French GP aiming for reduced crowd and congestion

An aerial view shows the Paul Ricard circuit at Le Castellet near Marseille, France, February 17, 2016. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

LONDON (Reuters) - Organisers of the first French Formula One Grand Prix in a decade are aiming for a race day crowd of around 70,000 when the event returns to Le Castellet next year and hope to avoid the traffic snarls of the past.

The circuit, on a plateau between Marseille and Toulon, could accommodate 20,000 more but commercial director Aurelie Letellier told Reuters that they would not go for full capacity in year one.

"We are confident we can have a big capacity but we are also being very humble," she said. "So we are working on an estimate of accommodating 65-70,000 people for the race. That is a reasonable objective."

That number would be less than in the final years at Magny-Cours, a track in the rural heart of the country whose last grand prix in 2008 drew a Sunday attendance of 78,000.

Le Castellet, also known as the Circuit Paul Ricard, hosted 14 grands prix between 1971 and 1990 before being converted into a high-tech test track under the ownership of a trust linked to former Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone.

Road access was always a problem in the old days and Letelier said traffic management had been top of the list of priorities.

"We are pretty confident we are going to find creative solutions to make the access easier," she said. "Clearly there are challenges but we are working on solutions and creative ways to get around them."

The race, which has a five-year deal, is scheduled for June 24 -- before the French school holidays -- and as the first of an unprecedented 'triple header' with Austria and Britain.

The grand prix launched its website and 'visual identity' this week.

Monaco, just along the coast towards Italy, has its glamour grand prix on May 27 but Letellier said Le Castellet aimed at attracting new audiences to the sport and region.

"We are really in line with what Formula One management wants to do. It’s not just a car race any more," she said. "We want to spread our event across four days, starting with Thursday and going through to Sunday with different activities.

"We have a French team, French drivers and now the race, so it's just the right momentum."

France currently has two drivers, with the established Romain Grosjean at Haas and up-and-coming hotshot Esteban Ocon with Force India, while Renault have their own factory team.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)

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