Austin COTA racetrack saga continues—Hellmund files lawsuit against former track partners

2013 MotoGP COTA event now further in limbo as founder of Austin F1 concept files lawsuit seeking backpay in addition to other demands

The internal squabble between the principal investors in the Austin F1 USGP and the under-construction Circuit of the Americas, and the promoter who originally brought everything together to get the whole project rolling has apparently begun to boil over. Tavo Hellmund, the racing promoter credited with envisioning and then creating the framework for the Austin F1 race through his contacts within the racing industry—including F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone—has filed suit against his former financial partners in the Austin venture, specifically Texas billionaire Red McCombs and investment manager Robert Epstein, the men responsible for raising the very significant funds necessary for building the sprawling COTA facility, now estimated to cost between $300 million to $350 million.

Hellmund's lawsuit contends that his work of "more than 20 years" through his longstanding motorsports contacts that enabled him to land a contract for a Formula One race in the Austin area (in addition to MotoGP and Australian V8 Supercars races in 2013), was pulled out from under him via "an improper and unlawful takeover" by McCombs/Epstein "withholding…promised funding." The suit states that Hellmund offered McCombs and Epstein 75 percent of the venture in exchange for financial backing, but when they failed to pay Ecclestone the required $23 million fee for the original F1 race contract in September of last year, that contract Hellmund negotiated was cancelled (this theoretically put McCombs and Epstein in the driver's seat for a new contract that wouldn't include Hellmund…but it ended up resulting in a protracted stalemate with Ecclestone, who is a longtime friend of Hellmund's, that was only saved at the last second).

Hellmund claims to still hold 20.58 percent of the organization (the balance of his remaining 25 percent was reportedly forfeited when “Epstein/McCombs refused to pay the [COTA] circuit’s architect”, well-known F1 track design company Tilke), and that he was to be paid an annual salary of $500,000, which dried up starting in September 2011 when this saga apparently started. Hellmund’s suit asks for an open audit of the COTA organization’s books, in addition to other demands that include monetary damages that had no figure included. The suit does not seek to halt the F1 race slated for November 18.

Again, the significance of this brouhaha in Texas is that Hellmund still holds the MotoGP contract that was announced with much fanfare back in April 2011. Thus with this latest move, unless he signs it over to COTA or someone else in much more favor with current COTA management, the chances of the 2013 debut of MotoGP in Austin are pretty darn slim.