The visions of a third U.S. MotoGP race in 2013 became a lot more muddied as the promotional company owned by former 500cc Grand Prix world champion Kevin Schwantz filed a lawsuit in Texas on Friday against COTA (Circuit of the Americas) and its president Steve Sexton. Schwantz’s company 3fourTexasMGP LLC holds the contract with MotoGP rightsholders Dorna to promote the race, and the suit filed in Travis County, TX, alleges that “through tortious interference and fraud, COTA and Sexton encouraged Dorna to breach and purportedly terminate 3four’s contract” so that a new contract could be drawn up without Schwantz’s company in the picture.
This situation is eerily similar to the one where Tavo Hellmund, the person behind the original vision of the COTA facility and an F1 auto race in Austin, was forced out of the negotiations to hold that race (scheduled for November). After the announcement of the COTA and its planned F1 race to much fanfare back in April 2011, apparent disagreements between Hellmund and COTA’s management resulted in a protracted saga that put the possibility of the circuit’s completion and the F1 race in peril. Hellmund took legal action against COTA after the circuit management didn’t pay the F1 sanctioning fee, forcing the termination of the contract that Hellmund’s promotional company had with F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone. COTA then attempted to negotiate its own contract with Ecclestone, but not after a protracted stalemate that was saved at the last second when COTA eventually paid the sanctioning fee. Hellmund and COTA reportedly settled his lawsuit out of court.
Hellmund also held the rights to the MotoGP race (which was announced in another press conference soon after the COTA/F1 press splash, with Hellmund, Schwantz, and Dorna’s Carmelo Ezpeleta and Javier Alonso in attendance), which ended up in Schwantz's hands after discussions resulted in the MotoGP contract being given to his company. According to the 3fourTexasMGP lawsuit, some preliminary talks between Sexton and Schwantz began “on numerous occasions”, with Sexton eliciting information from Schwantz on various promotional subjects such as annual cost of promoting the event, alcoholic beverage sales, and quality control, since COTA has no experience with promoting a motorcycle race—much less MotoGP. But attempts by Schwantz to get a contract signed—which the suit contends were “promoter friendly” and “one of the cheapest MotoGP contracts in the world”—were continually stonewalled by COTA. The suit then contends that COTA encouraged Dorna to "breach and purportedly terminate its agreements and relationship” with Schwantz’s company in order to negotiate its own less expensive contract by making “outrageous and false claims to Dorna about the amounts of offers that it supposedly extended for promotion rights to MotoGP”, of which the suit claims, “COTA never made any such offers to 3four.” The suit also contends that COTA told Dorna that Schwantz was "blocking COTA from reaching an agreement." (Considering Schwantz's history and tireless promotional efforts with the sport, to actually accuse him of attempting to block a MotoGP race occurring in his home state is rather incredulous...)
Even more incredulous is that apparently Dorna believed COTA's claims, because when Ezpeleta stated after Laguna that "Dorna was just organizing the final details" for the MotoGP at COTA, that came as news to Schwantz, who thought his company was negotiating those details. It was obvious at that point that Dorna had been dealing directly with COTA, and sought to nullify his contract with Dorna that gives him rights to the MotoGP race.
A point of contention between COTA and Schwantz is that the MotoGP contract apparently doesn’t specify that the race would be held at COTA—only that it would be held in Texas. As such, the lawsuit says that Schwantz’s company talked to other venues in the state, including Texas World Speedway, but that Dorna’s purported termination of its contract with his company made any of those talks fruitless.
In a statement released to the press, Schwantz said, “I have devoted over 25 years of my life to MotoGP, the premier motorcycle road racing world championship. I spent four of those years bringing MotoGP to Texas, my home state. As a result, MotoGP agreed in 2011 to host an annual race at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas (COTA) track.
“I’m sorry to say that COTA is now attempting to unlawfully force me out of this project. I believe COTA has committed fraud in doing so. Earlier today, I took legal action against COTA. I was forced to file this lawsuit in order to protect my rights, my reputation, and MotoGP itself.
“I want to see MotoGP come to Texas, but I cannot allow COTA to take advantage of me. More important, I will not sit idly by while a newcomer to racing discredits the sport I love.”
According to The Statesman, COTA spokesperson Julie Loignon responded to the lawsuit by stating, “It makes no sense for Mr. Schwantz to pursue legal action in this matter. We were informed by Dorna, the organization that holds the rights for the MotoGP racing series, that Mr. Schwantz has no contract to promote a MotoGP race in Texas. To be clear, Mr. Schwantz never had an agreement to conduct a MotoGP race at Circuit of the Americas, and to our knowledge, he has no agreement to conduct an event at any Texas racetrack. Perhaps, that is why he is reacting this way, out of embarrassment, and is making false claims to the court and media. We know race fans would love to see a MotoGP event at the Circuit, and it is good to know that the door is open to make that happen at our new world-class venue in Austin.”