SEPTEMBER 23, 1996

Formula 1 for Phillip Island

THE Formula 1 team principals are planning a week-long testing session at the Phillip Island circuit next Spring.

THE Formula 1 team principals are planning a week-long testing session at the Phillip Island circuit next Spring. The Phillip Island track is located about one hundred miles to the south of Melbourne, just off the Mornington Peninsular. The circuit is located on the island which is joined to the mainland by a single bridge. Despite its remoteness Phillip Island is a popular tourist spot, famous for its penguins.

It is also the spiritual home of Australian motor racing and hosted the first Australian Grand Prix in March 1928 on a 6.5Êmile dirt and gravel track on public roads. There were 10,000 spectators for that first event and in the following years the popularity of 'The Island' grew, despite the fact that in those days cars had to be transported to the track by boat.

The original track layout was altered over the years, but by 1935 the circuit could no longer cope with the speeds involved and there were a string of serious accidents. The Grand Prix moved away and Phillip Island drifted into obscurity

In the mid-Fifties a group of local enthusiasts formed the Phillip Island Auto Racing Club and found a site - in a natural bowl overlooking Port Phillip Bay - to build a new permanent circuit. This became the home of the Armstrong 500, an endurance event for touring cars, which became Australia's biggest modern racing event, the Bathurst 1000. In 1962, however, the cars tore up the track surface, forcing the race to move to Bathurst. The circuit stayed open until the early 1980s when financial pressures brought about its closure. It was then bought, drained and resurfaced with the aim of becoming one of Australia's top race tracks. It is now run by the Melbourne Major Events company the same body which is behind the F1 Grand Prix in Albert Park.

The planned test - scheduled to take place between February 24 and March 2 would not only boost the image of the circuit but would also mean that F1 teams could test not far from Melbourne in preparation of the opening round of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship, which will be rescheduled for March 9.

Some team owners are objecting to the idea, saying they would prefer to go to South Africa.