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What you may not know about Adelaide

THIS year everyone in Adelaide will be complaining that Melbourne has stolen the Australian Grand Prix for 1996 and beyond. Perhaps one should look back 60 years to when the race - held up to that point on the Phillip Island circuit, near Melbourne - was suddenly switched to Victor Harbor, 30 miles south of Adelaide!

The Australian GP, however, was never a very serious event until 1985, when Adelaide convinced F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone that he wanted a World Championship event "Down Under." At the time Adelaide had the reputation of being a quiet city - the City of Churches, and until recently was known as the sleepy cousin of the vibrant centers of Sydney and Melbourne.

The idea of having a Grand Prix in Adelaide came from businessman Bill O'Gorman, who felt a race would change that dull image and help Adelaide promote itself, its industries and the state of South Australia.

The South Australian Premier at the time, John Bannon, agreed that it was a great idea and flew to London to discuss the matter with Ecclestone. Bannon flew home and appointed the Director of the Cabinet Office, Dr Mal Hemmerling, to be Executive Director of the Australian Grand Prix Board and work was begun to change the law to allow a race to take place.

Adelaide is a parkland city, between the sea and the rolling hills of the Mount Lofty ranges. The climate is Mediterranean with long hot summers and short mild winters so the plan was to hold a race in November - Springtime in Australia. The track, designed by local engineer Bob Barnard, was centered on the Victoria Park Racecourse where a section of road was built, but part of the agreement was that there should be no permanent buildings and so each year the impressive pit complex, the barriers and all the grandstands are put up and taken down. It is an incredible feat because when you are there the track does not feel like a temporary facility.

The South Australians took to F1 from the start and Adelaide always has a wonderful party atmosphere, helped by the fact that it is the last event of the season. It has staged only two Championship showdowns - but both have been remarkable: in 1986 when Nigel Mansell lost the championship when a tire blew and the championship outsider Alain Prost snatched the title - just 19 laps from the flag; and in 1994 when Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher fought tooth and nail, the German finally cracking under the pressure and hitting a wall, only to save the title when he drove into Hill and the pair were both forced to retire.

There were the wet races of 1989 (won by Thierry Boutsen) and 1991, which was stopped after 14 laps because of atrocious weather - half points being awarded to winner Ayrton Senna. The 1990 race had been a victory for Nelson Piquet, who managed to hold off a rampaging Nigel Mansell in the last couple of laps. In 1992, Berger won after Senna and Mansell collided, the Englishman giving the Brazilian a brake test which went wrong. A year later Senna scored his last F1 victory with an extraordinary drive with his underpowered McLaren-Ford and he and rival Alain Prost made peace on the podium - for what was Alain's last GP.

For F1 Adelaide has been many things - but it has never been dull!

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