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F1 offers Sochi a fast future post-Games

A Russian Time GP2 car drives at the newly opened Sochi International Street Circuit in Sochi, September 27, 2013. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
A Russian Time GP2 car drives at the newly opened Sochi International Street Circuit in Sochi, September 27, 2013. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

By Alan Baldwin

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Formula One's newest venue is a fenced-off building site, lines of skips and diggers parked along what will be the main straight, on the rubble-strewn fringes of an otherwise glittering Sochi Olympic Park.

The pitlane is roughly surfaced, the staircases and corridors above the garages littered with building materials and detritus. Wires dangle from the ceilings, empty shafts await their elevators.

The upper reaches of the main grandstand, and the VIP suites where the rich and famous will wine and dine in 'Paddock Club' opulence while watching the likes of four-times champion Sebastian Vettel blast past, are empty shells.

Spectators entering the Park on a balmy winter's day with tickets for the hottest show in town - Olympic figure skating or ice hockey - may not even realize they are walking along part of a racetrack.

It will be very different in eight months' time when what organizers hope will be a lasting legacy of the Winter Olympics takes shape in a much noisier and faster form - Russia's first Formula One Grand Prix on October 12.

Organizers say all is on schedule, even if the attention is currently on very different sports and brand new arenas a short stroll away.

"Construction of the autodrome in Sochi keeps moving forward. All works are being carried out according to the schedule. The racing track is 91 percent complete," said race promoter Oleg Zabara.

"Everything is according to plan, and there aren't any problems during Olympic period."

In written answers to questions submitted by Reuters, he said the team buildings in what will be the paddock behind the pit-lane complex were completed and so was the medical centrer next to the helipad.

Work on the interiors and facade of the pit building and race control was moving forward and a pedestrian bridge was nearly finished.

Zabara said fitting out the interior of the main grandstand and the laying of the third and final layer of asphalt on the track would be carried out once the Olympics and Paralympics were out of the way.

A decision would be made soon on whether to hold a test event on the circuit at the end of September and tickets will go on sale from March 4 through the promoter's website to be launched later this month.

MEGA EVENT

"We expect to sell 55,000 tickets," said Zabara, adding that most would be purchased by local motorsports fans even if visitors were expected from all over the world.

"We are already collecting pre-orders...The Russian Grand Prix is a mega event and a catalyst for the development of a motorsport community in Russia and Sochi."

The home fans will have Toro Rosso's Daniil Kvyat, a hot young prospect who comes from Ufa, to cheer on as well as the Russian-owned Marussia team.

Russia signed a seven-year deal with Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone in 2010 with the project to build the country's first purpose-built circuit costing $200 million, a fraction of the amount lavished on the Olympics.

The Hermann Tilke-designed 5.8-km track, with the Olympic Park as a centerpiece, will be the third longest on the calendar and cars are expected to hit maximum speeds of 320kph.

While Olympic legacy projects are usually directed to improving the environment or facilities for those sports featured in the Games, Sochi 2014 is unusual in its focus on motor sport.

"Hosting competitions of such a high level as the Formula One Russian Grand Prix gives an additional impulse to the post-Olympic development of the resort city," said Zabara.

"Even in winter visitors of the autodrome will have a possibility to enjoy speed on the track, take classes at a driving experience school, acquire or improve their skills as well as demonstrate their prowess in driving and compete with other drivers."

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

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