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START YOUR ENGINES Circuit of the Americas preview party revs up Houstonians for Formula One racing

06.21.12 | 01:51 pm

Houston’s social set turned out in full force at the River Oaks home of Mica Mosbacher Wednesday night to learn more about the new Circuit of the Americas race track, which debuts near Austin in mid-November with a major Formula One race. While not everyone was familiar with the in’s and out’s of F1 racing, a bunch of hands went up when the evening’s co-host, John McCutchen, asked how many had been to Monaco for the annual Grand Prix race.

“Luxury and excitement is what it’s all about,” McCutchen told CultureMap about F1 racing. “It goes to the most glamorous places in the world, with the most glamous people and the most glamorous cars, with top level motor sports in terms of the drivers and the highest techonology. Put that all together in one small show, it makes one night in Hollywood just look pale in comparison.”

“Luxury and excitement is what it’s all about,” McCutchen told CultureMap about F1 racing.

Mosbacher, her brother, McCutchen, and his wife, Karen Garrett, organized the evening because they are big racing enthusiasts. McCutchen races in the Grand-Am circuit to benefitThe Texas Heart Institute. Garrett started the nonprofitGodstone Ranch Motorsports to promote racing as a way to raise funds and get the word out about ways to prevent heart disease.

“Right now there are races in every place but Texas. It will become our home track. It will be our home court advantage, so we want to support the track and ensure its success,” McCutchen said. “We can’t wait until November.”

Mosbacher had to miss the event because she is recovering from emergency gall bladder surgery in Austin. But she orchestrated the affair from her hospital bed, with the help of The Event Co.‘s Richard Flowersin Houston. The party had a Mexican fiesta theme, as mariachis greeted guests and a full buffet of fajitas, quail, shrimp wrapped in bacon, queso and guacamole from Cadillac Bar was served.

“Friends and family sent me twit pics all evening so I felt like I was there,” Mosbacher told CultureMap by email on Thursday.

Circuit of the Americas vice president of sales Todd Fleming took guests on a virtual tour of the 3.4 mile track, which is being constructed on 1,100 acres about 11 miles south of downtown Austin. He pointed out the challenging aspects of the track, which incorporates the hilly terrain of central Texas into the layout and is one of only six in the world that will run counter-clockwise, with nine right-hand turns and 11 left-hand turns, where cars will enter at speeds approaching 180 miles per hour.

“For Formula 1, it’s only 59 laps. It’s unlike NASCAR and Indy, which have 250 or 500 laps as the normal scenario. Fifty-nine laps is about an hour and 45 minute race. It’s very clean; it’s very efficient; very exciting to see the speed and the technology up close,” Fleming said.

Houston audiences are essential to the tracks success. “There’s a huge motor sports fan base here,” Fleming said. “It’s one of the most important markets for entire project, certainly.”

Besides the big F1 race on Nov. 18, the track will host a series of other races, including the V8 Supercars Championship Series(a touring car racing series with a rabid fan base in Australia that travels the world). Circuit of the Americas will also include a 16,000- to 20,000-seat amphitheater, modeled after the Hollywood Bowl, for big concerts, and a convention center-type facility for weddings, graduations and business events.

Co-hosts Michael Mithoff and Elizabeth and Gary Petersen welcomed a slew of guests, including Joanne King Herring, Parker Posey, Margaret Alkek Wlliams, Dominique Sachse and Nick Florsceu, Shannon HallSusan GlesbyLiz and Tom GlanvilleSuzan Deison,Edward Sanchez and Enid Sanchez, and Don Pierce, general manager of Ferrari Houston/Austin. Ferrari provided a GT race car bearing the American Heart association logo for the Godstone team at the F1 Expo in Austin last weekend.

Michael Mithoff, a huge F1 fan, was solo as his wife, Melissa is in Europe on a vacation with the couple’s daughter. He said his love for the sport came from his grandfather, now deceased, and recalled how he traveled overseas with his father, Richard Mithoff, and grandfather to watch several races. He and his family plan to be at the Circuit of the Americas track for the big race. “It’s good for Austin; it’s good for Texas,” he said. “It should be fun.”

A large COTA contingent, led by sales managers Nick Gebru and Ben Calhoune, were on hand to answer questions about the new track. Fleming told CultureMap that Houston audiences are essential to its success. “There’s a huge motor sports fan base here,” he said. “It’s one of the most important markets for the entire project, certainly.”

And he promised that Texans will be exposed to a Super Bowl-sized event Nov. 16-18, with parties, fashion shows, product launches and music events leading up to the big race, which is expected to draw 125,000 attendees and millions of viewers worldwide. Flemings estimates that 600 million viewers will watch the 20 Formula One races around the world this year.

“So put that in perspective. It’s the most affluent, the most viewed, the most popular sport in the world and it’s going to be in Texas. We’re excited about that.”

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