Work in Sports
A welcome addition
Depressed German town welcomes superspeedway
SENFTENBERG, Germany (AP) -- Bryan Herta is accustomed to seeing waving and cheering fans as he drives by in his turbocharged Indy car -- just not for taking practice laps.
The seven-year CART veteran had a new experience on Sunday, getting a hero's welcome from 80,000 as he took a few relatively lazy spins around the modern EuroSpeedway.
It was merely the opening ceremony for the new 60-hectare (1,500-acre) complex, yet German racing fans clearly were delighted to watch the first CART Champ car cruise around their new track -- which some say will rank among the world's best.
“It's going to be spectacular,” Herta said. “The track is very wide and I think passing should be good. The interest from the fans were enormous. They kept telling me over and over, thank you for coming.”
EuroSpeedway, a $112 million complex, is the first in Europe to combined both the ovals popular in many American racing series as well as the road courses favored by Formula One.
Over the weekend, a motorcycle race will be the first offical event held at the fledgling track. In September of next year, CART will make its European debut on a 3.2-kilometer (2-mile) superspeedway oval.
A week later, CART will stage a second FedEx Championship Series race in Europe at Rockingham Motor Speedway in Corby, England.
CART, which this season has races in Australia, Brazil, Japan and two in Canada in addition to the United States, will stage eight of its 22 events outside the United States next season, adding a race in Monterrey, Mexico.
While Europe normally is considered a bastion of Formula One, CART's 380-kph machines are being enthusiastically welcomed both by EuroSpeedway's ambitious management, and practically almost everybody else that hasn't fled the Lausitz.
The area, once Eastern Germany's coal region, has become a desolate place since strip mining was shut down after German unification 10 years ago.
The city nearest the track, Senftenberg, is plagued by Germany's highest unemployment rate. Officially it's 25 percent, with another 10 percent in job or training programs, while countless former mine workers have been forced into early retirement to get them off the rols.
Seftenberg dates back to the 13th century, but can't escape its recent past. Huge coal craters abut every side of the city. One, at least, has raised the local's hopes by being paved over with asphalt.
“The EuroSpeedway is fantastic,” said Gottfried Pauzlud, a taxi driver. “It was depressing every time something else closed. We can't all leave - we need some jobs here.”
CART is especially welcome because it just might be the biggest event on the new track's calendar next season. But EuroSpeedway's managers clearly have bigger plans, in fact enormous plans.
“We want to be the world's first speedway to host the four major motor racing events -- Formula One, Champ Car, NASCAR (American stock cars) and the Motorcycle World Championship,” said business manager Hans-Joerg Fischer.
By all reports, the EuroSpeedway's design warrants Fischer's ambitions to grow into Europe's most important stage for motor sports.
“It's just really well thought-out, the layout, the grandstands,” CART's vice president of communications Ron Richards said. “You have a circuit that really does set the standards for many circuits around the world.”
The oval on which the CART cars will race encloses a twisting Formula One circuit. Unusual for a European track, 90 percent of the 120,000 spectators will have a clear view of the whole circuit on four different tracks.
Linked to the oval track is a huge test track, for both driving teams and companies like BMW and Daimler-Chrysler to test new passenger cars. Next to it is a test, research and development center.
CART is hoping American-style open-wheel racing, with frequent lead changes, and high-speed side-by-side duels will appeal to fans accustomed to Formula One events, in which only a few teams are competitive.
“There's a pretty strong following for our sport in that area of the world,” Richards said. “It's very exciting, very high speed, it's something people in Europe haven't seen before.”
Senftenberg's residents just want jobs, whether CART or someone else brings their show to the gleaming new track. Only 70 people will be working full-time at the facility, although the spin-offs could be enormous from hotel and restaurant guests to high-tech companies moving in.
Everyone in desperate Senftenring hopes so, at least. Things couldn't get much worse, they say.
“We'll have to wait-and-see, but everybody's enthusiastic,” said Susann Noatmik, 17. “At least the city won't be dying. Maybe it will even get modern.”
But if the EuroSpeedway is ever to become the biggest and best in Europe, it's going to have to land a Formula One race - still the biggest game on this side of the Atlantic. But the two German events already are locked up by other tracks contractually for the next few years.
“Formula One is one my mind every day,” Fischer said. “It's my job to find out how to get one.”