Two-time Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard entertained a packed house of guests and Circuit of The Americas, state and city officials while serving as guest speaker for "The Starting Grid," the official kick-off luncheon for the 2012 Formula 1 United States Grand Prix at the Downtown Hilton Hotel in Austin, Texas.
Howard shared the behind-the-scenes story of his new epic-action drama, Rush. The film, set for release in September 2013, tells the real-life story of Formula 1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda, whose clashes on the racetrack epitomized the contrast between two extraordinary characters, a distinction also reflected in their personal lives.
Howard shared a four-minute video vignette with guests attending the preview luncheon for the Nov. 16-18 USGP at Circuit of The Americas outside Austin. The esteemed film maker, who spent many months working to recreate Formula 1 racing as it was experienced during the sexy, glamorous 1970s, explained how immersing himself in F1's history and culture turned him into a fan of the world's most prestigious motorsport.
“These machines are works of art,” Howard said as he referenced a Ferrari F1 racecar displayed on the stage next to him. “Formula 1 melds state-of-the-art technology with incredible displays of bravery, courage and camaraderie among drivers and their teams. There's a real will to win and become champions, and F1's a fantastic, modern sport because of that team spirit.”
Howard referenced some of the lessons he'd learned through his many years as a performer and film maker, while complimenting the state of Texas and city of Austin for embracing a Formula 1 event despite the series' relatively low-profile among U.S. sports fans – something he thinks a new world-class racing circuit will change.
Guests also heard from Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Circuit of The Americas' founding partners Red McCombs and Bobby Epstein. The latter told the Austin Statesman newspaper, which organized the luncheon, that the full cost for building the track was $450 million – more than twice the original estimated cost of $200m – but he insisted that the expense was justified. Epstein said $350 million had been spent directly in Central Texas, with the largest portion going to laborers.
Epstein also remains confident that the track makes economic sense, explaining his logic as simple math: If 75,000 people attend the F1 race weekend and spend $3,000 per person during a four- or five-day stay, that would add up to $225 million.
“Three thousand a person is nothing,” Epstein told the Statesman, pointing to the high price of area hotel rooms during race weekend. He added that COTA's management is looking at long-term financial progress.
“We'll define our success not by this year, but whether this year's visitors come back,” Epstein said. “And if we really knock it out, they'll bring a friend.”