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F1 makes tracks in Asia, India dreams on

F1 makes tracks in Asia, India dreams on
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First Published: Mon, Feb 19 2007. 01 33 PM IST
Updated: Mon, Feb 19 2007. 01 33 PM IST
New Delhi:Car-racing officials are scrapping plans to build a circuit in India. They now say regular roads would do just as well.
Formula One (F1), auto racing’s highest grade competition, has been working with local enthusiasts for some time to make the Indian Grand Prix a reality. While plans are going forward, former racer Vicky Chandok, the intermediary between F1 management and Indian authorities, said the idea of a Rs500-crore, stand-alone racetrack does not make sound economic sense.
If built, a proper circuit would be used for one week once a year, said Chandok. Instead, officials want to make the road-cum-track part of a larger development project—such as a wide public road in the middle of a real-estate venture—because F1 racing tracks do not need to conform to stipulated shapes.
“All you need is a 5km stretch of road, 15m wide,” Chandok said in a phone interview from Chennai, where he is based.
Chandok has been working with F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone and said the pair hopes to sign a deal with investors by March.
“A few investment groups and consortiums in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Haryana are interested in an Indian circuit, but I cannot identify them at this stage,” Chandok said.
London-based Formula One Management, which oversees F1 races in 17 countries, including four in Asia, did not respond to requests for comment. Ecclestone has repeatedly said he wants India on the F1 circuit by 2010.
Formula One is rapidly expanding in Asia and West Asia, scheduled to land in Abu Dhabi in 2009 and South Korea in 2010.
Space-scarce countries getting into the sport are similarly planning their racing circuits through streets and along waterfronts.
Singapore also has approached F1 officials proposing a night race through already-existing roads since the city-state lacks open space to build any new structures.
Other cities say they are wary of building structures that are for such a singular and short purpose.
Car-racing’s future might be defined by roads that double as courses. In last week’s edition of British weekly magazine Autosport, Grand Prix-circuit designer Hermann Tilke said, “There is a trend to get the tracks to the fans and not the other way around, and closer to the fans naturally suggests racing in the cities.”
Tilke suggested that India as an F1 venue is still some way off. “India always comes up when we speak about new venues, but while it is always a subject of discussion, for now, it is not more than a subject of discussion,” Tilke told Autosport.
Tilke did not return an e-mail from Mint for comment. Some Indians also share his pessimism. F1 fan Vikram Chanda, head of a public-relations firm in New Delhi, said it is unrealistic to plan a circuit in India.
He said the Capital does not have the roads required to handle truckloads of equipment, including 20 racing cars. He said Delhi’s airport, already congested and crammed, does not have enough space to park the 20 jumbo planes needed to fly in the cars. Chanda also said a 500-car convoy of 2,200 support staff would clog the city’s roads even further.
Chanda, 32, visited Kuala Lumpur last year to see the Malaysian Grand Prix and will be travelling to Belgium this September for another race. He remains sceptical of any Indian city’s capacity to handle the tourist influx.
“In Kuala Lumpur, there were 60,000 foreigners during the race week, can Delhi cope with that?” he asked.
Others said India needs to breed more passion and fans for car racing before it can think of hosting such an event.
“Let’s put the sport in place,” said Sanjay Sharma, tyre maker JK Industries’ head of Motor Sport. “Everything else will fall in place.”
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First Published: Mon, Feb 19 2007. 01 33 PM IST