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Exclusive: With new five-year deal, COTA chairman says Formula 1 is far from 'F1 and done'

COTA announced it had inked a five-year deal with F1 in February 2022. (MSI Images/Twitter)

In a year packed with near-constant noise at Austin's purpose-built Formula 1 racetrack, the uncertainty around Circuit of the Americas' newest F1 deal may seem to be forgotten.

But for dedicated fans, the four months of uncertainty following COTA's expired 10-year deal was more than just a blip on the global racing radar.

The track, which is host to the U.S. Grand Prix, NASCAR races, and more, announced that it had secured at least five more years with F1 in February.

Here are the exclusive details on inking the deal from COTA chairman Bobby Epstein himself.

Why the wait?

Every year, Formula 1 receives roughly $25 million from Texas' Major Events Reimbursement Program, a taxpayer-funded initiative that helps bring big sporting events like 2017's Houston Super Bowl to the state.

According to Fort Worth Star-Telegram writer Mac Engel, however, the Major Events Reimbursements Program agrees to provide funding only "if Austin holds the only F1 race in the country."

And with a new Miami race debuting this year, past legal hiccups and the past ambiguous financial impact of the race, some COTA insiders worried that the global sport was 'F1 and Done' with the Austin track.

Epstein told Austonia that the state legislation was not involved in the latest agreement.

"There is no allocation from the state annual budget," Epstein said. "There is existing legislation in place that allows for tax dollars collected from out-of-state event attendees to be used to reimburse some event-related expenses. This legislation is not unique to F1 and is used to attract more than 100 events to our state each year."

Epstein said the delay was due to COVID delays rather than internal disputes.

"The timing was really a matter of 'papering' the agreement," Epstein said. " F1 management and legal teams were overwhelmed with COVID-related schedule shifting, earlier in the year."

Why is F1 committed to Austin?

Whether there were behind-the-curtains negotiations or not, Epstein said it's easy to see why F1 decided to ink the deal.

On multiple occasions, Epstein has asserted that the 2021 U.S. Grand Prix in October was the "largest sporting event in the world," and with an estimate of 400,000 people in attendance over the weekend, it was the biggest three-day race weekend in F1 history.

"The festive weekend has become a fan and competitors’ favorite destination event," Epstein told Austonia. "As the sport grows and tries new formats, they don’t want to lose what’s already working, and after last year, there was no way F1 could stop (nor did they want to stop) the momentum."

Epstein said the league would also hesitate to leave a track custom-built for them, complete with the necessary turns and elevation changes needed to highlight the prowess of F1's drivers and its signature open-wheeled vehicles.

And the event is a highlight for more than just its track, Epstein said.

"Austin is such a great host city, and an absolute highlight of the sport’s global tour," Epstein said. "With the campgrounds, the entertainment, and the themed villages, the grand prix at COTA takes on an unrivaled atmosphere. The COTA experience is much more like that of a historic, traditional Formula 1 track."

With past attractions, celebrity appearances and a carnival-like atmosphere—complete with the promise of luxury "car condos" and a rollercoaster-studded amusement park in the next few years—it seems like that atmosphere will be hard to beat for years to come.

The U.S. market: too crowded or a chance to grow?

There's a new track in town—for the first time in over 30 years, a casino-side race in Las Vegas will join Miami and Austin as the third U.S. track in 2023.

But despite enjoying America's sole F1 presence for several years, Epstein doesn't view the two new events as competition.

"With a night race down the glamorous Vegas strip or a cosmopolitan spring race around the Hard Rock Stadium, Formula One is creating a diverse array of offerings," Epstein said. "Each event complements the other and offers vastly different experiences."

While Austin provides a star-studded, yet more accessible Austin-esque festival experience, Miami and Las Vegas will showcase the luxury side of the sport. And thanks to the success of Netflix F1 documentary series "Drive to Survive," the once-foreign sport is growing exponentially—and for F1 higher-ups, the previously untapped market is hard to ignore.

For Austin, that means thousands more are expected to keep making the U.S. Grand Prix weekend one of the biggest travel weekends of the year for Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and local businesses alike.

"With the Formula One audience skyrocketing in the United States, three events per year certainly won’t meet the demand," Epstein said. "And the event in Austin will continue to bring hundreds of millions of tourist dollars to our hotels, restaurants and shops."


‘Like speed dating of cats’ at Purr-fecto Cat Lounge
Purr-fecto Cat Lounge

Lina Martinez with her newly adopted cat, Emmanuel, who she renamed Sullivan.

Timmy and Tommy are ready to play.

As the 2-month-old white-and-tabby brothers swat feather wands, chase toys and generally hold court inside Purr-fecto Cat Lounge, a half-dozen potential adoptive parents look on lovingly, trying to get their attention.

“This is kind of like the speed dating of cats,” said Lupita Foster, owner of Purr-fecto Cat Lounge. “I intentionally didn’t put in any tables. That’s why we call it a lounge instead of a cat café because we have these lounge areas where you can sit and relax and cuddle.”

Foster, who has owned a cleaning company, Enviromaids, for 18 years, was inspired to open Purr-fecto Cat Lounge after adopting her own cat, Romeo, from a local shelter.

“When you want to adopt a cat, you have to spend a lot of time with them to get their personality,” Foster said. “I wanted to do something to help the community and something that makes me feel good, that warms my heart. A business with a purpose. This was a perfect idea.”

Actually, a purr-fect idea.

Inspired in part by a cat lounge she visited in Los Angeles, Foster began laying the groundwork for the business in late 2021 and officially opened the doors of Purr-fecto Cat Lounge, located at 2300 S. Lamar Blvd., in July 2022. Since then, she’s worked with rescue organizations such as Fuzzy Texan Animal Rescue and Sunshine Fund Cat Rescue to facilitate nearly 100 cat adoptions.

At any given time, there are 10-15 cats living in the space, which features an ideal blend of calm, cool corners and adorably Instagrammable backdrops with phrases such as “I want to spend all my 9 lives with you.”

Lina Martinez, 32, learned about Purr-fecto Cat Lounge from a friend’s Instagram post and made an appointment to visit two days later.

“My first impression was, ‘AWW!’” Martinez said. “The kittens were to die for. I felt happy and at peace – just what I needed.”

Visitors to the cat lounge pay $15 for a 30-minute CATXperience session or $30 for a 70-minute session that is spent getting to know the personalities of each cat. Foster said the first thing she typically sees from visitors to the lounge is a smile.

“Everybody that enters the door is smiling,” she said. “And we’ve seen people who have cried because they can’t have kids and they decide to go and adopt a cat instead.”

Foster said she loves bringing in cats who might not have a chance to be adopted at traditional shelters. She told the story of one cat named Izzy, who was partially blind, who was adopted by a family that had a deaf cat at home.

“Izzy was not going to get adopted anywhere else, but she’s extremely beautiful,” she said. “If she was in a cage in a rescue and you tell people she’s blind, she was probably going to be overlooked. But visiting our space, she doesn’t seem like she’s blind. She knows her way around. She moves around perfectly.”

Although Martinez, who had been casually looking for a pet to adopt since moving to Austin nearly four years ago, was interested in a cat named Ruby that she had seen on Purr-fecto’s social media, at the lounge she instead found herself drawn to 5-month-old mixed breed Tuxedo cat.

“I thought he was a star,” she said. “He worked the room and introduced himself to everyone. When I laid down to pet Ruby, he ran from the other side of the room and cuddled with me. It was game over. He got me.”

And she, of course, got him, complete with a commemorative photo that read “My Furrever Family” the day she took him home. Although his original name was Emmanuel, she renamed him Sullivan after her favorite DJ.

“Purr-fecto is special because of the amount of effort and love they put into taking care of the cats,” Martinez said, “and finding them good homes and making possible adopters feel at home.”

Foster, who spent a recent Thursday hosting a group of teenagers in foster care at the lounge, several of whom expressed interest in working there, said the best part about her new endeavor is that her heart is always full.

“I just feel complete,” she said. “I always felt as an entrepreneur that I was missing something. I knew I accomplished a lot, but in my heart I was missing a little connection with the community. Now I’m creating connections between humans and pets and that’s amazing. I’m creating family bonds. It’s just about love, you know. And we need that.”

Austin's 7 Best Indian Restaurants

We all have those cravings for an amazing butter chicken or some authentic dosas with coconut chutney, but when I was thinking about where I wanted to go to satisfy my taste buds I realized that my list of great Indian food around Austin was surprisingly short. After doing some research and asking around, here is your list of the best Indian restaurants around town.

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