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MAY 7, 2002

Australians go to Wuhan

A number of representatives from the Australian Grand Prix Corporation were spotted this week in Hong Kong apparently on their way to visit the central Chinese city of Wuhan, which has plans to build a Formula 1 circuit. Wuhan is the second serious F1 project in China, along Shanghai. A third project in Beijing is believed to have longterm ambitions.

The Melbourne organizers, it will be remembered, helped out with the plans for the Zhuhai circuit which had F1 ambitions a few years ago. The track was actually designed by John Harnden, who is now the chief executive of the race in Melbourne. Harnden is believed to be one of the party in China.

Wuhan is the capital of the Hubei Province and a city of seven million people. It is located on the plains of the River Yangtze and is a major inland port. It is a center of communications both from east-west and north-south. It has become in recent years a major industrial center with no fewer than 3300 joint-ventures with western companies, many of them well-known names. These include the car companies Renault and Peugeot.

Renault formed an alliance in 1993 with the Sanjiang Automobile Company and the company began to produce the Trafic minivan at its factory in Xiaogan, 50 miles to the north-west of Wuhan. Sales were poor however and were eventually suspended. China's entry into the World Trade Organization has opened up new possibilities however and there are plans for the factory to start producing the Kangoo model later this summer. There are now five Renault distributors and nine dealers in China and the company hopes to increase sales dramatically. Renault's links with Nissan and Samsung has also centered more interest in China where Nissan has a joint venture (also in Hubei) with the Dongfeng Automobile Company. There are several other automobile companies in the area and the local authorities want to use high technology industries to boost the region.

Wuhan boasts an Automobile University and a similar establishment for Science and Technology and wishes to use Formula 1 as a means of advertising its industrial ambitions.

The Wuhan bid is believed to be in competition with Shanghai, which is trying to promote an automobile city at Anting, the home of Shanghai Volkswagen.