THE MOLE

Turkish delight?

"Have you been invited to the Thanksgiving Party at the American Embassy?" asked Penelope (Roedean) at lunchtime the other day.

The Mole was munching on a sandwich at his desk and studying the crossword.

"No," said The Mole. "I am not going. With Thanksgiving and Christmas I find there is too much turkey at this time of year."

There was a pause.

"Try EU? Kentish leader wants to join the union," said The Mole. "Six letters."

"Turkey," said Penelope.

"Ah yes," said The Mole. "Well, done Penelope! Silly me. Where would we spooks be without the women who run everything?"

Penelope went back to finish a rather short report on the financial future of the Jordan F1 team. And then she paused.

"While I think about it, sir," she said. "I think we need to have a bit of a talk about Turkey."

"Is that with or without a capital T?" asked The Mole. "I am afraid my knowledge of stuffing, basting, roasting and all of that sort of thing is really not up to a long conversation."

"No," said Penelope. "There is this chap with a funny name in Turkey and he's getting very active about having a Turkish Grand Prix in 2005."

"Do you mean the Charlie with the chocolate factory?" asked The Mole, savouring for a moment the rather good bacon and marmalade sandwich, which the local sandwich bar in Vauxhall provides from time to time.

"I believe that the family deals in confectionery," said Penelope. "But I think they have sold the business."

There was a rustling of papers and then Penelope read. "Mumtaz Tahincioglu."

"That is a bit of a mouthful, isn't it?" said The Mole. "Is he known to his friends as Mummy?"

"No," smiled Penelope. "I believe he's known as Mike. Anyway, the family recently sold half its confectionery business to Cadbury's Schweppes for $95m. The company is called Kent and is Turkey's leading sugar confectionery manufacturer with a 66% share of the Turkish market and annual sales of $110m. It is also a major player in the expanding markets of the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Mike is head of the Turkish Federation of Automobile and Motor Sports, which is known for some odd reason as TOMSFED, and he's also on the FIA World Motor Sport Council."

"In other words," said The Mole, "Mummy has lot of time on his hands to talk to influential people both at home and abroad."

"Quite," said Penelope. "I believe the name is Mike."

"I think we need to look into this," said The Mole.

An hour later the troops were gathered.

"I want to talk about Turkey," said The Mole.

"Would that be meleagris gallopavo or the old Ottoman Empire?" asked Number Two, through a haze of pipe smoke.

"I am not talking about the bird" grumbled The Mole. "It seems that our friends in Istanbul want to have a Grand Prix in 2005. Anyone know anything about it?"

It emerged that Motorsport Mike is a rather a dynamic individual, intent on turning Turkey from a Middle Eastern country with pretensions of becoming European into one of the driving forces of modern motorsport. It all seemed rather unlikely but, as The Mole pointed out, the recent World Rally Championship calendar for 2003 does include a round in Turkey so Motorsport Mike is obviously doing quite a good job.

And Bernie Ecclestone has been out to Turkey to look around a variety of different venues. According to the Turks (who have great trouble keeping secrets) Ecclestone said that he preferred the idea of a race close to Istanbul because of its historical connections.

"You know," said Number Two, "there has been a city there since the seventh century BC. Byzantium, as I recall. And then it became Constantinople and the centre of the Ottoman Empire. And you know they marched their armies all the way to the gates of Vienna."

"I don't think that Motorsport Mike has quite those ambitions," said The Mole. "Anyway, I think what Bernard means is that Constantinople was always the gateway to Europe and with the time zones being as they are it would be a good place for a race. Oh and there are eight million people there and some good hotels."

It was agreed that by road Turkey is a very long way from the Formula 1 factories in Britain and the shortest route would take the trucks and motorhomes through the most unstable and nasty bits of the Balkans. But, as one of the researchers pointed out, the teams would not go that way. They would send the trucks down through Italy, where there is proper autostrada to Bari or Brindisi and they could then take a ferry boat across to Igoumenitsa in Greece and from there truck the remaining 600 miles across to the Turkish border. It would be a trip of 2000 miles each way, which is twice as far as the longest current haul (to Budapest). With racing teams, of course, nothing is impossible and the CART trucks regularly travel the 2000 miles between their bases in Indianapolis and the race tracks on the West Coast.

The Mole agreed that if the F1 authorities did some careful planning they could create a two-race road trip for the big rigs so that, for example, the Italian GP and the Turkish GP could be linked.

One of other Penelopes then gave details of a venue which has been picked near a town called Kemerburgaz, to the north of Istanbul, just off the major highway. Here there is a government-owned open-faced coal mine which needs to be redeveloped. This is the perfect kind of location for a race track as open-faced coal mines are (unnatural) amphitheatres, which mean that spectators can be located above the level of the track so that large sections of the circuit are visible. Similar philosophies have been used at Rockingham and at the Lausitzring. Motorsport Mike appears to have convinced the government to give him one the land and says that he something like $100m of government money for construction and for the fees for a race between 2005 and 2009. This may sound like a lot but the income from the race would be a big boost to Turkey, which is in desperate need of money from abroad.

There was a tourist study done recently which showed that a Grand Prix would bring in the same money in a week as Turkey currently earns from tourism in two months.

"Do we think this one is serious?" said The Mole.

Around the room one hand after another came up.

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