nears completion, fighting hard to win CART date against England
For the past 10 years, Germany's recrowned capital, Berlin, has been Europe's largest construction site. Reinventing itself as East and West blend into one, the sprawling metropolis is a delightful mix of bold architecture and attitude, energy and élan. Berlin is once again the flagship of Germany.
As construction moves at a fast pace in Berlin, the same fast-paced construction is going on 54 miles to the south. On August 20th, the 2.0 mile Lausitzring oval in Germany will be opened. Initially a shoe-in for a CART date, the first oval race-track in Germany now has competition in England, where the new Rockingham track also wants to put on a Champ Car race. Their biggest hurdle - CART team owner Jerry Forsythe - also a member of the CART Board - has a 10% share in the 1½ mile British oval track. (Editor's Note: Jerry Forsythe has told us that he will not be allowed to vote on this decision). Who will get the date is anyone's guess at this point, but Andrew Craig promises a decision within 30 days.
We have learned that the Lausitzring had an opportunity to sign a contract with CART even before Rockingham was in the picture, but for various reasons we are told, did not do so. Only after Forsythe's Rockingham track came into play with an offer, did Germany then come back to CART with a new President and CEO, Hans-Jörg Fischer, and with a higher counter-offer and a brand new entertainment concept.
So here we are today, with two good offers and, as yet, no decision by CART. We decided to take a closer look at the Lausitzring to see if the facility was as good as advertised. They say the Germans don't do anything 2nd rate. Judging by what we see, they don't. As you read, I strongly urge you to click on the images to see a larger view. The larger view gives you a much better idea just how grandiose this facility is. These photos were taken between January and March, 2000. Construction is even further along now.
It's still months to go before the its opening, but "full speed ahead" is the order of business. The race-track is due to have its Grand Opening on the third weekend in August, with a gigantic show and racing cars of all sorts.
Right now, some 800 workers are hard at work each day trying to make the opening date - a mammoth undertaking, because the giant building site looks like total confusion made up of mud, concrete, sand, asphalt and glass.
Lausitzring, which touts itself as the most modern racetrack in Europe, will then hold its first race the first weekend in September, when it hosts the DTM, the German touring-car Masters. The site still looks more like a tank-training ground than a sporting arena, but the building work is going ahead at a furious pace. "It will all be ready here in September", says Hans-Jörg Fischer, President and CEO of the Lausitzring, with unconcealed pride. But until the lights on the start and finish straight go green for the first time in earnest, there is still much earth to be moved. There will be 40 km of access roads (about 24 miles), connecting strips, and banking for the lower grandstands. There will be space for 40,000 cars to park on the 1,425 acre site. "In spite of the large area, we want to keep all the footpaths as short as possible. This is why we located the car parking lots directly behind the grandstands. We want to become the spectator-friendliest track in Europe" said Hans-Jörg Fischer.
Unless a CART race would be a bigger draw than even we can imagine, a lack of seating will hardly be a problem at the Lausitzring. The grandstands seat 120,000 and 10,000 seats are under cover. "The main grandstand is the largest in Europe", says Hans-Jörg Fischer. "It is over 1,200 feet long, over 120 feet high. That is supplemented by lower grandstands that extend around turn 3 and along the full length of the main straight.
Hans-Werner Aufrecht, President of the International Touring Car Racing Club (ITR), and responsible for the new DTM (German Touring Car Masters), recently had a good look at the $150 million project. "The whole thing is stupendous", enthused the DTM boss. "What particularly impresses me is the spectator-friendliness. Right behind the grandstands, for example, are any number of parking places," something European race fans are unaccustomed to at existing race tracks. On September 3rd, the sixth DTM race of the 2000 season, is expected to draw fans to the Lausitzring. Aufrecht went on to say, "now the challenge is ours to fill the grandstands".
the pit area alone, 3,200 m³ of concrete was used. With 55 garages, it is unique in Europe. So far, more than 3 million cubic
meters of earth have been
moved, and every two minutes another truck delivers more tons of building materials. The race control tower is standing already, as is the enormous main
grandstand. It can clearly be seen from the A13 Motorway, marking the Lausitzring.
But it's not only the DTM touring cars which are set to attract the fans.
The Lausitzring will also be laid out as a two-mile superspeedway for Champ car- and NASCAR-series races. Within the oval, with its
banked curves, there is the Grand Prix circuit, which will meet Formula 1 standards, and which can be adapted for cars or motorcycles. Of particular interest for 24-hour racing and for industrial material and endurance tests is the long-distance course of 11.3 km, incorporating the Grand Prix circuit.
From the information we have right now, the Lausitzring appears to be much more of a major racing facility than it's competition in England. It is also much further ahead in construction. Whether CART races there is not for us to decide, but to let such a grand facility such as this pass them by, and possibly lay dormant seems downright ludicrous.
Mr. Fischer thinks he can get 60,000 fans there the first year, about 50% of the seating capacity. He also thinks a full-house of 120,000 fans is not impossible within a few years. Going against the track is it's somewhat remote location...a little like Michigan with not an abundant amount of nearby hotels, and no German drivers in the series. Getting them there and keeping them entertained would appear to be somewhat of a challenge. Until you begin to look a little closer.
Can the Lausitzring eventually draw 120,000 people? Mr. Fischer thinks he can, or the Germans would not be bidding over $4 million a year just in sanctioning fees. In the USA, CART competes against many sports. In eastern Europe, there is much less competition for motorsports. Eastern Europe is a large untapped market of sports starved fans, especially auto racing, who just in the last 10 years, have emerged from communist suppression. 20 million Germans, Poles and Czechs live within a 120 mile radius. Bringing a little bit of America into their backyard might just bring them out in droves, initially just out of curiosity. The close competition seen in CART will keep them coming back. And of course, there is no reason why western Europeans won't make the trek to the race as well. If the number of fans that show up at both German F-1 races is any indication, there is a good bet CART would soon be playing to a packed house in a few short years, assuming Mr. Fischer's group does an effective marketing campaign.
So there you have it - - the Lausitzring story. Will CART be racing there in 2001? Time will tell. About 30 days worth.
How to get there
Photos and and some information contained in this article were supplied courtesy of the Lausitzring
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