NEW YORK (Reuters) - Formula One world champions Red Bull took their season launch to the United States on Friday with a spray of pyrotechnics in front of a rapt, standing room-only Manhattan crowd as fans braved the bitter cold outside.
Where once NASCAR and IndyCar had a stranglehold on American gearheads, the splash hit Netflix docu-drama "Drive to Survive" has indoctrinated legions of new fans in the United States.
Neither icy cold nor eye-watering winds whipping along the Hudson River could deter the dozens of people who showed up outside the Classic Car Club on Friday, hoping to catch a glimpse of their favourite drivers heading for the launch.
"I’ve been following it for a while and around 2017, 2016 it wasn’t that big in the United States," said Tyler Quinn, 21, a college student in Manhattan, who last year saved up to see the Formula One race in Canada and feared the growing fan base could make future trips prohibitively expensive.
"It’s exploded exponentially. You know, when I talk to people in school ... they all know about F1, they all recognise certain things, they all ask me questions. It’s growing fast and I really am glad about that."
Las Vegas will join Austin and Miami as the third race in the United States in the 2023 calendar as F1 looks to make further inroads into the lucrative market.
Speaking at the members-only Classic Car Club, where a garage of luxury cars is available for patrons to enjoy, Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner told Reuters that "Drive to Survive" had been a "game changer".
"It seems to have sparked interest in the U.S. - and not just the U.S. but globally," he said. "The U.S. interest has been off the charts in the last couple of years and that's why we're now seeing so many brands coming into the sport."
The event also served as the unveiling of a new partnership with the Ford Motor Company, which will partner Red Bull Powertrains, the company established to build engines for Red Bull, in a show of confidence for the sport's U.S. popularity.
Ford will return to Formula One with the reigning champions in 2026 after an absence of more than 20 years.
"We looked at a lot of options as good business people and we wanted to go in the direction that was authentic to us," Jim Farley, President and CEO of Ford said at the announcement.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York and Alan Baldwin in London; additional reporting by Christine Kiernan in New York; Editing by Ken Ferris)