,” Epstein said Wednesday. “I’m proud of our team and those who stuck with us up to this point.”
Epstein said he got a “good job” message from Formula One commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone, who had predicted the Oct. 23 race would run but gave no wiggle room to track officials to meet their financial obligations.
Epstein also the “subject to confirmation” asterisk next to the race on the official Formula One calendar should be removed soon.
Losing the race would have been a blow to Formula One’s efforts to expand in the American market. Formula One didn’t race in the U.S. from 2008-2011 and its return to a specialized facility was seen as a major move to gain a long-term foothold in a country where NASCAR is the most popular motor series by far. And the 2016 season will include Haas F1, the first American-led team on the grid in 30 years.
The race has enjoyed a prominent late-season place on the Formula One calendar, which has made it an important stop in the season championship.
“As an American team, it’s very important to have a race on home soil. It helps cultivate a fan base that not only follows Haas F1 Team, but Formula One as a whole,” said Haas F1 Team Principal Guenther Steiner.
Epstein declined to disclose how much the track paid Ecclestone and F1, but money has been the root of the track’s struggles to keep the race afloat.
Severe weather and flooding swamped the 2015 race weekend and all but wiped out attendance at the race where Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton clinched his third consecutive championship. And soon after the race, state officials had more bad news.
Track officials expected up to $25 million per year for 10 years from the state’s Major Events Trust Fund, public money spent largely to pay Formula One’s rights fees. But that money was cut by nearly $6 million last year when the fund was put under control of Gov. Greg Abbott’s office and state officials tweaked the formulas used to calculate reimbursement.
Epstein said track officials determined they could meet the state’s new guidelines for reimbursement in order to recover the entire $25 million. And the track recently got a significant local tax break on its property value.
“It was in pretty great jeopardy for the first 60 days after the last (race),” Epstein told The Associated Press. “We had major obstacles to clear and it took clearing all of those to get us to today.”
The track also booked a race weekend concert by pop superstar Taylor Swift, which Epstein said should draw even more fans.
“We’re investing in our future to bring new fans out,” Epstein said.
And to lure back fans scared away by last year’s rain, the track is offering ticket holders a 105 percent refund if it rains 2 inches or more in the 24 hours before the race.
Epstein said track officials are confident they can make the race financially viable “for a long time.”
“We think that this year’s event will restore funding to the level we need. If we’re wrong, it’s a bad miscalculation and I can’t assure you it’s going to go forward,” Epstein said.