SAVING THE GRAND PRIX

The Melbourne Grand Prix has come and gone again. Everyone wonders how it survives but it does. The "gate" each time is apparently down on the one two years earlier, but the coyness of successive Victorian governments in disclosing the balance sheet means we shall probably never know whether this dreary orgy of noise and speed costs the state more than it "earns". The one thing certain is that spivvy Bernie Ecclestone, the race's owner, never fails to get the vast sum he demands each time for allowing Melbourne the privilege of holding the event -  $55 million or thereabouts and not a penny less or else, as the cocky little squirt warned just before this year's Grand Prix, he takes his business elsewhere.

If audiences are falling, there's a ready explanation, according to prominent motor enthusiasts' group the Friends of Exhaust Fumes. It's because the Melbourne Grand Prix "is confined to a pathetic tiny circuit hardly big enough for a tricycle race", booms Merv Klaxon, FOEF president and leading car dealer.  "The present course is so short that the race has hardly started and it's finished," he yells. "There's no scope for spectacular driving or the kind of pile-ups that look good on TV. Let's face it, it's a Clayton's."

The FOEF has drawn up proposals for a vastly extended Grand Prix circuit "to take the race to all the people of Melbourne". The new course would run from the Shrine of Remembrance along St Kilda Road via Federation Square to Bourke Street, through the pedestrian mall and back again, up the steps of Parliament House and in the front door, through Queen's Hall and out the other side into the Fitzroy Gardens. All principal roads required for the event would be blocked off to traffic, trams and the public and widened to take twenty lanes of racing cars. There would be "pit stops" conveniently located in the nave of St Paul's Cathedral, the cosmetics department of David Jones and the parlour of Captain Cook's Cottage.

In addition to the designated city-centre course, the FOEF envisages "alternative raceways" through the leafy streets of prosperous eastern suburbs. These could be chosen "spontaneously" by competitors to lend "an element of surprise" to the race. An "alternative raceway" would necessitate the removal of all "street trees and other obstacles - and if a lot of front gardens have to go too, well that's the price of progress," bawls Mr Klaxon.

The FOEF proposal calls for houses and other buildings along all "circuit options" to be compulsorily acquired, and if necessary demolished. Those not impeding the route would be adapted for use as corporate boxes and grandstands or as ambulance stations and mortuaries for emergencies. "Of course," bellows Mr Klaxon, "hi-tech amplification equipment will need to be installed along all routes so that even up to forty kilometres from the race everyone can thrill to the sound of classic virtuoso driving."

FOEF describes its plan as "an imaginative means of achieving greater public involvement in the Grand Prix while at the same time ensuring that individual NIMBY interests are now allowed to override those of the motor-racing professionals." Mr Klaxon admitted that he had not yet "discussed the matter with Bernie," but "would not be surprised" if "an extended race" prompted the diminutive Formula One boss to ask for more money. "This could easily be found out of all the savings the Victorian government is making by its current spending cuts," blared Mr Klaxon in his foghorn voice. "In fact it would be an excellent investment." He called on the Victorian government to give "top priority" to developing the new circuits in time for 2014 or run the risk of losing the Grand Prix "and all the many benefits it brings to our state."

22 March 2012

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