APRIL 8, 1996
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THERE will be an Austrian Grand Prix at the Osterreichring in 1997, and a contract is in place for the race to be held at the Zeltweg circuit until after the event in 2002.
Hidden away in the mountainous Styrian region of central Austria, to the north of Klagenfurt, the Osterreichring was built in 1969, replacing an old airfield track at the nearby village of Zeltweg. It quickly emerged as one of the fastest of all the Grand Prix tracks but dropped out of F1 in 1987 because of safety worries.
In recent months, however, the Osterreichring circuit has been taken over by new promoters (called A1 Ring) and rebuilding work began some weeks ago to shorten the track - cutting out the section which used to run behind the hill away from the main bowl of the circuit - and improve safety at the Bosch and Rindt Kurves. The local infrastructure has also been improved, the roads upgraded and there are even plans for the construction of a hotel at the circuit.
The race is expected to return to its old date a week after the German GP, giving the teams a sensible double-header.
Bernie Ecclestone is also believed to be very close to concluding a deal with the South African Automobile Association to hold a race at Kyalami at the end of March 1997. This would be twinned with the Australian GP, the team equipment being flown directly from Melbourne to Johannesburg.
The news means that hopes for races in China and the United States are now fading because of the congestion of dates in the 1997 calendar. Austria will more than likely force Hungary out of the calendar, while the arrival of South Africa would put pressure on the South American races - although both are understood to have long-term contracts. The other races which might be dumped are the European Grand Prix and the race in Portugal. The success of South Africa's bid will depend on whether or not the South Africans have been able to find money to run the race - the most likely source of income being the South African government.
It remains to be seen whether a United States GP will be put together for 1997, although projects in both Las Vegas and Disneyworld are in the course of negotiation. Bernie Ecclestone was in Disneyworld last week for further discussions with the Disney empire, but he has also been talking with the Vegas authorities.
Other projects which had been mentioned include Indonesia and Malaysia. Indonesia last weekend hosted its first World Championship motorcycle event at Sentul but the circuit's location near Bogor (known as rain city), south of Jakarta, is the source of worry because it is one of the wettest places in the world and prone to regular heavy showers. The plans for Malaysia have gone rather quiet in recent months with the idea to build a track on the holiday island of Langkawi now being rivaled by a project to construct a facility at a new government town currently being constructed not far from Kuala Lumpur.
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