A green valley

September 17, 2008

The little old lady at the Barristers Benevolent Association telephoned The Mole on Monday to say that she had received a postcard addressed to WH Smith. The Mole knew that this meant that his most important asset, an agent called Dusty Road, wanted a meeting. Dusty was deep underground, within the Formula One empire and was very keen that no-one knew about his discussions with The Mole.

The old dear read out a list of numbers which meant nothing to anyone other than The Mole himself. Only he knew that they signified the volume, page, column and line in the Yellow Pages which gave him the venue for a rendezvous. A second set of numbers indicated the date and the time.

The Mole hurriedly fished out a copy of Yellow Pages and discovered that the meeting would be that evening at the Charing Cross Hotel, a rather old-fashioned railway hotel where no motor racing person would be seen dead.

A perfect venue.

Given the hour, The Mole concluded that Dusty Road had come straight from the office. Dusty refused to say who he was or what he did, but he was obviously very well informed and, were it not for his desire to wear some very odd disguises, he would have been the perfect secret agent. They settled down in the bar with with matching G&Ts and Dusty began talking about the latest hot gossip at Formula One headquarters at Prince’s Gate.

The buzz was America.

“Not many people saw him,” Dusty said, “but Chris Pook was in Monza last weekend. And he was trying not to be seen.”

“Pook has been retired for a while,” said The Mole, more to himself than to Dusty.

“Not really,” Dusty said. “He keeps an eye on things in the US for Mr E. They go back a long way. Anyway, it seems that Pook is mixed up with some plan to build a fancy new race track in the Coachella Valley in California.”

“The Coachella Valley?” said The Mole.

“If you go through the mountains to the east of Los Angeles, you get to Palm Springs,” said Dusty Road. “The Coachella Valley is to the south of there. It extends down to a big lake called the Salton Sea. It used to be desert but irrigation means that it became agricultural and now it is turning itself into a tourist and business destination. It is really pretty down there. It has a big of glitz too, because that is where a whole bunch of Hollywood stars have settled and they play golf so there are all kinds of resorts now, at places like Indian Wells, La Quinta and Rancho Mirage. They reckon there are 120 golf course in the valley.”

“Holy cow,” said The Mole.

“Yeah, well it is one of the fastest growing areas in the US these days and they have extensive development plans. Bernie seems to think that it fits the profile of F1 pretty well.”

“Interesting,” said The Mole.

“The weather in the area is good, with 350 days of sunshine every year and an average of 72-degrees,” Dusty went on. “They tell me that Riverside County supervisors recently agreed a deal for exclusive negotiations with a company called DJTRM, which is proposing to build a racetrack complex for up to 120,000 spectators near the Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport at Thermal. The regional development agency owns about 600 acres of land there and believes that a race track would be a good way to get the economy moving. There are 10m people in Los Angeles, which is within easy reach and another three million in San Diego. They are trying to turn the place into a smarter version of Las Vegas with the golf and spa resorts, casinos and other tourist attractions. There are all kinds of incentives available too with fast-track permits and tax credits for companies that invest.”

“Sin City without the sin,” said The Mole.

“The plan is to build a race track of about three miles, but I guess there woule be a number of circuits interlinked so they could generate more money with testing, corporate events and all that usual stuff they do,” Dusty said. “The good thing about the site is that it is next to the airport, so noise will not be a problem and they want to have research and development and testing for the automobile industry down there too. The car companies go there already because of the weather. They also have this idea of creating an environmentally-friendly circuit with all the latest mod cons and they think that governor Arnold Schwarzenegger might even help them out with funding, so as to create a showcase for California, which is leading the way with emissions legislation and so on.

“The other thing is that they will probably have to call any race that takes place there something like the Californian GP because Indianapolis owns the rights to the term “United States Grand Prix”. I think it has a lot of potential, particularly if there is a casino development involved.”

“I can see the Formula 1 crowd liking this place,” said The Mole. “You know they are desperate to be back in the United States, but not so keen on Indiana. Indianapolis is nice enough, but it is not got the glitter of Palm Springs. Someone told me the other day that exposure for a big company at a Grand Prix costs about a quarter of what it costs to buy the same advertising. So they are keen to get back into the US. It is the world’s biggest economy and there are still more cars being sold there than anywhere else. They sold more than seven million last year. The fuel prices are having an effect now, but all that is happening is that people are changing the kind of cars they buy. They are dumping the old pick ups and people movers and going to smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. And in California they are into hybrids big time.”

“It all sounds perfect,” said The Mole. “Has Tilke been there yet?”

“Yes,” said Dusty Road. “Indeed he has.”