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Bid for US GP shares puts £25m valuation on COTA

NEWS STORY
14/04/2012

Over the past week news about Bahrain has dominated all F1 reporting but that doesn't mean to say that there have been no other developments of note.

One interesting report on Thursday claimed that Texan billionaire Red McCombs has less than a week to decide whether he wants to sell his 20% stake in the holding company of the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) track in Austin which is due to host the United States Grand Prix in November. Surprisingly, the stake is reportedly worth just £5m ($8m) which seems to put a valuation of £25m on the entire circuit. If it is then that has got to be the best deal in motorsport.

The prospective buyer of McCombs' shares is none other than Tavo Hellmund, the driving force behind the US GP who is now locked in litigation against COTA's investors. According to the report, if McCombs does not agree to purchase Hellmund's shares in COTA's holding company by Wednesday 18 April then McCombs' shares will be considered sold to Hellmund as of 25 May. This complex process is known as a buy-sell and it was put in motion on 11 January. A letter from Hellmund's lawyers claims that McCombs had 90 days to respond and that expired on Wednesday of this week. McCombs now has another week before the decision is taken out of his hands.

Presumably McCombs has failed to respond as he does not believe that Hellmund was in a position to invoke the buy-sell clause. However, what is perhaps even more interesting is that the buy-sell is between Hellmund and McCombs and not Hellmund and Texan private equity manager Bobby Epstein who is the majority shareholder in COTA's holding company.

If Hellmund gets McCombs' shares he still will not have a majority but if he had been in a position where either Epstein had to buy his shares or he had to buy Epstein's shares then he would end up in control of the business. It sounds like a clause in Hellmund's contract prevented him from doing this but one wonders why it would have been structured in this way.

If McCombs agrees to purchase the shares it will add to Hellmund's wealth as the letter says that his stake, which is held in his Full Throttle race promotion company, is valued at £5.2m. If McCombs does not respond then the boot will be on the other foot and his shares will be considered sold to Hellmund who has offered £5m for them. It wouldn't make much difference to the wealth of the Texan who was ranked by Forbes in March as the 330th-richest person in the US and 913th-richest in the world, with a net worth estimated at £884m.

If McCombs' 20% stake in COTA's parent company is worth just £5m, it puts a valuation of just £25m on the business which owns the circuit. Reportedly, over £160m is being invested in the project so it is hard to see why it would have such a small valuation. One thing which is for sure is that there is no other track on the F1 calendar which is worth anywhere near as little as £25m so it remains to be seen just what is going on here.

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