Invading AmericaMay 2, 2012
The Mole and Penelope (Roedean) were in the Gallery Restaurant at the Hotel Holt in Reykjavik. It was lunchtime and, in need of a little “hair of the dog”, the pair had decided to try a bottle of Saint Clair Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand to accompany their “Gender Menu”. The chef at the Holt believes that the taste buds of the two sexes are entirely different and so Penelope was trying to revive herself with some lemongrass soup, accompanied by roasted coconut flakes and pineapple salsa, while The Mole was having his palate tickled by mushroom soup in the style of cappuccino.
They were both feeling decidedly fragile. The flight from Heathrow had arrived in Keflavik late at night and they had made the mistake of spending too long in the bar, which is famous for its whisky collection.
They were in Iceland for the annual meeting of a body called NAMSAP. The Mole could not remember why it is called NAMSAP, but he is sure that the acronym has something to do with “North America” and “Motor Sport”.
The one thing that they both remembered, as professional agents, was that the cover story for the meeting was that they were banana retailers, meeting banana retailers from the United States. This daft story was chosen because someone in MI6 mistakenly thought that Iceland was the largest European banana producer. In fact that honour belongs to the Canary Islands, which are part of Spain.
“What time are the Septics coming?” she said.
“Septics?” said The Mole.
“Oh, sorry,” said Penelope. “It’s Australian rhyming slang. Septec Tank. Yank. American.”
“Ah,” said The Mole. “The Cousins are here already. They got in from Dulles at about six this morning. But they want to stay on their own time zone. So I agreed that we would meet them at teatime.”
“I might still be alive by then,” Penelope grumbled. “But I may shoot myself if I don’t feel better soon.”
“What are we talking about this year,” she went on, looking at her nails. Pistols are very useful, but they wreak havoc with a girl’s manicure.
“They want to discuss the forthcoming F1 invasion of the United States,” said The Mole. “They are worried about the implications of this on the IndyCar Series. They are also not very happy about the idea of the DTM having a US series, but I have explained that I am unable to control the Germans and that they need to speak to the Bundesnachrichtendienst.”
“That is a very long word,” said Penelope.
“It took some practice to learn,” said The Mole proudly. “But it is not up there with Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitänswitwe, or, for that matter, hoechsgeschwindigkeitsbegrenzung.”
“Waiter, I need two teaspoons of paraquat, please,” she said as blond man with a badge saying Jón Jónsson strode past.
“We have no paraquat on the menu,” he said, looking a little bemused.
The Mole waved him away, with a nonchalant smile.
“Come on,” he said. “Perk up. We need to be in tip top condition.”
Penelope downed her glass in one.
“That’s the spirit,” said The Mole. “Now, I have reminded The Cousins that NASCAR is welcome to try to invade Europe and that there should be a free market economy between allies,” The Mole went on. “I also mentioned that back in 2003 CART proposed merging with Formula One. As I recall Bernie Ecclestone turned it down, concluding that there were not sufficient benefits for a partnership between the two championships. Besides, Bernard does not like having partners who interfere. He does not mind rich city types who leave him in charge, but he has never liked having to discuss his management with anyone. At the time CART’s principal value was a number of established races, plus the potential for US teams, sponsors and drivers to expand internationally. It never happened. CART went bankrupt at the end of the 2003 season and the assets were used to create a thing called Champ Car but that was swallowed up in 2008 in a merger with the Indy Racing League. The current series became IndyCar in January 2011. It is owned by Hulman and Co, the company that owns the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and half of Indiana.”
“It is not very strong,” said Penelope.
“Not really,” said The Mole. “It is supposed to be an all-American thing but the cars come from Italy and the top 10 drivers include two Australians, a New Zealander, a Canadian, a Scotsman, a Brazilian, a Japanese, a Frenchman and two Americans.”
“And they lost their primary asset, Danica Patrick, to NASCAR at the start of this season,” said Penelope.
The Mole nodded.
“I had Penelope (Benenden) do some analysis for me and she thinks that now is a great time for F1 to invade the US, starting off with Austin and New Jersey and adding a bunch of races in the US time zone,” he said. “This means that there is good case to convince a network to pick up coverage. It is new. It is different. It’s international and it’s not NASCAR.”
“What we are trying to get out of them is whether or not they think there is a third US venue in the pipeline,” said The Mole. “I keep hearing suggestions that there is, but no-one is saying where it is. There was a plan for a street race in Chicago. That involved a bloke called Dennis Hastert, a Republican politician and a former speaker in the House of Representatives, who popped up in F1 a couple of times. I am not sure if that project is still around or not.”
“Could it be Long Beach?” said Penelope. “It is the obvious thing for F1 to do.”
“True,” said The Mole, “but where is the money coming from? The race this year drew a crowd on race day of 60,000. That is slightly less than watched the first F1 race there is 1977. The numbers went up to about 80,000 while F1 was there and then dropped back to 56,000 when it switched to CART. Anyway, the time zones are all wrong for Europe. Besides it is owned by folk who are still involved in IndyCar.”
Penelope drained another glass and refilled it, as The Mole ferreted around in his notes.
“Ah yes, here it is,” he said. “In June 2005, Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerald Forsythe bought the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach using a company called Aquarium Asset Management. They then signed a deal with the City of Long Beach to continue running races in the city until 2015 with an additional five-year option. And in May 2008 they agreed a five year deal with IndyCar, so that deal is in place until after the 2013 race.
“But IndyCar TV ratings are horrible at the moment,” said Penelope, with a quiet hiccough.
“Come to think of it,” said The Mole. “I’m sure someone told me that they saw Long Beach’s Jim Michaelian at an F1 race not that long ago. Was it Abu Dhabi?”
“Yes, but no-one is going to pay,” said Penelope. “We need to look at places where the real estate values are lower than they should be.”