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South African GP Close to Return

South Africa could seal a deal with Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone to host a Grand Prix from 2009, the head of a bidding consortium said on Friday

"We hope then to sign a contract with Mr Ecclestone just before the end of the year which will in turn allow us to host the event starting in 2009," Dave Gant, the CEO of South African F1 bid Company, told a sports investment conference in Cape Town.

Formula One has a history dating back to 1962 in the country and the last South African round of the World Championship was held at Kyalami, north of Johannesburg, in 1993.

The new consortium launched its bid to host races in 2003 and is now waiting for government financial backing for a project it says will boost Africa's biggest economy by a billion rand ($155.4 million) a year.

At present, Africa is the only continent that does not host a Formula One Grand Prix.

"We have been working on this for about 18 months and each day we get more confident that we are going to pull it off," Gant said. "Formula One demonstrably want it to happen, they want it to come here."

The initial agreement would last from the 2009 to 2015 seasons with an option to renew thereafter, he said.

Ecclestone has in the past pushed a South Africa bid and promised last year to bring one of the world's biggest sporting events to Africa.

"We are going to South Africa - it's not a question of if, it's only when," Ecclestone said in November last year. "There will be a South African Grand Prix hosted by Cape Town within five years."

Gant said the South African government backed the idea and was considering the consortium's request for financial assistance.

The bid asks for government to contribute 75 million rand towards the projected 500 million cost to build the circuit and a subsidy of 50 million a year for eight years.

"All we have to finalise from a South African point of view is the extent to which the government is going to participate in this public-private partnership," he said.

"We hope to have finality on that within the next two months."

Formula One Grands Prix were held in East London in 1962, 1963 and 1965 before moving to Kyalami for the next 13 years and again from 1982 to 1985.

The race then disappeared from the Formula One calendar amid sporting boycotts aimed at ending the Apartheid system and financial problems.

More financial problems ended a brief return to the country in 1992 and 1993, the last race being won by Frenchman Alain Prost for Williams.

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