Formula One, the world's most popular motorsport, is trying once again to conquer its final frontier: the United States. This time, the Europeans aim to make it stick.
The glitzy sport with ultra-fast cars and a flair for the exotic is in Austin, Texas, today with a gleaming new track, a down-to-the-wire championship race and hope that it can grab the attention of American race fans who rarely look up from the NASCAR standings.
The U.S. Grand Prix makes its return today after a five-year absence at the $400 million Circuit of the Americas, a course built expressly for F1.
"This is what was needed," said Mario Andretti, the F1 champion in 1978. "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."
Austin is the 10th American city to host F1 since the first U.S. Grand Prix in Sebring, Fla., in 1959, but it has never stuck.
Austin seems an odd choice after tries failed in such open-wheel havens as Long Beach, Las Vegas and Indianapolis. Austin hardly fits in with the other cosmopolitan F1 hosts like Melbourne, Shanghai or Singapore. Earlier this month, Austin mayor Lee Leffingwell joked that Austin hosting F1 was "sort of like Mayberry having the Super Bowl."
The U.S. Grand Prix achieved its mandatory goal of getting the track built, but the challenge will be how to keep drawing fans.
Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel secured the pole position for the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, putting him in the perfect spot to chase his third consecutive world championship. Driving on the new $400 million Circuit of the Americas, Vettel dominated three practice sessions before securing the pole Saturday with a blistering round of qualifying. Vettel claimed the spot with a time of 1:35.657. Ferrari's Fernando Alonso will start eighth today after running 1.643 seconds slower than Vettel. Alonso trails Vettel by 10 points in the drivers' championship.
Kurt Busch is down to his last chance to win a race for the 11th consecutive year in today's Sprint Cup season finale in Homestead, Fla. His 10-year streak is tied for the 12th longest all time. ... Richard Petty Motorsports re-signed drivers Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola for the 2013 season.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is the sixth driver to win consecutive championships in NASCAR's second-tier Series. Stenhouse finished sixth Saturday in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, edging Elliott Sadler for the title. Regan Smith won the 400-mile race. Kyle Busch was second.