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US Grand Prix gets money from F1’s second-biggest shareholder

NEWS STORY
26/08/2013

It couldn't get much more ironic. Over the past few days Bernie Ecclestone has revealed that the Grand Prix of America in New Jersey will not be going ahead next year because, surprise surprise, the organisers have not raised enough money to host it. Over in Texas however the situation couldn't be much more different. Not only have the organisers of the race there got money, but they received it from Formula One's second-biggest shareholder which is an American investment fund. It is anybody's guess why it chose to give its cash to the organisers of the race in Texas rather than their counterparts in New Jersey who clearly have a greater need for the money.

An article in the Daily Telegraph, written by Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt, reveals that Waddell & Reed, the New York-listed fund manager which owns 20.9% of F1, has bought the right to repayment of a big chunk of the debt used to fund Circuit of the Americas. The 3.4 mile track in Austin has a 10-year contract to host the United States Grand Prix which returned to the F1 calendar in 2012 after a five-year hiatus. It was the brainchild of Texan race promoter Tavo Hellmund and the first race received critical acclaim within F1.

The investment from Waddell & Reed gives F1 closer links to the US where it is trying to break into the market. Gaining a foothold there is understood to be an important part of revving up the stalled plans to float the sport on the Singapore stock exchange.

Circuit of the Americas cost a reported 192.6m ($300m) to build and its owners include hedge fund manager Bobby Epstein, Billy Joe ‘Red' McCombs, who co-founded advertising company Clear Channel, and John Paul DeJoria, a billionaire investor in high-end tequila company, Patron Spirits.

The circuit was part-funded with a 57.8m ($90m) loan which was taken out in February last year by its parent company Circuit of the Americas LLC. According to recently-filed documents, Waddell & Reed provided 7.6m ($11.8m) of the debt which is due for repayment between 2017 and 2018.

Waddell & Reed is based in Kansas and is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. It has $90bn in assets under management and, aside from F1, its investments typically focus on traditional American brands such as Apple, Pepsi and casino company Wynn.

Last year it paid 1bn ($1.6bn) for its stake in F1's parent company Delta Topco. The transaction with Circuit of the Americas brings Waddell & Reed's F1-related investments to 7.6% of its net assets. It is a higher amount than that for any of its other investments except for gold bullion which accounts for 9% of Waddell & Reed's net assets. If ever anyone wanted an indication of the level of American interest in F1 then this is surely it.

The debt provided to Circuit of the Americas isn't the only loan between F1 and a US race track. In April F1 opened up a credit facility with the group which wants to host New Jersey's Grand Prix of America. The loan is personally guaranteed by the boss of the project, Leo Hindery junior, who is also the managing partner of private equity fund InterMedia Partners.

The race in New Jersey was due to take place this year but was postponed after it missed payment deadlines. F1's loan allowed the project to progress but the organisers need to find a further 64.2m ($100m) if the race is to go ahead next year. One wonders whether they will soon be taking a trip to Kansas... via the yellow brick road.

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