By Graham Wood
ATHENS (Reuters) - The man leading controversial plans to construct a potential Formula One racetrack in debt-stricken Greece has defended the bold project and says "my life's work" will benefit rather than burden the country.
Last month, Greece's Ministry of Development confirmed it had unblocked a European funding subsidy of 29.46 million euros ($37.84 million) for the construction of an international-standard racetrack that could be used for staging Formula One - the top class of world motor car racing.
Of that subsidy, 15 percent will be covered by the Greek government and parliament will vote on whether to approve the move on November 15.
The track will be built in Chalandritsa near the western port city of Patras and the ministry has set a total estimated cost of 94.6 million euros, 70 percent of which is to be funded by private investment company Racetrack Patras.
"Critics in the foreign media believe that the state will subsidize the circuit running cost, this is a false idea," Evangelos Floratos, who heads Racetrack Patras, told Reuters.
Floratos will oversee the project to build the track, which he hopes can act as a testing centre for F1 teams while Greece waits with a multitude of other nations to try to secure a lucrative annual F1 race.
"This project belongs to the private sector, it does not expect state funding for its operational costs. It is also wrongly assumed that we are aiming at organizing a Formula 1 race, which is an event often subsidized by the national government. This is not our primary goal," he said.
"Let's be clear about this, we are not prepared to pay to be added to the calendar at this point. It is something we will think about at a later date if and when someone - in government or the private sector - wishes to subsidize it."
The circuit will be designed to host other events as well including world championship motorbike grands prix and go-kart racing.
"Our chief aim is to operate the track 365 days per year, offer a high quality service to motor sport professionals and thus develop business and employment for the local community," Floratos added.
"We will be able to attract teams and companies preparing for Formula 1 and generate income by renting the track for tire testing and team preparation."
Floratos, a former mayor of Patras, has been involved in the project since the inception of the idea in 1979 when the director of the Monza circuit in Italy indicated the huge area of land was ideal for a racetrack.
"This is a project dear to me as I've been involved from the very start in the 1970s. You could say it's my life's work," he said.
"We have a strategic advantage in attracting F1 teams for testing and preparation due to the excellent weather conditions in Greece, our easy access from Italy (Ferrari) and our competitive prices in comparison with other European tracks."
Testing is currently extremely limited during the F1 season and teams, mostly British-based, have tended to test cars at the more easily accessible circuits in Spain where there is plenty of choice.
The Greek track, along with two other subsidized projects - a glass pane making factory in the north and modernization of the luxury Elounda Bay Palace hotel in Crete - is expected to generate over 800 new jobs, the ministry has stated.
In addition, Floratos said his company plans to build an Automobile Museum to establish a regular visitor flow to the track.
"The local region with all its human resources will have a motivation to specialize in the products and services connected with motor sports and create income for the community," he said.
"Also, this project will have a significant impact on tourism since the region selected is at a close driving distance from some major tourist destinations in Greece such as Ancient Olympia, Delphi, Epidaurus and Kalavryta.
"Last but not least our collaboration with Patras University will be the platform that will bring together research, development, testing and manufacturing in motor sports."
There have been previous efforts to build an F1 track near Athens, but to no avail. Greece has never had a Formula One driver.
"The difference between this circuit near Patras and other past proposals is the maturity of the project," commented Floratos.
"We have the ownership of the land, all the necessary approvals and most importantly we have investors who will invest the money and manage the circuit once it is ready to operate.
"This is a project designed to benefit, not burden the country's citizens." ($1 = 0.7785 euros)
(Editing by Mark Meadows; firstname.lastname@example.org; +44 20 7542 7933; Reuters Messaging:; email@example.com)