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NOVEMBER 4, 1996

China confirms 1997 race bid

CHINESE officials have confirmed that the country is bidding for a Grand Prix next year with the Federation of Automobile Sports of the People's Republic of China's FIA delegate Qi Jincheng expected to propose a race in November next year when the World Motor Sport Council meets in December.

Qi Jincheng sits on the FIA World Touring Council, the sister body to the WMSC.

Last weekend China held its third international racing event, the first on the brand new Zhuhai International Circuit, which was only officially opened a few weeks ago. The Marlboro-sponsored GT sportscar race was won by a Porsche driven by Emmanuel Collard and Ralf Kelleners, with drivers reporting that the 2.68 mile track is up to F1 standard.

Zhuhai is only 35 miles by a new motorway from Hong Kong and has a brand new airport. It is being used by the Chinese as a "show city", being the venue this year of international events such as a recent film festival and this week's international air show.

The Chinese have been planning for an event since 1991 when a 1000-acre parcel of government land was made available for the development of a sports complex which would include not only a racing circuit but also a top-level 18-hole golf course and two big hotels. A deal was signed with a Malaysian company called Lamdeal. Work began in 1993 and FIA President Max Mosley visited the site at the end of that year when he went to Zhuhai to watch China's first international motor race, a production car event on the streets of the city.

A large delegation of Chinese officials and representatives from Philip Morris Asia attended the French Grand Prix and spoke optimistically about hosting a race in 1997. The timing would suit the Chinese government as it is keen to promote the image that China is opening up at the same time as the British government's 99-year lease on Hong Kong runs out and the colony is handed back to China.

The race would suit most of the big companies involved in F1 as they are all eager to break into the vast Chinese consumer market. The weather in the region would suit the available November 2 date - the championship finale - as the monsoon season would be over. Temperatures at that time of year would be pleasant, as Zhuhai is on the same latitude as Havana and Riyadh.

Having a title showdown in China would suit F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone's aim of keeping F1 in the international limelight.