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Traffic Jams Sour Inaugural GP Success

Turkey hailed its inaugural Grand Prix a great success on Sunday but huge traffic jams left thousands of spectators fuming in their cars for hours during their day out in Istanbul

Mindful of recent bomb attacks, race organisers had doubled security measures for the race and ringed the $70 million Istanbul Park circuit with about 2,000 paramilitary police. To their relief the day passed off peacefully.

Around 90,000 people attended race day, bringing the number of spectators over the three days to 183,000 for what Turkish officials have trumpeted as a huge boost to the country's already buoyant tourism sector.

Late spectators abandoned their cars by the roadside and sprinted to the track to avoid missing the race. Many of them said they spent four hours in traffic and one media report said the traffic jam stretched as far as 15 km.

Torrential rain compounded the difficulties and irate drivers argued with the paramilitary police and among themselves.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan played down the problems.

"I believe we can hold our heads high. There may be small problems but these shortcomings will be overcome next year and we will be even more successful. This will be the world's premier (Grand Prix)," he told reporters.

Traffic Troubles

Once they arrived at the track, spectators were met with tight security and passed through metal detectors while their bags were searched. However, initial efforts to search under vehicles were abandoned because of the sheer volume of cars.

"After the traffic troubles we've seen here, (Formula One's commercial supremo) Bernie Ecclestone can't say the traffic jams at Silverstone are the worst in Formula One," said one spectator Brad Bamfield, a company director from London.

"But the Turks have done a fantastic job. It's a bit out of the way, but they brought us here for free and the people have been brilliant," he said.

Locals unable to afford the entrance price climbed nearby hillsides, trees and road signs to get a view of the action. Some even broke through a perimeter fence to get a closer look while paramilitary police struggled to keep them out.

The event has given a fresh boost to Turkey's international sporting profile and even raised hopes of staging the Olympics after four successive failed bids by Istanbul.

The city hosted a memorable Champions League final in May, with Liverpool coming from 3-0 down at halftime to beat AC Milan on penalties.

Sunday's race was watched by another huge global audience.

Sporting prestige is feeding into growing Turkish self-confidence fuelled by a booming economy and anticipation of the start of European Union membership talks on October 3rd.

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