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Formula 1 goes to Indy

FORMULA 1 is coming back to America. After months of waiting Tony George and Bernie Ecclestone announced last Wednesday that there will be a United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the year 2000. George revealed details of a 2.5-mile road circuit, which will include the famous main straight at IMS - although the F1 cars will be running in the opposite direction to Indycars - and a new series of corners in the infield which will run from close to Turn 4 to Hulman Boulevard, which runs down the center of the Speedway. This will become a 500m straight before another new section of track takes the cars around the Hall of Fame to rejoin the oval between Turns 1 and 2. Computer predictions suggest that cars will lap the track with an average speed of around 130mph, with the top speed of around 200mph.

The circuit was designed six years ago by IMS's director of engineering and construction Kevin Forbes, who incorporated the idea into the design of the Brickyard golf course. Work will begin almost immediately with the demolition of the Tower Terrace grandstands which will make way for 36 F1-standard garages. The famous Gasoline Alley garages will be unaffected by the work. There will be a new Media Center at the north end of the pitlane. The work - which will cost around $16.6m to complete - will create a track with a spectator capacity of around 200,000 and should be completed by this time next year so that F1 cars can test on the circuit before the 2000 season begins.

The date of the race has yet to be settled. Bernie Ecclestone had proposed the end of June - two weeks after the Canadian GP - but George felt that it would not be easy to switch the Speedway from oval form at the end of May into road course form and then back to oval form in time for the Brickyard 400 NASCAR race. "We would like to not have to work with that time frame," George said. "A Fall date would work nice."

George added that: "I know we're not going to be asked to accept a date that's unreasonable" which would seem to indicate that stories about F1 wanting the Indy 500 date should not be taken too seriously. Whatever the case the deal means that Indianapolis will be the only race track in the world to host F1, Indycars and NASCAR.

"The US Grand Prix will underscore the words that are chiseled in stone over the entrance of this building," said George in a news conference in the Hall of Fame. "The Racing Capital of the World". "Our vision is international leadership in motorsports entertainment and the US Grand Prix underscores the reality of that vision." George said that Indianapolis would help F1 to re-establish itself in the United States, hinting that there are likely to be other US races added to the calendar in the years ahead.

The news has delighted many of the big sponsors involved in Grand Prix racing, who have been pushing for a US event. "We've always felt it was important that the World Championship be contested in the US," commented Ford's head of worldwide racing Dan Davis. "I believe this is an important step in helping re-establish the appeal of F1 racing with the American audience. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a place that Americans young and old know about, and care about."

The length of the deal was not made public but Ecclestone traditionally works on five year contracts and so it is logical to assume that the initial deal will last until 2004 and there are certain to be options beyond that. George is understood to be paying Ecclestone around $10m a year to have the F1 circus at Indianapolis but with a 200,000 spectator capacity breaking even should not be too difficult.

George said that tickets will cost about the same as those for the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400. Order forms can be obtained by sending a postcard with name and address to US Grand Prix at Indianapolis, P.O. Box 24916, Speedway, Indiana 46224 or by calling (800) 822-4639 or by sending an e-mail request with name and address information to tickets@brickyard.com.

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