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Greek Grand Prix, watch out for Vaso Gizikis January 8, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Racing & Motors.

No matter who hosts the Summer Olympics, after all the medals are given away, after all the people leave, after all the athletes finally accept their final performances, there’s always a venue or two that was a one-off, big expense waste of money.

Even for Los Angeles, the most efficient Olympics ever, new stadiums were constructed that never had near the break-even crowds the Olympics gave them. It will be the case in China for the next Olympics, and it was the case in Greece three years ago.

But one Houstonian has an idea. At least for Greece. Vaso Gizikis, the race chair for the Sports Car Club of America Houston Region, figured that a venue unused is a great place for a car race.

Planned for the second week of June 2008, the Greek Grand Prix is set to be contracted and approved by Champ Car in the very near future. Champ Car is, of course, the same people who race in Houston. Expansion outside the United States isn’t irregular; just to Greek soil is. So this event will be a Greek, as well as a Champ Car, first.

How it came about was a little, well, chauvinistic. “I was very upset,” Gizikis said in her thick Greek accent. “They had an F1 race in Turkey. So I approached Champ Car and asked them if they were interested in doing a race in Greece. They said they were, so I started doing the work.”

If you don’t know the history, Greece and Turkey have never had the best of relationships. Throughout the years, the two have had their skirmishes. Eventually the Turks moved on; the Greeks, well, didn’t. They still harbor somewhat of a grudge. And seeing the GP in Turkey was enough to prompt Gizikis, a five-foot dynamo of a woman, to act quickly.

The Acropolis Rally, a World Champions event that’s been a tradition in Greece for decades, recently saw a huge surge of popularity when the first stages were contended in the Olympic Stadium in Athens. So why not use the same strategy?

“It’s going to be run on the old airport in Athens, which is now an Olympic facility. We’re now in the final stages of contract with Champ Car. And already the Greek press is going crazy about it. Even the European press has been doing a lot about it. Autosport has done three stories on it. We brought a driver to test already. It’s really moving along.”

The old Athens International Airport, quaint as it was, was small by modern terms. But it was certainly big enough to host a Grand Prix race. Right on the Aegean Sea, it’s just a few miles from downtown Athens and the Pireaus port, gateway to the Greek islands. In addition, some of the most affluent neighborhoods are right there near the GP, so dining and nightclubs will be plentiful. And unlike the rest of Europe, Greece is still relatively inexpensive, even during a Grand Prix race.

Gizikis has her work cut out for her. She has to coordinate everything from concessions to press, as well as city permits and team lodging. But if you’ve ever met her, you know she has the energy and the determination to do it.

The venues for the 2004 Athens Olympics, some of which will be used for the Grand Prix next year, were finished literally on the eve of the games. Will this be the case with the race, too?

“Well, they were done at the last minute, but it was the best Olympics ever, wasn’t it?” Gizikis quipped. “No, I will be early. I don’t like to wait until the last minute on anything. In fact I’ll be ahead of time.” The whole deal will be a Greek first.

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