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SEPTEMBER 29, 2003

The popularity of Formula 1 in the United States

It has been said that Formula 1 is "right up their with Canadian log-rolling" in terms of its popularity in the United States of America but it seems that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has bucked the recent F1 trend of smaller crowds than in previous years with an estimated crowd of 140,000 people on Sunday, compared to 120,000 a year ago. Most of the races this year have been hit by a 10% drop in spectators but a combination of the World Championship showdown, the cheap price of the tickets and the growing interest in F1 in the Americas seems to have made the difference, despite the poor weather that plagued the event this year. Indianapolis Motor Speedway sources say that targets for this year's race were met several weeks before the event and that the track enjoyed a very high "walk-up" rate on ticket sales as locals were lured in by the excitement generated in the local media and by having the F1 circus in town. The general feeling seems to be that the city of Indianapolis is shrugging off it reserve towards F1 and is enjoying the visitors and the extra income generated each year by the thousands of people who come to town.

One element which was distinctly obvious was the large number of Colombians in the crowd, following the adventures of Juan Pablo Montoya.

America still waits for the chance to cheer one of its own in a Formula 1 car or the arrival of a US team in the sport.

It was however interesting to see the number of team bosses from CART, IRL and even NASCAR who came to visit Indianapolis this year, notably Roger Penske and Rick Hendrick. Also spotted were Mo Nunn, Keith Wiggins, John Barnes of Pennzoil Panther Racing and Jim McGee of Patrick Racing.

It is also worth noting that the popular Arts & Entertainment Network used the Grand Prix weekend to announce its plans to produce a programme for its hugely-successful Biography series on Mario Andretti, the last American to win the FIA Formula 1 World Championship. Andretti is the first racing to be profiled by A&E.

It is generally agreed that increasing the popularity of F1 in the United States will be a long term business but the announcement of the launch of Formula BMW will be a big boost while Red Bull activities, taking young drivers to Europe is continuing although the first generation of winners has done little so far this year.