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How many US Grands Prix will there be?

IT is now clear that there are two major well-funded bids by groups wanting to host the United States Grand Prix: one in Las Vegas, Nevada and the other in Walt Disney World in Florida. We also hear that a city elsewhere in the USA is offering a lot of money for a race. We believe this may be New York, with the plan being to lay out a race track on Governor's Island, which is currently being redeveloped following defense cuts in recent years.

The seriousness of the Las Vegas and Disney World projects is such that it may well have gone beyond a point where the two can be played against each other, and both may need to be found slots in the calendar in the years ahead. Certainly there is little doubt that both parties are willing to outspend most of the European race tracks to get a race.

Following the recent visit to the Monaco GP of Las Vegas casino magnate Steve Wynn, the Walt Disney Company president Michael Ovitz popped up in Montreal. We hear also that Disney's chief executive Michael Eisner paid a very low-key visit to the European GP at the Nurburgring to see what F1 was all about.

Disney will not be ready for a race until November 1998, but offers enormous benefits for F1 in terms of merchandising and re-establishing F1 in the American market through Disney TV network ABC.

There were rumors in Montreal that the Las Vegas bid will be ready to run a race at the end of 1997 and, with three gaps on the calendar announced last week by the FIA, Vegas could slot into a November 2 date, two weeks after the Japanese GP.

Adding to the speculation is the fact that Michael Schumacher left Montreal after the race to fly to Las Vegas for a few day's of rest and - we hear - meetings with some of the casino bosses.

The Las Vegas group is expected to show Schumacher where they intend to run the race and our spies tell us that the circuit layout has changed to avoid disruption on the famous Las Vegas Boulevard South - The Strip. The original plan was to run the race around the casinos at the Tropicana Avenue/Las Vegas Boulevard intersection. The new layout is further to the north where a new generation of hotel/resorts are currently being built on both sides of The Strip.

The first of these is the Monte Carlo, a 40-acre, 3000-room resort casino which opens this week. It is based on Casino Square in Monte Carlo and is a joint venture between Mirage Resorts and Circus Circus Enterprises built on what used to be the old Dunes Hotel and County Club. To the south is New York-New York, which is due to open in December. This is across the Strip from the massive MGM Grand and is being built by MGM in partnership with Primadonna Resorts, which runs Whiskey Pete's and Buffalo Bill's. Primadonna is owned by Gary Primm, a big F1 fan.

To the north of the Monte Carlo is the Bellagio casino/resort, another Circus Circus resort, which will open in 1998, ranged around a large lake.

The fourth new casino will be opposite Bellagio and will be called Paris, with a replica of the Eiffel Tower as one of the attractions. This is owned by Hilton, which now owns the entire block, including the Ballys, Flamingo Hilton and Barbary Coast hotel/casinos.

The new circuit location will include all of these casinos - with the pit area being in the Bellagio area. The new layout means that traffic on Tropicana and Flamingo will be unaffected by the race and, while the Strip will have to be closed, there is still access to all the new casinos from Industrial Road, which runs parallel to The Strip.

Support for the race comes mainly from Mirage and Circus Circus with support from Hilton and Primadonna. The MGM Grand is currently neutral and it should be noted that this is probably because the casino's chief executive is Terence Lanni, who was employed at Caesar's Palace when F1 visited there in the early 1980s.

Steve Wynn of Mirage was in Monaco recently for the Grand Prix with some of his management team. Significantly, the group included Stephen Cloobeck, who organized the recent beautification program of the Strip, bringing the casino owners together to fund the planting of trees and flowers in the center of the Strip.

If there are to be two US Grands Prix in the future they will need to be at opposite ends of the calendar. It is more logical for Disney to be in November because its location is better suited to beaming TV pictures into homes in America and Europe at prime times. A race in Las Vegas would be too late in Europe to hit the biggest TV audiences.

Las Vegas might be offered a slot at the start of the year - when the weather would be fine - and this might explain the strange machinations currently going on over the Australian GP date.

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