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CART's leader is envisioning a mini-Monte

New president Chris Pook thinks picturesque St. Petersburg can help lift the ailing series.

By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 21, 2001

ST. PETERSBURG -- The president of Championship Auto Racing Teams believes sailboats will make a beautiful backdrop for open-wheel racing along the waterfront.

Chris Pook, elected Tuesday by CART's board of directors, said locales such as St. Petersburg not only look terrific on television, but can help the ailing series regain its footing in the United States.

"St. Petersburg has the potential to be a truly romantic street circuit," Pook said. "It's got the waterfront area and the harbor, and we can build that into a mini-Monte Carlo."

Located in Monaco, Monte Carlo is perhaps the world's most famous street circuit. Formula One cars charge up the Beau Rivage, sweep through Casino Square, race past the Hotel de Paris and tunnel beneath Loews Hotel before emerging on the harbor front.

Pook also mentioned St. Petersburg's picturesque architecture and Tampa Bay's large market as key ingredients to building a successful event. "Street circuits are made up of unique bits and pieces that create the character of each street circuit," Pook said. "St. Petersburg has all the ingredients necessary, and it has the market adjacent to it to deliver what we need to our sponsors and suppliers, manufacturers and the media."

The Grand Prix Association of Long Beach will promote the event, which recently received CART's blessing. Pook, who founded the Long Beach race in 1975, left as president of that organization to work for CART. Before he left, Pook helped design the proposed circuit in St. Petersburg.

Martyn Thake, CART's director of circuit development, is scheduled to visit the city today to examine the layout. It includes a runway at Albert Whitted Airport and is centered farther south than the one used for waterfront street racing during the late 1980s.

"I'm looking for the surface condition, the transitions between surfaces and through turns, the width of the streets and the amount of runoff space at the end of the straightaways," Thake said.

Thake will plug an architect's rendering of the circuit into a computer simulator to determine what speeds the cars likely will run, then make any necessary adjustments to the circuit.

Thake, who served as vice president of operations and race director of the St. Petersburg Grand Prix from 1988-90, expects a safe and acceptable circuit for CART's champ cars can be found.

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