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It's not often that Bernie Ecclestone compliments circuits, unless they are paying him a fortune in hosting fees. However, his treatment of the ill-fated plan to host a Grand Prix at Disneyland Paris has been a major exception to this rule.
Last month, the French motorsport federation (FFSA) decided not to host the French GP, which has taken place at Magny Cours since 1991, next year for economic reasons. Instead of threatening the federation with fire and brimstone, as is par for the course, Ecclestone endorsed the street circuit proposed for Disneyland Paris, the FFSA's favourite venue to replace Magny Cours in 2010. The fairytale ended last week when Lagardere Sports, the project's key partner, pulled out but still Ecclestone's oft-forked tongue was in check.
"I've always thought it was the right spot for us, that it was the new location that suited the French Grand Prix," said Ecclestone. With the FFSA having put all its weight behind the Disney project there is now no hope for a French GP in 2009 or 2010. Its future beyond then also looks bleak since Ecclestone is facing a rare situation - one where even his ringing endorsement may not be able to open the door. To host a Grand Prix at Disneyland Paris so many hurdles need to be crossed that it may be more likely that elephants will fly.
Earlier this month, at the height of the annual Disneyland Paris Christmas press trip, 250 protesters demonstrated outside the park against the F1 project. Residents in the local area had set up an association to oppose the project with noise being at the top of their list of complaints. What they may not have known is that Disney had already scrapped a motor race for this very reason. And not just any old race.
The very first round of the Indy Racing League was held in 1996 at the Walt Disney World Speedway at the media company's sprawling theme park complex in Florida. However, just a few years later the one-mile tri-oval hosted its last race due to noise levels.
As Reggie Williams, the circuit's then boss, told Pitpass' business reporter Chris Sylt in 2006 "we discovered the noise intrusion for the theme parks was significant. Our guests have prepared for years to have a magical vacation experience so to have noise intrusion because we are hosting a race is something that we need to be sensitive to. Plus, I run the golf courses. If you remember Tiger Woods says 'hold on' to the flick of a camera you can imagine what he would say to the sound of race cars."
With three 9-hole golf courses at Disneyland Paris in striking distance of the proposed F1 circuit, the same logic would apply. However, there were far more significant stumbling blocks as Sylt discovered when he recently gave advice to Euro Disney's management about the F1 project.
Disneyland Paris is Europe's top tourist attraction with 15.3m guests streaming through its turnstiles last year. A total of 57% of these arrive by car making it crucial for the local roads to be easily accessible. However, even in Monaco, which has been running a street race for decades, there is still weeks of disruption to the roads in preparation for the Grand Prix. This is disruption that Euro Disney cannot afford.
Equally, part of the land in the vicinity of the proposed circuit has been earmarked as a nature park. F1's gas-guzzling image is unlikely to sit well with this. However, perhaps the biggest hurdle for F1 ever building close ties to a company like Disney is that there is a clash of target audience.
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