* Makers say track will be capable of staging F1
* Aim is to build multi-purpose high performance circuit (Changes dateline, adds quotes, byline)
By Rex Gowar
BUENOS AIRES, Dec 16 Argentina, which last hosted a Formula One Grand Prix in 1998, could be back on the calendar from 2014 when a new track near Buenos Aires is completed.
Friday marked a ground-breaking ceremony of the 4.7 km Velociudad Speedcity circuit in Zarate, 100 km from the capital, which designers Populous said will be capable of returning F1 to the South American country.
"The plan is for a circuit capable of delivering a Formula One event," John Rhodes, Associate Principal of Populous, told Reuters.
"The key is to offer a category one circuit," he said when asked in a telephone interview what the prospects were of Argentina, homeland of the late, great Juan Manuel Fangio, staging a F1 race again.
"Once the facility is there, then it's down to a promoter ... The issue is to have a high performance circuit capable of holding a MotoGP then add the necessary requirements for a Formula One race.
"The main 4.7 km circuit will be good for F1 and endurance races like Le Mans, it's a good, sensible length," he said from Pilar, halfway between Buenos Aires and Zarate.
The $100 million project will be completed in two phases and will include South America's first driver trainer centre and academy. The first phase, a 3.1 km track, 4x4 off-road circuit and team garages, is scheduled to be completed in 14 months.
The second phase will extend the track to its full length, making it eligible for a license from the International Automobile Federation (FIA), which governs motorsport.
Zarate is easily accessible from the capital along the Ruta Panamericana that goes north out of the city.
"(Populous) is a private concern owned by Eddie Freeman, an entrepreneur who worked in resort development and this is a natural step. We see this as more than just an event circuit," Rhodes said.
"There are many (car) manufacturers in the area, they can test cars, do driver training. The investment will soon pay for itself, there is a business idea behind this."
"During the last five years we have developed technology, software, and design techniques through the use of simulation to physically test the design of a circuit," Rhodes added in a company statement.
"These pioneering techniques have enabled the creation of a topographically exciting and challenging medium-speed circuit on what was a relatively square and flat 63 hectare site."
South America's only active F1 track is Interlagos in Brazil which hosted the final race of the 2011 season last month.
Michael Schumacher won the last F1 race to be held in Argentina at the Autodromo Oscar Alfredo Galvez on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.
Populous are also responsible for the recent re-design of British Grand Prix venue Silverstone and are involved in designing a new F1 track in Mumbai.
The design firm also planned the London 2012 Olympics Stadium and the Soccer City stadium which hosted last year's World Cup final in South Africa.
(Additional reporting by Martyn Herman in London; Editing by John Mehaffey)
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