Formula 1 and Sri Lanka

SRI LANKA has just opened its first racing circuit and it is hoped that the 1.3-mile circuit, located 40 miles to the north of the capital Colombo, will host Formula 3 races in the future.

Up to now what little automobile racing there has been in Sri Lanka has been conducted on roads and old aerodromes and the new circuit is a big step forward for the country. Speed Development Lanka Ltd., the company which has built the track is planning to expand the facility and is already looking at ways in which it could finance the construction of a Formula 1 circuit near the port of Trincomalee. The intention would be to attract tourists to the island and so increase the country's foreign earnings.

Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) was a British colony until 1948. In 1972 it became a republic and severed all links with Britain and began to build up its own economy but in 1983 ethnic tension between the Tamils (around 20% of the population) and the majority Sinhalese exploded into a civil war. For nearly 20 years the government has tried to defeat the Tamil Tigers without success. Sri Lanka is now one of the poorer countries in Asia and the eastern states, where the Tamils were in the majority, have suffered most.

In February a Norwegian peace plan was accepted by the warring parties and as a result there will be an autonomous Tamil region with Trincomalee as its capital. The locals are hoping to revive the tourist trade that was just beginning in the late 1970s. The area boasts some of the finest beaches in the world but in recent years Sri Lankan tourism has been concentrated in the peaceful south-west of the island, which attracts 400,000 visitors a year.

The aim of the Sri Lankans is to win back tourists from the Maldives and other resorts in the region, notably Malaysia and Thailand.

There is some opposition to too much development on the Trincomalee coast but the idea of using F1 fits in with the plan to attract the top-end of the tourist market to high-quality but exclusive resorts rather than inundating the area with mass tourism.

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