By ELOISE WALTON [email protected]
Formula One racing may one day be a feature at the Algarve Motor Park but is not something fans should expect in the near future, according to Paulo Pinheiro.
Speaking exclusively to the Algarve Resident about the hectic first year at the track and plans for its future, the CEO of the racetrack said: “Formula One is a national commitment, with some countries having been working to receive it for more than five years. The Portuguese government is not working towards that for the time being, it has other problems so it is not a priority.”
Despite this, the Algarve Motor Park held Formula One tests earlier this year, which was the first time that this has happened in Portugal for around six years.
“We organised that event in just two weeks. It was our first time and it was really hard, but we beat all the records for time reactions in the marshal posts,” he said.
Although Formula One has been placed on a back burner for the time being, construction of the karting track at the Motor Park is due to start this month.
“We will be laying the concrete this week. The track is due to be finished in January and we will host the world championship in July. It’s another challenge,” said Paulo Pinheiro.
“We have had unbelievable interest in the karting track and it will be managed by five times world champion Daniel Rossi and Nuno Couceiro, who has had all of the Portuguese drivers learn through his academy.”
Work on the apartments has also restarted at the motor park, with 33 having been sold within 15 days.
“We now manage everything directly and have an exciting package for owners, many of whom are British, Irish and German,” he said.
According to Paulo Pinheiro, the Technology Park is also progressing, with daily meetings meaning that the Motor Park is “on the verge of closing a huge deal”.
Reflecting on the Algarve Motor Park’s first year, Paulo Pinheiro said: “I don’t yet feel we have accomplished what we set out to do. To build the Motor Park was a challenge and we did it, but now we have to make it work.”
During its first year, the race track has clocked up 340 days of track use. “This is unusual, especially during the current economic climate,” said Paulo Pinheiro, adding that the track is the most expensive in southern Europe.
“We have done so much more than expected; we’ve had everything that we could have in the track’s first year.”
He now has a team of 52 permanent staff, with an extra 420 trained marshals, who are all local people available when needed.
“I’m not good at delegating yet, but I’m working on it,” he said. “In the first year, we could not make mistakes, but now, gradually, each group is taking responsibility for its own department. You start to know people and know what they are good at.”
Following the tragic loss of the Parkalgar Honda team rider Craig Jones in August 2008, Paulo Pinheiro believes that his current riders Miguel Praia and Eugene Laverty have brought the team on leaps and bounds.
“When we first started in 2006, ours was the smallest lorry in the paddock, and all the other teams were laughing and joking at us,” he said. “The following year, we were fighting for a position on the podium.”
He added that 2009 has been an “outstanding” year for both Eugene and Miguel, especially considering the fact that the team has half the budget of other teams competing in the same sport.
“Having the track helps. It’s an excellent tool but we also have a very close team who have been through a lot together. So although we are not as big as other teams, we are stronger, we have a great inner strength,” said Paulo Pinheiro, adding that for the next season both riders are due to continue with the team, although six others had expressed an interest in joining.
Meanwhile, the Racing School is also proving to be a great success at the track.
“It proves that we can do other things and gives the Algarve people something else to do besides going to the beach,” he said.
A team of eight people are currently working on the Racing School, which according to Paulo Pinheiro provides “a thrilling day”, with a high number of people returning again and again to improve on their track times and driving technique.
Looking to events in the New Year, the World Superbikes are once again due to return to the Algarve in 2010. The bikes will arrive next month for three days of testing ahead of the races that will take place during the last weekend of March.
The recent news that A1GP is facing difficulties means that the Algarve Motor Park is not expecting the event next year. However, Paulo Pinheiro is hopeful that the situation could be resolved.
“The A1GP is an excellent concept from my point of view, a very interesting championship. They have had difficulties in the past and have overcome them,” he said.
Talks have also been had with the Portimão-based cinema company Picture Portugal, for the remake of the classic film Le Mans to be filmed at the Motor Park.
“We have a good relationship with Artur Curado and Picture Portugal and I believe it will happen,” said Paulo Pinheiro.
Following a number of complaints from local residents about the effect of noise levels from the track in surrounding urbanised areas, Paulo Pinheiro said that he agrees that the rules must be complied with by everyone.
He is willing to meet with the concerned residents and discuss the facts but said that the Motor Park fully complies with national and European regulations.
“Noise measurements have been carried out by the CCDR for the past six months on a 24-hour basis,” he said. “Of course we are open to suggestions and will do everything in our power but this is a race track so it is normal that we have cars and bikes. No-one likes to be pushed against the ropes.”
Meanwhile, Paulo Pinheiro said that the Motor Park is committed to safe guarding the environment with a variety of measures in place at the site.
“We have solar panels to heat water and also a water recycling system,” he said.
On December 14, a solar power plant will be installed at the Motor Park to create electrical energy that will be sold back to the EDP.
More than 2,000 trees have been planted within the grounds of the Motor Park, with a further 500 due to be planted in 2010.
“It is our obligation, but we are always open to suggestions of how to be environmentally friendly,” said Paulo Pinheiro.
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