Faster, better, smarter.
The mantra is oft-repeated in operations meetings for the Grand Prix of America at Port Imperial. With a planned Formula 1 World Championship race in Weehawken and West New York, N.J., in June 2013, everyone involved knows the challenge of creating a major international event. Dennis Robinson, chief operations officer, was part of the team that attracted the 2014 Super Bowl to New Jersey. Now he's building a bigger event.
“The scope is huge,” he acknowledges. “This is like a three-day Super Bowl weekend, but with more people. The 2014 Super Bowl will host 80,000 people. Here in New Jersey, we're going to have more than 100,000 for the race. From an operations standpoint, it is huge and significantly larger than most events that we've had in this country.”
The challenge increases with the location. The Super Bowl will be in a stadium, with permanent facilities and a big parking lot. The Grand Prix of America will run on a temporary circuit along the Hudson River, with the skyline of New York City as a stunning backdrop. With no room for parking onsite, spectators will arrive on a carefully choreographed transit system.
A 3.2-mile racetrack would seemingly have lots of space, but the New Jersey circuit will be built around a cliff. The same element that gives it a breathtaking 160 feet of elevation change also limits the space available for team garages, hospitality suites, grandstands and concessions.
“Instead of building a facility where we design it to our specific operational needs, here it's just the opposite,” Robinson notes. “We have to figure out how to make the best of an existing infrastructure and environmental conditions that we can't control or modify. We have constraints we wouldn't have in a fixed facility. We can't move the cliff. We can't move the waterway. So we have to be creative.”
Robinson has several strategies to make it happen. First, contracting the right people.
“It's critical to bring in expert partners who are experienced in putting up 100,000 grandstand seats in two weeks because they've done it time and time again. We don't want to be teaching people as we put this event together,” he said. “I try to find people who have more expertise in a particular function than I have. When you have that level of expertise on a team, 95 percent of the time you're going to make the right decisions.
“To be a part of the team, you have to have a certain personality, a team approach, a certain work ethic. You have to be able to get along with people, have a sense of humor and be able to handle pressure. It's no different than building a sports team where you need great players in every position. We're building an operations team with great position players. With their collective expertise, we'll have a world-class team to deliver a world-class event.”
The second strategy is to work fast.
“You assume you're late,” stresses Robinson (LEFT). “It's instantaneous decision-making, high expectations for vendors to turn things around quickly, holding people to due dates and taking every advantage to cut time out of the process. We have to move every decision toward a quicker resolution and find a way to do it faster, better, smarter.”
Communication is the final key. The major contractors involved in the Grand Prix of America work from the same office on the track site. They meet weekly to discuss every element of the program, but chats around the water cooler are even more important. Robinson believes the mix of formal and informal communication will ensure everyone has the information they need to create a cohesive event.
Even so, the mass of detail is sobering. Robinson and his team will accredit 10,000 people for race day, including event staff, vendors and media. More than 200 companies will participate in the event, from concessions to merchandise. The 100,000 spectators will arrive and depart on an intricate schedule using 50 ferries and more than 400 buses.
Unlike typical Formula 1 races, the Grand Prix of America is privately financed. It will not draw any government funding, but it has received enthusiastic support from all levels of local government.
“The governor's commitment to this event set the standard for the state agencies, the local mayors and their employees, and the county government,” Robinson says. “The support and cooperation of Roseland Property Company, the towns, state agencies, developers, public safety agencies and transportation agencies has been excellent, and that's a huge advantage. Everybody wants to make this work.
“This whole tri-state region [New York, New Jersey and Connecticut] is one big economy. Whether it's an event at Met Life Stadium or a Broadway show, it all works together in a very powerful way. This is the world's greatest stage, so it's great for New Jersey and it's great for the region.”
It all comes together next June, when the cars and stars of the F1 World Championship take to the streets of New Jersey. For more information about the event, visit www.gpamerica.com.