Ecclestone gives seal of approval to Korea circuit

Seol: Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone put his seal of approval on South Korea`s new grand prix circuit on Thursday even as an army of workers installed seats and applied final coats of paint.

Local organisers said they expected a 100,000 strong crowd for Sunday`s inaugural race, with enough seating in place for 10,000 more.

"Considering what it was and what they`ve had to do, and it`s not been easy to do this event, I think they`ve done a good job," the 79-year-old Ecclestone told reporters on a visit to the circuit media centre.

"It`s all there. If there hadn`t have been all the bad weather then it would have been done a long time ago."

The race, 17th of 19 this season, had looked in doubt only a few weeks ago with the final layer of asphalt still to be laid and an official inspection by the governing International Automobile Federation (FIA) repeatedly postponed.

"I wasn`t worried because I had some information from upstairs that they would get it done, and they`ve got it done," said Ecclestone, looking casual in blue jeans and sweater.

"It would have been bad for Korea if it didn`t happen, so they have made sure it happened.

"I get really upset because when you look at these facilities, and you look at some of the places we go to and have been in the past, you can see what it took to build Formula One to what it is on Thursday .”

Parts of the circuit still resembled a building site, with hard-hatted workers and army soldiers bolting seats onto grandstands and others tiling a Korean-style bridge across the main straight.

A walk around the anti-clockwise circuit in the morning heat haze, with the sea in the background, revealed more work in progress.

Rumble strips were being painted and overhead hoardings fixed to gantries.

The drivers` names were going up over the garages, where teams were already busy firing up engines and assembling the cars, while reporters were warned to avoid the freshly-painted white lines.

Marshals flown in from Australia talked through race procedures with the locals and a snake was seen slithering across the track.

Ferrari`s title contender Fernando Alonso did several laps on a bicycle, his engineer following in his slipstream, while FIA race director Charlie Whiting took another look at the preparations and expressed himself satisfied.

"It will be the same for all of them. It`s better than on Wednesday and it`ll get better for Sunday," he told Reuters when asked about the surface and concerns that it could be slippery.

Chung Yung-cho, chief executive of Korea Auto Valley Operations and chairman of the Korea Automobile Racing Association, told Reuters that a big crowd was expected.

"On Sunday we hopefully fill it up but I think we have 100,000 people," he said.

"I heard we had sold about 90,000 so far (for Sunday). About 50-60,000 on Saturday.

"We have not issued any standing tickets yet. We want to sell out the seats first," he added.

Chung said 1,500 people were working on the grandstands on Thursday with a similar number of soldiers deployed to help out.

"We are finishing up the cleaning of the circuit, and all the infrastructure will be done by the end of the day," said Park Joon-yung, governor of Jeollanam-do province.

Bureau Report