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Filling hotel rooms in Malaysia

THE demand for Formula 1 races seems to be constantly on the increase, and we hear from the Far East that Malaysia is the latest country planning to build its own Grand Prix Circuit.

The track - which will be finished in 1996 - is on the remote island of Langkawi, at the northern-most tip of Peninsular Malaysia, right on the border with Thailand. The locals hope that a Grand Prix will draw attention to the area and grab a share of the booming tourist trade in the region, emulating the success of Thailand's Phuket resort, which is only 100 miles to the north.

The project has the backing of the Sultanate of Kedah, which is financing the construction of the 3.75-mile circuit at Bukit Malot; but the necessary infrastructure for the race is already in place, thanks to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad who hosted a huge arms fair on Langkawi in 1993, for which no fewer than 80 hotels were built. Ever since the locals have been pondering what to do to attract tourists to the region.

The Sultanate of Kedah is just to the north of Penang, which has been the center of Malaysia's economic boom in recent years, and is served by the airport of Alor Setar. Representatives of the regional government visited several Grands Prix last year and had talks with F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone.

The major problem for the race is that the region suffers two monsoon seasons and the race could only really take place in March-April-May. This would fit very nicely with a race in Japan; or as an early season double-header, with the new circuit which has been built at Sentul, near Jakarta in Indonesia or indeed China, which is building an F1-specification race track at Zhuhai, near Hong Kong.

Malaysia's motor racing history is firmly rooted in the days of British rule when there were street races in Johore Bahru, at Penang and on a road circuit near Kuala Lumpur named after the country's first prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahmann. This circuit was abandoned in the 1960s, but a new track was built at Batu Tiga, just outside Kuala Lumpur. Owned by the Sultan of Selangor, whose palace overlooks the track, Batu Tiga's name was later changed to Shah Alam.

In the early 1980s, Formula Atlantic was a visitor to the 2.1 mile circuit and, in the hope of attracting major international races, the track underwent major modifications and was extended to 2.3 miles in 1985 for a visit of the World Sportscar Championship. In recent years, the track has hosted the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix.

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