Cape Town F1 race eyed for 2013

JOHANNESBURG -- A company headed by a former political prisoner wants to bring Formula One back to South Africa after a 20-year absence with a street race in Cape Town in 2013.

The Cape Town Grand Prix Bid Company hopes to hold a race at the foot of iconic Table Mountain in the picturesque coastal venue. Part of the plans involve the F1 cars racing through the World Cup soccer stadium.

Led by 41-year-old Igshaan Amlay -- who was sent to prison as a teenager in 1987 for his part in a student protest against apartheid -- the company said it had been in contact with Bernie Ecclestone's office since late 2009. It's lobbying for a meeting with the F1 boss before the start of the new season March 11.

"We have made significant progress with Mr. Ecclestone," spokesperson Esther Henderson told The Associated Press Wednesday. "We have an invitation from his office.

"Back in 2009, his office said he would like to meet with us, but unfortunately our national government was focused on the World Cup. But, the 2010 World Cup has now allowed Mr. Ecclestone to evaluate a major event in South Africa and we hope to secure a meeting with him before the grand prix season."

Ecclestone spoke last year of the series' interest in returning to South Africa. He hinted the country's successful hosting of the world's biggest soccer event boosted its chances of an F1 Grand Prix.

F1, like the World Cup, has set its sights on new markets, with a race in India this year. Russia is set to join the calendar in 2014. Africa is the only continent without an F1 Grand Prix.

Six races on the circuit -- Abu Dhabi, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Germany and Singapore -- have contracts with F1 that expire in 2012.

The South African Grand Prix was last staged in 1993, when Alain Prost won for the Williams-Renault team at the Kyalami race track near Johannesburg.

The Cape Town bidders believe their street race proposal fits in with the series' glamorous image. They note it offers an African version of Monaco's famous waterfront race, with cars racing along the city's Atlantic seaboard.

"It would be along the coast, with the city's magnificent landmarks," Henderson said. "It would be an iconic location for a TV broadcast, a very sexy location. It's about staging a show that's entertaining and the best of its kind, and we believe it would fit into Mr. Ecclestone's plans for F1."

The proposal also includes "full utilization of the Cape Town Stadium," the bid company said in a promotional document.

The $600 million arena, which was owned and run by the city of Cape Town, is in danger of becoming a white elephant because of its lack of use following last year's World Cup.

The cars would race through the stadium, Henderson said, in one tunnel and out the other in a unique idea for F1.

City and provincial government officials say the street race option was one of three bids for a Formula One race in Cape Town, South Africa's second largest city. The other two involve new tracks outside the city.

None of the bids has been officially endorsed by the city or the Western Cape provincial government.

"There's lots to be done and it's still early days," provincial tourism minister Alan Winde said, "but [an F1 bid] fits in with our strategy of attracting major events to the city."

Officials from Cape Town attended F1 races in Singapore and China last season to gather information on what is involved in hosting an F1 race.

Winde added the provincial government would have to "crunch the numbers" to see if the race made economic sense.

The chairman of the Western Cape Motor Club, which runs motorsport events in the province, said Cape Town had a "fighting chance" of hosting an F1 race in 2013. But he expressed concerns about the cost and disruption caused by a street race.

Brian Smith, who was not involved in any of the bids, placed the cost of hosting an F1 race in Cape Town at about $140 million.

Henderson would not reveal how much the bid company estimated it needed, but said it hoped to get financial backing mainly from private investors. The company wants to meet with South Africa's ministry of sport to gain government approval.

Ecclestone's Formula One Management company charges cities an average of $30 million to $40 million just for the right to host a race.

South Africa is expected to bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games later this year in an effort to bring the Olympics to Africa for the first time.