Battle to extend racetrack tax breaks heats up again

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The oftentimes controversial subject of tax breaks to U.S. auto racetracks is once again in the news.

According to a report by The Hill.com, racetrack owners are back on the defensive about revenue-saving tax breaks that, while helping out many smaller tracks, are viewed by some legislators as unfair and unnecessary.

The so-called Motorsports Tax Break, which has been in effect since 2004, allows track owners a variety of breaks, including a shorter depreciation schedule upon things such as major equipment purchases and significant facility improvements.

Much of those types of tax breaks expired at the end of last year when Congress failed to pass an extension. The issue is back in the forefront of legislators, who are increasingly butting heads with fellow politicians who want to do away with the break, also known as “the extender.”

That’s why most motorsports series – including NASCAR, IndyCar, NHRA and IMSA – are reportedly stepping up lobbying efforts to get Congress to reconsider and extend the tax break.

“It’s an asterisk in the extenders, yet it gets all this attention, mischaracterized,” International Speedway Corporation president John Saunders told TheHill.com.

Some of the motorsports-related tax breaks, as well as others for disparate entities such as Puerto Rican rum production and thoroughbred horse racing, are expected to be at least partly restored by year’s end, according to TheHill’s Bernie Becker.

But tax breaks aren’t just for major companies such as ISC, Speedway Motorsports Inc. and others. Small standalone racetracks and drag strips also receive tax benefits due to the nature of their businesses, many which are predicated upon things out of their control such as weather.

Many of those same tracks – it’s estimated there’s about 1,200 in the U.S. – can write off improvement costs over as much as seven years. In turn, that allows them to make even further improvements to their facilities to keep them technologically advanced and competitive with other similar tracks in their respective regions.

The U.S. Senate is preparing to float a proposal that would further extend the existing write-off schedule for another two years. There is also an option to extend the breaks for a decade at a cost of roughly $71 million, part of a larger $85 billion package to restore numerous other tax breaks to various industries that have also expired, according to TheHill.com.

Two members of Congressional tax-writing committees – Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) – are seeking to make permanent the tax breaks for racetracks.

Stabenow told TheHill.com that Michigan International Speedway produces over $400 million annually in economic impact to the surrounding region and state.

“It’s a matter of just talking about how this is an economic engine for many communities around the country,” Stabenow said.

Michigan Republican and U.S. representative Dave Camp, who is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is mixed in his viewpoint on the tax breaks. He has lobbied fellow Congressmen in recent months to either reinstate the temporary tax breaks or do away with them completely.

Curiously enough, however, Camp has not indicated that he would like to make the temporary tax breaks permanent.

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Berlin Formula E race gets new layout at Tempelhof Airport

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Formula E has confirmed that June’s Berlin ePrix at Tempelhof Airport will use a revised layout to the one run in its first season.

Made famous for its role during the Berlin Airlift in the early Cold War years, Tempelhof Airport closed in 2008 and was turned into a public park, becoming the location for Formula E’s first visit to Germany in 2015.

The recent refugee crisis saw Tempelhof be turned into a temporary camp, forcing Formula E to move to the city center for season two.

Government officials in Berlin announced earlier this year that Formula E would not be able to return to the Alexanderplatz region for 2017, with the all-electric series opting to return to Tempelhof.

The series has now confirmed that it will race with a revised layout at the airport for the upcoming double-header in order to reflect the faster nature of the cars used in season three compared to the season one runners.

For us as a German team with German partners, and me as a German driver, it is great news that we will have two home races this season,” ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport’s Daniel Abt said.

“It’s no secret that I loved the track around Karl-Marx-Allee a lot. But now that I have seen the new Tempelhof layout, I can’t wait to get there. The fans will love the unique setting that brings everyone so close to the action and us drivers.

“The track is perfect for great racing and a lot of overtaking. I’m looking forward to meeting my home crowd. We will put on a great 48-hour Formula E party for the fans in Berlin.”

The Berlin ePrix takes place on June 10-11.

Lewis Hamilton: F1 needs Fernando Alonso competing in a quick car

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Three-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton says the sport needs Fernando Alonso to be racing in a competitive car so that the Spaniard can show his quality and fight for race wins again.

Alonso won world titles in 2005 and 2006, but is yet to add a third to his collection despite being in contention for the drivers’ crown at the final race in 2007, 2010 and 2012.

Since joining McLaren in 2015, Alonso has been mired in F1’s midfield amid ongoing issues with the team’s Honda power unit, preventing him from even finishing on the podium in that period.

2017 looks poised to offer one of the closest title fights in recent years between Mercedes driver Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, the latter winning the opening race of the year in Australia.

Speaking about the prospect of a close title fight with Vettel, Hamilton said he relished the idea, but wants to see Alonso battling at the front once again as well.

“I think the fans want to see that but even between all of us. We need [Fernando] to have a good car so he can get up there and fight with us as well, before his time’s up,” Hamilton said.

“We got a hint that it’s another couple of years at least, so that’s good. I feel we’re yet to see the best of Fernando. The sport needs that and he deserves to be able to show that.

“You want to be racing against the best. I think that’s what the fans want to see. That close racing and sheer competitiveness and see the ups and downs of the best doing their best.

“I’m definitely looking forward to racing with all these guys and I hope there’s lots of close racing.”

Alonso and Hamilton were last in contention for a championship together in 2012, when they raced for Ferrari and McLaren respectively, only for Vettel to clinch a third crown with Red Bull.

Honda teams to test at Sonoma Raceway on April 4

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Honda’s Verizon IndyCar Series teams are set visit Sonoma Raceway on April 4 for an all-day test session for the manufacturer.

Andretti Autosport (Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, and Takuma Sato), Chip Ganassi Racing (Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball, and Max Chilton), Dale Coyne Racing (Sebastian Bourdais and Ed Jones), Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin), and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (Graham Rahal) are all scheduled to run. Of that group, Kanaan, Andretti, and Dixon are former winners at Sonoma Raceway.

The Sonoma test follows Honda’s March 24 test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. However, Team Penske also scheduled a team test at the 2.5-mile oval on the same day, forcing Honda to share the track with their rival manufacturer.

However, no such conflict appears to be in play on Saturday. The test will be open to the public as well with free admission into the facility. Testing will run from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. local time.

Justin Timberlake to play this year’s U.S. Grand Prix at COTA

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Taylor Swift playing last year’s U.S. Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin was always going to be a hard act to match, or perhaps top.

Yet COTA has pulled it off with confirmation Wednesday that Justin Timberlake will be playing on the Saturday before this year’s race, on October 21.

Timberlake will play at the conclusion of track activity on Saturday for a full show. Tickets go on sale this Friday at 10 a.m. CT, with more info via COTA’s website. Here’s the pertinent details:

  • The concert will take place at COTA’s Super Stage Festival Lawn, not Austin360 Amphitheater
  • Seating is general admission, first come first served
  • All holders of a Saturday ticket for USGP weekend, including the 3-day GA wristband, will have access to the show

Circuit of The Americas announced a crowd of more than 80,000 last year for T-Swift, for her first and only planned concert of the year.

Timberlake is on par from a stratospheric level as Swift is. And half the draw of the COTA weekend, it seems, is ensuring you can get concertgoers to the track as well.

This should make for a fun end-of-day on Saturday.