Circuit of the Americas will remain on F1 schedule through 2026 season in 5-year deal

F1 Circuit Americas extension
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AUSTIN. Texas — Formula 1 announced a new five-year contract extension with the Circuit of the Americas to keep the United States Grand Prix at the Texas track through the 2026 F1 season.

The 2022 U.S. Grand Prix is scheduled Oct. 23 and has been on F1’s official calendar without a formal contract. The track’s original 10-year deal expired with the 2021 race, which drew more than 300,000 fans.

“It says our first decade went really well and all sides want to see it keep going,” track president Bobby Epstein said of the new contract. “Everyone seems to be excited about the future … Our commitment in building this place was a long-term commitment to the sport.”

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The contract also keeps at least two F1 races in the U.S. through 2026. The Miami Grand Prix starts a 10-year race contract in May. Montreal in June and Mexico City in October round out the series’ four races in North America.

“There’s more than enough demand and interest to support a lot more growth of Formula 1 in the U.S. Being the permanent circuit that is solely dedicated to racing, this will always be the home of the United States Grand Prix,” Epstein said.

F1 president and chief executive Stefano Domenicali hailed Austin as well as the growing popularity of the sport in the U.S.

“Austin is a great city, and the track is a favorite for all the drivers, and we cannot wait to be back in October for more action and entertainment,” he said in the announcement.

The track carved out of rolling scrub land a few miles outside of the Texas capital was the first purpose-built F1 track in the U.S. The original race contract brought the global series back to the U.S. after five years away, and the venue quickly established itself as a favorite among teams and drivers.

Its late-season position on the calendar also had the Austin race playing a major factor in deciding the season championship. Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton clinched his 2015 and 2019 championships in Austin.

The Texas race has been supported by more than $200 million in public funds. State law allows race organizers to apply from the Texas Major Events Reimbursement Program to help pay F1’s annual rights fee. That fee was $35 million in 2021, according to state records.

Epstein said he didn’t ask for a 10-year deal as the original but said he believes the Austin track could host F1 for another 25 years.

“This will remain and only get stronger,” Epstein said. “We have tradition now.”

The track also recently finished a project to resurface about 70 percent of the 3.4-mile course. The MotoGP motorcycle series has raced the Grand Prix of the Americas there since 2013, but riders have complained for years that bumps in the track caused by soft soil underneath made it dangerous.

The April 10 race is the last in the current contract with MotoGP. Epstein said the series likely wouldn’t come back if the improvements weren’t made, and he’s still in negotiations for a new deal to keep MotoGP’s only U.S. race.

“We wouldn’t have done the repaving to the extent that we did if we didn’t think we were going to bring MotoGP back,” he said. “We’re kind of excited for them to come ride it and enjoy it because it’s been several years.”

Jenson Button joins NASCAR Garage 56 at Le Mans with Jimmie Johnson, Rockenfeller

Jenson Button NASCAR Le Mans
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The NASCAR Garage 56 entry in the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be driven by champions of three major-league series — Jenson Button, Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The lineup of the Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Next Gen Camaro was announced Saturday before the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

NASCAR’s Garage 56 project was announced in March 2022 as a joint effort by NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear. It marks the return of a NASCAR team to Le Mans for the first time in nearly 50 years with Hendrick fielding a Camaro ZL1 as the “Garage 56” entry in the 100th edition of the sports car classic.

It’s long been expected the car would include Johnson, the seven-time Cup Series champion who is returning to NASCAR’s premier series as a driver-owner in 2023. Rockenfeller, the 2013 DTM champion and 2010 Le Mans overall winner, has attended every NASCAR Garage 56 test since last year while racking up simulator testing hours.

The surprise was Button, the 2009 Formula One champion who has become a popular commentator. Rick Hendrick initially said wanted four-time Cup champion and current Hendrick Motorsports COO Jeff Gordon to drive the car, and Gordon had raced a sports car at Indianapolis last year to test his race shape.

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“Since the beginning of the Garage 56 project, it has been our goal to partner with the top racers in the world to represent us in Le Mans,” NASCAR chairman and CEO Jim France said in a release. “The lineup of Jimmie, ‘Rocky’ and Jenson is everything we could have dreamed of – three elite drivers who have won at the highest levels of motorsports worldwide. As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of NASCAR, we are honored to have these world-class champions help bring the sights and sounds of a NASCAR race car to fans in Le Mans, and across the world.”

Button had one of the most prolific careers in F1 history finishing with 15 wins and 50 podiums on top of his 2009 World Championship and is widely considered one of the top British drivers of all time.

“As a lifelong racing fan, I have always dreamed of racing certain cars, with and against certain drivers and competing in certain events,” Button said in a release. “In June, a number of those dreams will come true in one event when I get to bring NASCAR to the world stage alongside my pals Jimmie and ‘Rocky’ for the 100th anniversary of the most prestigious race in the world. I’m really looking forward to sharing this journey with NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and current and future NASCAR fans from around the world.”

Johnson will make his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut a year after starting his first Indy 500. He has 83 victories in the Cup Series, where he will return for the Daytona 500 next month with his Legacy Motor Club team.

He also has been involved with testing the Garage 56 Camaro.

“I’m super thrilled – it’s been at the top of my bucket list to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans someday,” Johnson said. “To have this opportunity come – and to partner with everybody and this driver lineup – is truly an incredible opportunity and one that I am thankful to be a part of.”

Rockenfeller teamed with Johnson on the No. 48 Ally Cadillac in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2021-22. The German driver has been the lead test driver for Garage 56 and has driven during every on-track test.

“It has been a great journey so far with the whole team and project,” Rockenfeller said. “To be involved as a driver from day one until now was already a great honor, and to now have Jimmie and Jenson alongside me as teammates in Le Mans is unbelievable.”

The car will continue testing with all three drivers next week at the Daytona International Speedway road course. Rolex 24 and four-time IMSA champion Jordan Taylor, who drives for Corvette Racing, will be the team’s backup driver and coach. Taylor also won the GTE Pro class in 2015 at Le Mans, where he has four podium finishes.

The project also is being supported by IMSA GTP team Action Express, whose general manager is former NASCAR executive and Daytona 500-winning crew chief Gary Nelson. Action Express built the first test car for the Garage 56 but since has handed off the project to Hendrick, where it’s being over seen by vice president of competition Chad Knaus (the crew chief for Johnson’s seven championships).

“Action Express got it going and built the mule car, and then Hendrick joined the program, took it from where we had it, and they’re doing a major percentage of the work,” Nelson told NBC Sports. “We just did a test a couple months ago on a wet track. We’ve done a couple of other tests as they were ramping their program up. Now their car is good, tested and running. We’re still involved and here to help. The Hendrick guys have taken the reins, and Rick Hendrick and Chad Knaus are a thrill to work with and doing a much better job. It’s more NASCAR than prototype racing.”