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Valencia starts bid for Formula 1 race

THE government of Spain's Valencia state has secured an FIA Formula 1 testing licence for its recently-opened Circuito Ricardo Tormo. The venue, which was inaugurated in September, hosted a round of the FIM World Motorcycle Championship and will hold an FIA GT event in a few weeks from now. In December the Minardi team visited the track to do some demonstration runs for its sponsor Telefonica, and the head of the local government was there to watch, an indication that the track is seen as an important element in the promotion of tourism in the region.

There have even been suggestions that Telefonica will use the track as the headquarters for Minardi if the Spanish team is relocated to Spain next year.

The company which is developing the track is headed by Facundo Garcia de la Cuadra and he says that the ultimate aim is a Grand Prix. In the short term, however, the circuit would like to become a regular testing facility for F1 teams. It has a lot to commend it.

The 2.52-mile facility has three different track layouts and is located at Cheste, which is 20 miles to the west of the city of Valencia on the road to Madrid (although the Spanish capital is 200 miles away). It is a similar distance to Barcelona but there is a motorway all the way and the track has been built with easy access to the circuit from the motorway and from the local airport. Being considerably further south than Barcelona the weather is better and there is less likelihood of rain than at Jerez as the Valencia area is not affected by Atlantic weather patterns. It is much more accessible than Jerez and may prove to have a less abrasive surface than Barcelona, which is famous for using up tires quickly. With the current F1 tire restrictions this is an important factor.

The Barcelona circuit has been hosting the Spanish GP for the last 10 years and in recent months there have been suggestions that the local government may be losing interest in the project and might be willing to sell the track and use the money for other projects. As the locals have to pay a considerable sum of money each year to Bernie Ecclestone in order to host the race, Barcelona may decide not to renew the current contract which runs out after the 2001 race. The race was the idea of Catalan premier Jordi Pujol, who comes from the local town of Granollers, but the 70-year-old's popularity slipped in elections last autumn and although he still controls the region, he may be looking for new ideas.

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