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Newspaper goes to court for clarity over US Grand Prix

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US Grand Prix organiser Tavo Hellmund with his construction force back in January © US Grand Prix
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The Austin-American Statesman newspaper has filed a plea in the Texas state District Court in an attempt to access legal documents sealed by the Circuit of the Americas.

The US Grand Prix project hit the headlines in March when it emerged that project founder Tavo Hellmund was involved in a legal battle with some of the project's investors. In the suit, Hellmund claimed that terms for his buyout had not been fulfilled, as he had been due to earn $500,000 a year for a decade in his role of chairman of the US Grand Prix.

It is the documents relating to that case which the newspaper has attempted to access. "We want to find out what it is about this lawsuit that has to be kept secret," Jim George, who filed the action and represents the Statesman told the paper. "I've been doing this 20 years, and I've never seen anything like this. Secrecy from the public is never in the best interest of anybody."

According to COTA spokesman Julie Loignon, the circuit wants the documents sealed in order to safeguard confidential business practices. But the Statesman argues that keeping the records open is a matter of public interest.

"Court records are open for a reason," said Statesman managing editor John Bridges. "The public's right to access the records in this case is particularly important because the F1 project relies so heavily upon taxpayer money. Taxpayers deserve to know what's happening in a civil suit that could affect that public investment."

While the bulk of the Austin race is being paid for through private investment, the state of Texas has contributed a sizeable sum in the form of road and sewage expansion projects in the area surrounding the track. The improved infrastructure surrounding the Circuit of the Americas will be of long-term benefit to the community, but the government spend has been unpopular in an era of budget cuts.

Should the grand prix qualify for Texas' Major Events Trust Fund, the state will pay out up to $250 million in race hosting fees over the duration of the contract if enough money is recouped from sales tax income.

A final hearing on the matter will take place on 11 June.