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India's Grand Prix preparations right on track
The drive is long and winding but changes to the discerning are markedly visible. What a few months ago was a dust trail is now a road wide enough for two cars. In September, the proposed Formula One track was a collection of earth mounds, big and small. Humoungous earth movers dotted the landscape. Five months and thousands of man hours later, what seemed like a fantasy seems to be taking a firm shape.
The undulating, 5. 14-km long track now has tar on its surface and within a few weeks, the tarmac would be ready. The main grandstand, which will seat 20, 000 people, and the pit buildings are taking shape. Work goes on nearly round the clock - 6, 500 labourers are employed and fed to work in two shifts. Traces of landscaping can be spotted. Even though work is going on at a blinding pace, there's lot to be done. The glitz of the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi has set the benchmark high. Very high.
Completed in just a little over two years, for any newcomer to the F1 fold, Abu Dhabi is what they must emulate, if bettering it isn't an option. While it may be too early for any comparisons between Abu Dhabi and New Delhi, for the Jaypee Group this Formula One circuit at $300 million is by no means their most expensive project but it's definitely their most highbrow.
The Gaur family knows that all eyes - in India and worldwide - are on them and they are careful to not put a step wrong. They have preferred to quietly do their work, staying away from the chatter and glare of the cameras. Confident of completing the project given their expertise and core strength in building billiondollar infrastructure projects, this track is just another project for them.
With it still very much a family-controlled operation, the project hit a minor bump when Mark Hughes, a leading light at the Bahrain International Circuit and in charge of the proceedings at Greater Noida, chose to leave.
Hughes has now been snapped up by the Yas Marina Circuit but, just as swiftly, Azhar Ghazali, a former race organiser at Sepang, has been roped in to pay attention to detail for the Indian Grand Prix, scheduled to be held on October 30 this year.
The track and the race is the pet project of the Gaur patriarch, Jaiprakash Gaur, who often drops in to check on the progress, and it's his son Sameer who is the managing director and CEO of Jaypee Sports International, a subsidiary of the Jaypee Group. The construction and engineering aspects are looked after by a cheerful Boris Lazaric, CEO (construction) who sits at the makeshift and completely utilitarian offices at Greater Noida along with the young Manu Bhaskar Gaur, the engineering graduate from Berkley and executive general manager of JPSI. "It was my grandfather's dream to bring F1 to India. Were we unnerved by what it entailed? Absolutely not, " he says.
At the group's disposal is a 2, 500-acre expanse which will house, apart from the race track, a cricket stadium, a golf course and gated communities.
For a business conglomerate like Jaypee, building sports infrastructure is a just way of ensuring they get the maximum bang for their buck. The track, not expected to yield profits anytime soon, is just the glitter in what is essentially a massive housing project, even though MotoGP comes calling in 2012.
The track, expected to be the second fastest in the world with top speeds of 320 kmph on the straights, has plenty of features that would make racing and racewatching pleasurable.
"The track is 5. 14 km long and its thickness varies from 12-16 metres. The two very distinct features of the track that make it different from the usual are, firstly, that it is the second fastest track in the world - the top speed here will be 320 kmph - and, secondly, to facilitate exciting racing action, the track has a different contour at different sections. At one point, it's 13 metres then goes down to zero metres and then back again to 11 metres. Spectators will get the chance to see the cars going up and down the track at great speeds, which will make for a phenomenal spectacle, " adds Gaur.
"We have a huge amount of infrastructure coming up in the form of the main grandstand which can seat 20, 000 and then there are the pit buildings, with the garages on the bottom and the paddock on the top. Then we have 12 team buildings. The total expected seating capacity of this track is likely to be 1. 2 lakh. About 70, 000 people will be in the temporary stands and about 30, 000 people can be accommodated on the grass, " he adds.
The homologation, scheduled for July-August, is only just one of the worries that JPSI have. The buildings have to be constructed and furbished. The grass has to be planted on the natural stands and landscaping needs to begin. The approach road will need to be spruced up once the Yamuna Expressway is completed. What makes a good race isn't just a good racing surface but a whole range of activities like customs clearance, freight handling, security and hospitality.
But Manu isn't fazed by what lies ahead. There is nothing to indicate that they won't complete the project in time but topping Abu Dhabi probably right now is just a dream
"We're looking to keep the track as full as possible. There will be a MotoGP in 2012 and feeder series. This track is part of a very big project called Sports City. There will be a lot of commercial development that will tide us over. It's a unique and sound business model, " he sounds much the businessman.
"It would be like bringing Monaco here, " the Formula One fan then lets that one slide in.
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