Porsche GT3 backed to prove Bahrain ready to host Formula One

Officials at the Bahrain International Circuit confident decision to add no extra security for grand prix weekend is correct.

The Porsche GT3 series will race at the Bahrain International Circuit this weekend.
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The chief executive of the Bahrain International Circuit says this weekend's Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East is further proof the Kingdom is ready to host the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix next month.

Last year's F1 race was cancelled following civil unrest that resulted in the death of a number of anti-government protesters, but the event has returned to the calendar this season and is scheduled to take place between April 20 and 22.

Following comments by Sheikh Abdullah bin Isa Al Khalifa, with the president of Bahrain's automobile federation quoted as saying no addition security will be deployed, reports in the Australian media claimed the FIA, world motorsports governing body, was readying a statement announcing the cancellation of the race. The FIA yesterday refuted these reports.

Now, Sheikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa, the circuit's chief executive, has told The National this weekend's season-ending round of the Porsche GT3 series will "absolutely" prove that "normality has returned".

"What is happening is that people are taking Sheikh Abdullah's words and twisting them into something that is not true," said Sheikh Salman, speaking by phone from London. "All this talk of the FIA writing a statement; the governing body have come out and confirmed that it is not true.

"A lot of these people [writing the stories] have not visited Bahrain recently and have these expectations that we are living in a war zone. That is clearly not the case; life is going on as normal here and hopefully they will see that for themselves when our race takes place.

"We have the Porsche event this weekend and we had our national drag racing last week; as far as events at the circuit go, we have actually had a pretty successful and busy end to 2011 and start to 2012."

When asked about the decision not to employ extra security for the Formula One race, Sheikh Salman confirmed no additional safeguards will be in place, but added he has "no concerns" regarding safety and is confident everything will run according to plan.

"The grand prix is a global event like a World Cup or like the Olympics, so security measures will obviously be in place and security personnel will be doing their utmost to ensure everything runs smoothly," he said. "People's safety will be the primary concern, so we have no concerns and no plans for any additional security."

Sheikh Abdullah, speaking earlier this week to PA Sport about the potential scenario of protesters blocking the road from the capital Manama, where the majority of F1 teams will stay, to Sakhir, where the circuit is located, said he would be "happy for them to protest" so long as they did so peacefully and orderly.

Sheikh Salman added it was impossible to speculate what effect a blockade would have on the smooth running of the race, but played down any fears.

"How would protesters impact the race? I don't know," he said. "If I go back to our first race in 2004, we had small groups of protesters then - environmentalists and such like. I remember people standing by the side of the road with signs saying 'we want this' and 'we want that'.

"Every race gets this, it is always the case, but we are not worried about it. Always you have small groups of radical protesters against any event anywhere in the world."

Formula Money, an annual industry report into the business side of F1, this year reported Bahrain's annual race proves more profitable for teams and advertisers than similar grands prix in Monaco, Belgium and Italy. The report claims if next month's race was to be cancelled, "teams could lose $44.7m [Dh164m] of prize money".

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& Gary Meenaghan