Korean Grand Prix braces for the masses

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Korean Grand Prix braces for the masses

YEONGAM, South Jeolla - Preparations for the 2012 Korean Formula One Grand Prix are well under way as the small county in South Jeolla looks to solidify its standing as the country’s auto sports mecca, according to the chief organizer of the event yesterday.

With less than 100 days to go before the start of the race, Park Jong-moon, secretary general of the organizing committee, expressed confidence in the success of Yeongam’s third grand prix in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo. The F1 Grand Prix, the 16th of the 20 events in the season, will be held on Oct. 12-14 at the Yeongam International Circuit.

“Over the past years, Korea’s fan base has grown and we will reduce mistakes based on the experiences from the two previous events,” Park said. “We will host a higher-quality and more successful event this year than the previous races.”

The 110,000 capacity Yeongam Circuit cost 430 billion won ($378.9 million) to build, mostly funded by the central government and the provincial government of South Jeolla.

The target was to draw around 200,000 people to the circuit over the three-day event each year, but only 160,000 spectators have attended during each of the first two years.

Park was confident the event will draw in more spectators this year. The ticket sales so far bode well for his prediction with a 25 percent growth on-year. He partly credited it to the availability of cheaper tickets. The cheapest ticket now on sale is priced at 10,000 won, although it is only for a Friday practice run.

Improved transportation services and lodging will also boost the grand prix’s popularity this year, he said.

The expressway linking Mokpo and Gwangyang, two South Jeollan cities neighboring Yeongam, was opened in April, cutting the driving time between South Gyeongsang and the circuit by around an hour, according to the organizers.

The Mokpo Grand Bridge was also opened last month, making it possible for people coming from Seoul to get direct access to the circuit, saving around half an hour.

Park also said more domestic flights and bullet train operations to Mokpo will be arranged during the event this year.

“Because the transportation services have become so good, I am even concerned that spectators will just leave after the event without shopping in Yeongam or Mokpo,” he said.

Park said more alternative lodging facilities other than hotels would be mobilized, including the Buddhist temples in the region.

“Foreign tourists last year spoke well of temple stays and we will make good use of it this year as well. This year, people can also use a camping village in Haenam, South Jeolla, and we will set up 200 camping cars and 800 tents there.”

The sustainability of the Korean event is still hanging by a thread, with the organizers struggling to reduce the deficit. The Korean government earmarked 5 billion won worth of subsidies this year. Park said he expects corporate sponsorships will also grow in line with the rising popularity of the sport.

“Formula One is no longer only for those crazy about the sport,” Park said.

By Lee Hae-joon, Moon Gwang-lip[ joe@joongang.co.kr]

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