India Targets Hyderabad F1 Grand Prix for 2006

India hope Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone will give them the green light to stage a Grand Prix in 2006 when he visits Hyderabad next month.

India Targets Hyderabad F1 Grand Prix for 2006

India hope Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone will give them the green light to stage a Grand Prix in 2006 when he visits Hyderabad next month.

Buoyed by China's inclusion for the first time on next year's calendar, Indian officials met Ecclestone at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza this weekend to advance their claims.

"He's coming in October...if he gives clearance, then we can go for 2006," Chandrababu Naidu, the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh state which encompasses Hyderabad, told reporters.

"We're expecting positively. I'm confident it will happen. Now after China, India is the biggest market. The viewing public for Formula One is already 100 million people, it's the second-most popular sport back home after cricket," Naidu added.

A long-established Western sport, Formula One is spreading its wings, keen to scout out new growth areas as interest in its traditional strongholds slides. Shanghai will be the third Asian destination on the circuit next year, alongside races in Japan and Malaysia. Bahrain will become the Middle East debutant in 2004.

Lucrative Club

Now India, along with Turkey which aims for a race in 2005, is knocking at the door of the lucrative F1 club. Both countries are keen to attract foreign investors for the benefit of the local economy.

The southern city of Hyderabad, an emerging technology centre, is India's front-runner.

"Through Formula One, I can create 100,000 jobs directly and indirectly, then foreign investment will come, hotels, tourism spin-offs. It's a win-win situation," Naidu said.

He shrugged off the fact that India has only one motor racing track, in the south-eastern city of Madras, adding that building a new circuit was not a problem.

"If we get the clearance, there is infrastructure, it's only the Formula One track we have to build and that's not a big issue," the minister said.

"The government is fully supporting building a track and there are already some private donors showing interest. There is money. We'll work it out with them, but no figure is formulated at present," he added.

F1 ringmaster Ecclestone, who talked to Naidu's delegation for a hour on Saturday, is keen to have an Indian race.

'For Sure'

"We will be having an F1 race in India, for sure. When and where it will be I cannot say," he told Indian news magazine The Week in a recent interview. "India is moving forward very fast. After doing something in China, India is next."

India has had Formula One ambitions for some time with FIA president Max Mosley inspecting the country's only race track near Madras in the south a decade ago.

One man hoping the F1 circus heads to Hyderabad is India's top racing driver Narain Karthikeyan, who is competing in the junior echelons of the sport and lies second in the Nissan World Series.

"Of course I'd like to step up to Formula One. I've been dreaming about it since I was young and to be the first Indian F1 driver would be very special," Karthikeyan, who tested with Jaguar and Jordan in 2001, told Reuters.

The 26-year-old's chances would receive a welcome boost with a home Grand Prix as did Alex Yoong, the Malaysian driver who broke through after his country staged its first Grand Prix in 1999.

"We are all keeping our fingers crossed," Karthikeyan said.

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