OKLAHOMA CITY - Organizers hopeful of holding a Grand Prix race in Oklahoma City have secured the support of the American Le Mans Series organization as they try to find financial backers for the event, OKC Motorsports President Mike McAuliffe said.
If OKC Motorsports can ensure all details of the race will be covered - such as minimal street quality and pedestrian bridges to cross the course - McAuliffe and his associates will have the right to hold races under the American Le Mans Series banner for three years, beginning in May 2013.
"There is still much to be done for this to become a reality but we are getting closer every day," McAuliffe said.
Le Mans Chief Executive Scott Atherton said in a prepared statement, "We recognize Oklahoma City as a thriving, viable and sports-hungry market that is excited about the possibility of adding world-class auto racing to a growing roster of major sports offerings. ... For our fans, teams, corporate partners, the potential to expand our brand of racing in mid-America is very appealing."
The concept, initially backed by different group of business people, was rejected by the Oklahoma City Council in August. The council voted 6-2 against committing $7 million in public funds for elements such as pit blocks, debris fencing, a race circuit design fee, track gates, tire pallets, timing antenna systems, lifting booms for tow trucks and fire extinguishers. The event organizers said the investment would be repaid over 10 years in tourism and worldwide recognition, and the majority of the council replied that they would only offer support if the investment and risk were reduced to zero.
Councilwoman Meg Salyer was the only ward representative to vote alongside Mayor Mick Cornett in the decision.
Since then, McAuliffe has moved the proposed race route out of downtown and into the city's Adventure District near the Zoological Park and Remington Park horse track. He has also broadened efforts to show that the community likes the idea. McAuliffe said he has confirmed support from the state Senate and House of Representatives, and Oklahoma County commissioners.
"We have received tremendous support from state, county and city elected officials, especially in northeast Oklahoma City, because of the positive economic impact this event will have on their community and citywide," McAuliffe said.
"So much of this is a chicken-or-egg situation, but it helps to have a commitment from the Le Mans organization," he said. "We need to pull all the pieces together, and some of that is satisfying them that we have community support."
To reach the finish line, however, OKC Motorsports still needs money.
"We're also meeting with corporate business leaders. We have to show we have the financial wherewithal to put the race on," he said. "I'm working on a couple of areas with that, which will include going to the city (elected officials). ... What's different from the way I'm approaching this and the way that my former partners handled it, is that I'm looking at support from the city, county and state to spread out that cost a little bit, as well the corporate community and a private investment group."
McAuliffe said he was uncomfortable discussing financial details or revealing the identities of potential investors. He said the amount being sought is less than $7 million, likely in the range of $4 million to $5 million.
Le Mans officials are expected to visit the city later this month to review resources on hand, McAuliffe said.