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Could Calder Park steal the Australian Grand Prix?

NEWS STORY
01/09/2010

Mat Coch writes:

When the Australian Racing Drivers Club announced plans to redevelop Eastern Creek, much was made about the possibility of moving the Australian Grand Prix to the western-Sydney circuit from 2016.

Since the announcement nothing at the circuit, which continues to host club and national level events, has changed, it was even overlooked by Australian V8 Supercars in favour of a temporary street circuit around the 2000 Olympic Games venues in Sydney's suburbs. Indeed, nothing has been heard of the project since Pitpass revealed in August 2008 that, despite the fanfare, the circuit would not be developed to Formula One standards.

Now former racer turned circuit promoter Bob Jane has announced plans to develop the Calder Park circuit in Melbourne into a Formula One standard facility. "We have signed a Heads of Agreement," Jane told Australian online magazine Motorsport News, "and the extension to the track will be 3.8 or 4km."

The venue played host to the (non-championship) 1980 Australian Grand Prix on the existing 2.3km circuit, an event won by Alan Jones in his Formula One title winning Williams.

In recent years racing has ceased, the V8 Supercars have not visited the venue since 2001 and club racing stopped in 2008. The Thunderdome, which played host to AUSCAR (Australia's unsuccessful attempt to replicate NASCAR), has been unused in almost a decade though the pits were rumoured to be under renovation to make them available for the road course. Indeed, earthworks were carried out to remove a hill which blocked the garages from connecting to the road course.

The facility hasn't completely closed, and still hosts drag races and corporate track days. Development work in the paddock area was completed shortly before road racing activities stopped, specifically for the drag strip.

Infrastructure at the circuit does already exist, with merchandising and food outlets also having been given a new lease of life shortly before the circuit stopped hosting road racing events.

It's believed the agreement Jane has signed with the Victorian State Government is part of a deal which allowed the building of a railway line through the Calder Park land, though when contacted by Pitpass a spokesperson for the circuit was unavailable for comment. The railway runs some 300 metres from the back straight, and while not yet carrying passengers, a station could be built to make the circuit more accessible.

With an FIA accredited Formula One spec race track within the greater Melbourne area, it would increase pressure on the Albert Park circuit, and could potentially pry the Grand Prix away from the venue. Such a move may be attractive to Bernie Ecclestone, who is understood to have remained in contact with Jane, as a permanent facility can more easily have lighting erected to host a night race, one of the sticking points over the Albert Park venue.

Pressure on the Australian Grand Prix Corporation has increased over recent years as locals tire of the Albert Park event continuing to lose money. The Albert Park circuit is a temporary facility, with all but the pit complex erected and dismantled each year, a cost funded in large parts by the Victorian taxpayers. It's an exercise the Victorian Government has found increasingly difficult to justify in recent years.

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