Motor racing-Silverstone invokes "Dunkirk spirit" after rain chaos

SILVERSTONE, England, July 7 Sat Jul 7, 2012 6:46pm BST

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SILVERSTONE, England, July 7 (Reuters) - British Grand Prix organisers said all ticket holders were welcome to attend Sunday's Formula One race after urging tens of thousands to stay away on Saturday so that rain-damaged car parks could be repaired.

A capacity crowd of around 125,000 is expected at Silverstone, a rural English circuit surrounded by campsites that most fans drive to, for what is a home grand prix for many of the teams.

Richard Phillips, managing director of Silverstone Circuits, said Sunday remained a challenge but the area was in far better shape than Friday when spectators were caught in a traffic nightmare.

Fittingly, at a former World War Two airfield, he evoked the 'Dunkirk Spirit' of everyone pulling together to overcome adversity.

"We had to make a difficult decision yesterday which was really upsetting but I have to say today has been a much better day," he told reporters after another big turnout for a rain-delayed qualifying session.

"A remarkable number of people actually got here somehow, I'm not quite sure how...and we are very grateful to the people who did stay at home. At least it's given us breathing space now and we are looking forward to tomorrow.

"The fans seem to be very supportive and there's a bit of a Dunkirk spirit about this one," added Phillips.

Organisers, who had asked up to 30,000 people to stay away on Saturday and offered refunds, said previously unsafe car parks could now be used and all ticket holders accommodated.

CAMPSITES FULL

The campsites were full and closed however and fans were encouraged to allow plenty of time for their journeys on Sunday and be prepared for a longer walk than usual from parking to circuit.

Phillips felt all of the camping population, about 40,000 people, had now arrived and a park and ride operation was functioning. There were still queues of traffic but waiting times were significantly reduced.

Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone, a fierce critic of the privately-owned circuit before a new pit and paddock complex was built and a long-term deal for the race secured, spoke out in Silverstone's defence.

"I'm really, really upset for the fans but in reality if it was you running the race what would you do?" the 81-year-old told the BBC.

"I don't think anyone expected the amount of rain we had.

"You might as well say why didn't the council in all these different places throughout England do something because I looked on the TV and saw the places flooded, the houses flooded, shops flooded, people abandoning cars. I didn't expect to see that either."

Heavy rainfalls across Britain last month caused flooding in some parts of Wales and England, with caravan parks and homes swamped. (Editing by Tony Jimenez)

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