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Organisers hope later GP start can appease Ecclestone

Australian Grand Prix Corporation chairman Ron Walker said next year's race would start in order to satisfy Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone.
AFP | By HT Correspondent, Melbourne
UPDATED ON MAR 10, 2008 03:47 PM IST

Australian Formula One Grand Prix organisers have flagged a later start to the race next year in a bid to prevent the event heading offshore.

Australian Grand Prix Corporation chairman Ron Walker said Monday next year's race would start at 5:00 pm in an attempt to satisfy Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone.

Ecclestone has threatened to strip Australia of the race when the track's current contract expires in 2010 -- unless organisers agree to stage the Grand Prix at night so European television audiences can see it live at a reasonable hour.

But Walker said there was no chance that financial backer the Victoria state government could meet the cost of running it under lights, estimated to cost around 60 million dollars (38 million US) to install.

The best Walker said he could do to satisfy Ecclestone's night race directive was to cater for the later start.

"Let's clear the air and say that compromise is the art of good business, and we have made a huge compromise in terms of what Mr Ecclestone wants," Walker told a press conference.

"I think Mr Ecclestone is a very fair person actually and probably one of the greatest sports promoters in the world today and he understands how we run the sport.

"I believe we've gone a long way to appeasing Mr Ecclestone's aims to increase the TV audiences worldwide and I believe we will achieve that by the 5:00 pm start."

Ecclestone is expected to discuss the thorny night race issue with Victorian premier John Brumby over the next week.

Walker said the sprawling Albert Park venue made it impossible to stage the Australian GP under lights.

"We've got 300 hectares (740 acres) of land here," he said.

"It's just not lighting of the track here, it's lighting the whole park to protect our patrons."

Ecclestone wants Australia to fall into line with Singapore, which will stage the first-ever F1 night race on September 28.

But Walker said the situation in Singapore did not compare to Melbourne's Albert Park venue.

"It's different because they are doing a night race in the city of Singapore itself," he said.

The Australian Grand Prix has a contract with Ecclestone that will keep it in Melbourne until 2010.

Australian Grand Prix organisers have already moved the start time for Sunday's race from its traditional 2:00 pm to 3:30 pm (0430 GMT) so more European fans can watch live television coverage of the race.

Walker said if the later start time boosted international viewing numbers, then it would be pushed back further to 5:00 pm in 2009.

"All this can be achieved without any additional infrastructure costs."

The Melbourne race is financially hemorrhaging with Victoria losing almost 35 million dollars (33 million US) of taxpayers' money in 2007.

It is budgeting for a blowout of more than 40 million dollars this year. All up, the Melbourne GP has lost more than 120 million dollars since the race from switched from Adelaide in 1996.

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