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Turkey aiming for 2013 return

NEWS STORY
03/12/2012

Mat Coch writes:

Istanbul Park could find its way back on to the Formula One calendar, if the circuit's new boss is to be believed. Turkish businessman Varul Ak has secured an 11-year lease on the facility, revealing he has already held discussions with Bernie Ecclestone about the sport's return.

The Istanbul Park circuit proved popular with drivers, if not fans, Pitpass' Christian Klien explained that the venue is an exception among modern circuits. "New circuits don't have the same thrill to drive as the old tracks," he wrote in October. "The exception is Turkey, the elevation changes and blind corners meant all the drivers enjoyed that track while it was still very, very safe."

However its popularity among drivers failed to translate into ticket sales. The event was never especially well attended, and while just 36,000 fans attended the 2009 race, the figures declined even further until 2011 when the event was dropped from the calendar.

Ak, the head of Turkey's largest car rental company, is hoping to bring Formula One back to the country as soon as 2013, eying the spot on the calendar freed up by the postponement of the Grand Prix of New Jersey.

"Mr Ecclestone is looking at a 7-year contract," he revealed. "He told me he wanted $26 million to stage the race (next year), but said he was willing to make a little sacrifice from that figure.

"I will put in $5m out of my own pocket. I am not thinking in terms of making a lot of money here. The government will contribute $13.5m. Therefore we will be stuck somewhere in the middle.

"I have guaranteed (Ecclestone) a minimum 50,000 spectators on race day but I expect about 80,000," he added optimistically. "We are hoping to have a positive decision from Mr Ecclestone next week."

Turkey faces stiff competition if it is to return to the Formula One calendar with races in Russia and New Jersey planned, not to mention the potential return of Mexico and France in coming years. Ecclestone may be willing to negotiate the hosting fee, but one can't imagine him being especially generous in light of the competition.

Ak's lease is understood to bring in $9m a year for circuit operators Formula Istanbul Yatirim AS, escalating over its term to total $125m.

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