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Motor racing: Indian GP organizers upbeat despite attendance dip

Red Bull Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel (L) of Germany leads on the first turn of the Indian F1 Grand Prix at the Buddh International C
Red Bull Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel (L) of Germany leads on the first turn of the Indian F1 Grand Prix at the Buddh International C

By Amlan Chakraborty

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A significant dip in race-day attendances failed to stop Indian Grand Prix organizers basking in the glory of an otherwise successful second edition.

The Buddh International Circuit on the outskirts of Delhi put behind the teething problems that plagued the inaugural race last year and put up a show without major glitch.

The drivers gave a thumbs-up to the 5.14 kilometer track, teams hailed the clean paddock and the facilities sported a completed look that was not the case last year.

None of these, however, could gloss over the dip in the numbers of fans, the most important constituent of any sport, as 65,000 of them turned up for Sunday's race down from last year's 95,000.

Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone was not worried.

"First races are always high and the second year goes down. If the third year isn't going up, then it's something to worry about," the Briton who celebrated his 82nd birthday at the circuit told reporters.

"We have a competitor here. What's the name of that game? Cricket. That's it," added Formula One's most powerful man.

Indian motorsports federation chief Vicky Chandhok reiterated the same three-year cycle and predicted a bigger turnout in 2013.

"Formula One is like this only. This is the trend everywhere. From third race onwards, you'd see some kind of stability. Overall, it has been a huge improvement from last year," he said.

FANS MAKE RACES SPECIAL

McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton said the Indian Grand Prix would not become one of the most sought-after races on Formula One calendar if fans in the cricket-mad country turned their back on it.

"Generally when you have good races, you have good crowds and that's what makes your weekend," he said, referring to races in Singapore, Silverstone, Catalunya and Montreal.

"Those are really special circuits. The city comes alive and the circuit is just alive because of the fans.

"I think the fans are what will make it a real special race...Not just cricket, which is pretty cool but Formula One is quite cool too," said the Mercedes-bound driver.

Force India Team Principal and Managing Director Vijay Mallya attributed the moderate turnout to logistic issues and affordability in the land of glaring social inequality.

"Last year clearly was a novelty, first ever Formula One in India etc," the liquor baron told Reuters.

"It is quite a drive from Delhi and people's apprehensions are also about parking. If you don't have a car pass, you could be a long way from the entrance gates.

"The traffic also is a consideration...the third is hotels. If you look around here, there are many new hotels of a very high standard but (need) more for middle class and upper middle class people. For an average person, it's pretty expensive," he said.

According to Mallya, the 100,000-plus capacity track could well be brimming with fans next year, provided the race is promoted in a big way.

"I think that some more marketing and some more road shows will bring more of an audience in here," he said.

(Additional reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Patrick Johnston)

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