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Motorsports Venues - USGP Advance Austin

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AUSTIN, Nov. 12, 2012: The greatest driver in American racing history will be rubbing his hands with glee when the Circuit of The Americas and the FORMULA 1 UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX open the door to America’s racing future Nov. 16-18.

The 2012 FIA Formula 1™ World Championship race has come down to a straight fight between Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull and Fernando Alonso of Ferrari, the team for which Mario Andretti won first time out in South Africa in 1971. But the last Formula 1 race before the caravan packed its 747s for Austin—the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix—was won by Kimi Raikkonen in a Lotus, the great name with which Mario won all 11 of his other Grand Prix victories in a 128-race Formula 1 career crowned by the 1978 Drivers’ World Championship. The last of those victories, in Holland in 1978, was also the last occasion on which an American stood on the top step of a Grand Prix podium.

How would Mario Andretti account for that statistic? “Well, America is quite different than the rest of the world in the way of professional motor racing,” Andretti said recently. “You could have a comfortable and satisfying career by never leaving this country. What’s missing is the desire to try F1.” That desire was programmed into the young Mario Andretti before he even saw these shores.

Of all America’s F1 hopefuls—and there have been a great many—Andretti is the one whose achievements matched and even went beyond his initial aspirations. Yet Andretti originally believed that leaving his native Italy, which he did when aged 15, was the end of all his racing hopes. A fan of the great Alberto Ascari, the F1 World Champion in 1952 and 1953, Andretti felt that F1 was unknown in America. The World Championship had made the symbolic gesture of including the Indianapolis 500 in its first 11 seasons from 1950 through 1960, but F1 remained a foreign concept in more ways than one.

Then along came the Piano Man. Phil Hill, that is, a Santa Monica, Calif. native who would become the first American world champion in Formula 1. A lifelong lover of music, Hill, who passed away in 2008, took as much joy from collecting pianos in retirement as from his restoration of classic race cars. While Johnny Parsons’ victory at Indianapolis in 1950 made him the first American to win a World Championship event, Phil Hill was the first American to win a World Championship Grand Prix. It happened at Monza, Italy, on Sept. 4, 1960, and it happened at the wheel of a Ferrari.

Just one year and six days later at the same circuit Hill won again, and with that victory—the third and last of his F1 career—he sealed the world title. His celebrations, though, were cut short when Ferrari teammate Wolfgang von Trips was one of 15 people killed when his car left the track and ploughed into the crowd. In the 17 years that separated Hill’s crown from Andretti’s in 1978, the standout American driver was Dan Gurney.

“Tall Dan,” another California native, earned his own place in history as the first American to win a World Championship Grand Prix in a car of his own making, the beautiful Eagle-Weslake with which he triumphed at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium in 1967.

It took more than a decade for another American to reach the summit of Formula 1, and that American, of course, was Mario Andretti. Unlike the youngsters striving to make an international name for themselves these days, Andretti’s achievements in the United States propelled him straight to the top of the F1 tree.

“That’s one thing that always worked for me,” he says. “I was very fortunate that when I did Formula 1 I did it with Lotus, I did it with Ferrari. I did it with top teams. Even if I did it on a part-time basis, I was still with a team that was capable of winning, and that makes all the difference in the world.” What also makes a difference is a place where people can see the best in the world in action.

Andretti believes the Circuit of The Americas will be a catalyst in America’s search for the next Mario Andretti. “America did not have until now a permanent facility that was up to world standard for Formula 1,” says the man who was first—in a Lotus—to turn a racing wheel on the full 3.4-mile, Hermann Tilke-designed Texas track. “This is what was needed. Now we can compete with the rest of the world and some of those new venues that have gone up in the last few years in the Middle East and Asia.

That’s the ingredient that was sadly missing here in the United States.” Andretti’s excitement redoubled when he got to grips with the course itself. “It’s purpose-built, properly, by known standards, it’s got great features, elevation – drivers like that – and a nice, long lap with 20 corners,” he said. “It’s got everything that’s needed to make it interesting, and a lot of attention was paid to great viewing as well – there isn’t a bad seat in the house!” Both as a circuit and as a breeding ground for America’s next generation of racing talent, Austin plans to provide American fans with a new generation of local heroes to set alongside remembered favorites like Hill, Gurney and Andretti.