JANUARY 10, 2000

Whispers from the United States...

FURTHER details are beginning to emerge about a second mysterious bidder for the Minardi team in early December.

FURTHER details are beginning to emerge about a second mysterious bidder for the Minardi team in early December. The bidding battle was won by Telefonica, which had first option to buy the team. The second bid came from the consortium fronted by former Tyrrell team manager Rupert Manwaring - which has been looking at Arrows ever since - but we now hear that there was a third bidder for the little Italian team.

We believe that this bid had the backing of multi-millionaire Sankey Johnson of Wayzata, Minnesota. A former automotive industry executive, Johnson - who is known as Tony - established the Hidden Creek company in 1989. He remains the president and chief executive officer. Hidden Creek owns significant shareholdings in Tower Automotive, Dura Automotive and Heavy DutyÊHoldings. Johnson is chairman of all three companies.

The best known of these is Tower Automotive which was established in 1993 and has since taken over a string of smaller companies as it bids to become the primary supplier to automobile manufacturers in the world. It supplies a broad range of assemblies to Ford, DaimlerChrysler, General Motors, Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Fiat, BMW and Volkswagen. The company owns subsidiaries in Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Italy, China, Korea and Japan. It also owns Automotive Products - a well-known British supplier.

Hidden Creek is also the major shareholder in Dura Automotive Systems which specializes in braking systems and driver control systems. Heavy Duty Holdings specializes in components for trucks.

In the last few years Johnson has developed an interest in auto racing and he is now the chairman of Saleen Performance, which builds high performance Ford Mustangs and has been developing machinery in the American Le Mans Series.

Johnson's interest in Formula 1 appears to have come about because of Hidden Creek's ambition to become a major player in the world's automotive component business as it begins to consolidate.

Our sources suggest that Johnson is a partner in the new Mo Nunn Racing, alongside Mo Nunn, Bruce McCaw and RodÊCampbell. Whether or not all the partners are involved in the plans to buy into F1 is not clear but it is worth noting that the other three partners have all had interests in Grand Prix racing. Nunn struggled to make it in F1 with the Ensign team in the late 1970s, McCaw is an F1 fan and has the biggest collection of BRM machinery in the world and Campbell has long been involved in F1 through his involvement as PR man for the Ford Motor Company.

Perhaps the plan for Grand Prix racing to return to America has given them the idea to establish an American F1 team?