THE MOLE

The banana benders go bananas

The Mole does not have a man in Australia. He has a woman, codenamed Blue. Blue is a top notch agent and The Mole has often wondered whether one day he might convince her to leave Australia and move to The Mother Country to help the Penelopes in the fight against foreign motorsport. The Queen may still be on the stamps and the coins but try as he might The Mole has tried and failed to recruit her. Blue is happy with her role Down Under. She keeps an eye on Ron Walker, the V8 Supercar Boys and Tom Walkinshaw, while also having the ability to spend time at the beach, have a few barbies and sink the occasional bottle of Chardy. Trying to convince her that life in Vauxhall is on a par with this was a job that even The Mole gave up on.

When The Mole returned from Iceland there was an urgent message from Blue. The Mole phoned immediately and found Blue dining out at Icebergs Dining Room and Bar at Bondi.

"The whisper here is that the banana-benders are building a circuit," she said.

"The banana benders?" said The Mole, with a slight hesitation.

"Jeez, you Poms!" she replied. "Banana benders are people from Queensland."

"Oh, right," said The Mole, suitably chastened.

Blue went on to talk about some people wanting to spend $650m on a new track somewhere up near Brisbane.

"What's that in real money?" asked The Mole.

"$500m American," came the reply.

"That's an awful lot," said The Mole. "Where are they going to get that from?"

"Well," said Blue. "They are saying that it is not coming from the local government and that they are planning to have a self-sufficient complex which makes enough extra money to fund a Grand Prix."

"That's going to need quite a big complex," said The Mole. "Do they know how much it costs to get a Grand Prix, let alone run it? And what else is going to be in this complex?"

"They are calling it the Integrated Motorsport Education Tourism and Technology centre and I guess that is what they plan to have there," said Blue. "It sounds to me like they are going to buy the Holden Performance Driving Centre, which is there already and expand on that. That is a track but there are some teams based there and there are some eductional things with the local universities and I guess they want to expand the tourist element, making it somewhere for people to visit as well. Will that ber enough to pay the fees and pay off the debts incurred in building the place? I don't know. It does not sound very likely, does it?

"It is going to be hard to get all the big Australian teams to move up to Queensland when it makes a lot more sense to be in New South Wales or Victoria. They can have offices and stuff there and rent them out and I guess there might be some demand for that but not to the tune of $20m a year in pure profit. Even wiht convention centres and theme parks and the rest of it, it is hard to see how they make it sustainable."

"I guess that if the venue could pick up more cheaper international events and find the people to attend them, then it can make money as an events centre," said The Mole. "But that is not going to be easy. Look at what has happened in Sepang. They had grand plans to be this and that but the place is not really achieving that much."

"The thing that struck me," said Blue, "is that if these people were reallly serious they would not be talking about having no need for public money, they would be demanding it, for the effect the place would have on the local economy. If this thing actually did get built there would be jobs for the locals, customers for the hotel and all the other stuff that comes with a big facility. They would be like NASCAR is in the US, going to local government and sayinh we will do this, if you do that. Wouldn't they?"

"True," said The Mole. "Very true."

"And all they are doing is saying that it will cost the taxpayer nothing. And that does not make sense," said Blue.

"There is one good sign," said The Mole. "They seem to be talking about getting Hermann Tilke to do the design and construction work. Nothing gets into F1 these without having Tilke involved. So they must have had some conversations with Bernie Ecclestone. And they are promising flood-lighting which is what Bernie wants."

"You know what," said Blue. "The more we discuss it, the more I think it is probably a way to get Melbourne to shut up and pay the money that Bernie is asking from them. I just cannot see how it can serious."

"It would be nice if it was," said The Mole.

"Sure would," said Blue. "The beaches are good up there!"

April 5 2007

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