Top Stories from the Business pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Monday, September 30, 1996

Former French Banker Cashes In on 'the Sport of the Majority'

By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune

For Yves Duprat, a former bank manager, it was driving in circles that helped him escape the office.

Mr. Duprat came up with the idea for the motor-sports leisure center he now runs when, as manager of three branches of Credit de l'Est, he often organized entertainment activities for the bank's clients. He realized then, he said, that ''Motor sports are the sport of the majority: Everybody drives.''

With that in mind, he left the bank, opened a humble 350-meter (380-yard) kart track in Deauville in 1992 and opened the door to his old corporate clients. It became such a success that he decided to invest further he also got some backing from Honda Motor Co. and continue the motor-sport theme at another site about a kilometer away.

First came an all-terrain-vehicle track, then a dirt-kart track, and now Duprat Concept SA is a complex of six tracks and 15 activities. With 14 employees in the summer and 11 in the winter, he said, it can accommodate 500 to 700 customers at a time. ''Being a race-car driver is the childhood dream that may be realized at 20 years old or at 60,'' Mr. Duprat, 36, said. ''This is where the dream can become a reality for a reasonable price.''

One of Mr. Duprat's ''concepts'' is to offer his customers the opportunity to drive a single-seat open-wheel race car for a price close to what one would pay to drive a go-kart. He owns 14 of these 280-kilogram (615-pound), 65-horsepower ''Formula 500'' cars and a 900-meter track.

But the dream does not stop at the checkered flag. Motor sports involve more than just wheels, so this year Mr. Duprat dug a water track for jet skis and small motor boats.

While individual clients are plentiful, Mr. Duprat said, corporate entertainment is still his mainstay.

He has expanded the activities to include treasure hunts with four-wheel-drive vehicles, a safe-driving school, motorcycling and nonmotorized attractions such as miniature golf and skeet shooting.

One of his biggest clients is the Lucien Barriere group of luxury hotels and casinos, based in Deauville. Eric Lustman, Lucien Barriere's commercial and marketing director for Deauville, said he still preferred taking his own department of 15 employees to the karting activity.

''There's this competition side to it,'' Mr. Lustman said, ''and when you want to stimulate your group and give incentive, you need that challenge side. We find it in the karting, and we'll find it with the new motor-boat track. For the pure thrill side, it's the Formula 500s.''

Mr. Lustman often relies on the Duprat center to entertain his clients, too.

''Now we're getting clients who are coming to us for Duprat,'' he said, and ''who are looking for the hotels to go with it.''

Mr. Duprat, meanwhile, has started taking his motor show on the road.

''Having learned from our experience here,'' he said, ''we now travel throughout France to wherever our clients need us. If I have a company that is having a conference in Lille, and they need an activity there, we go to Lille.''

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