A1GP World Cup of Motorsport prepares to hit the track for the first races of 2009 when the series descends on New Zealand this week for its third visit to the Taupo Motorsport Park.
For the A1GP Taupo event, the series will break with tradition and the Sprint race will have a standing and not a rolling start. The decision was taken on safety grounds, as in the past there have been collisions due to the tight s bend close to the start.
Home nation A1 Team New Zealand has selected 22-year-old Chris van der Drift to star for his nation on home ground. The Hamilton born racer was chosen to race in A1GP Taupo, New Zealand ahead of fellow team members Earl Bamber and Jonny Reid. The team has faith that the 2008 International Formula Master champion can produce the goods in front of all the cheering fans this weekend.
As a proven championship winner and impressively fast driver, the selection of van der Drift to drive at Taupo makes sense, said a statement from the team that has Colin Giltrap, a long time supporter of New Zealand racing talent, as its seat holder.
The statement went on to explain why the teams most capped driver, Johnny Reid, will not be in the car: While there are no doubts as to Reids race winning ability in A1GP, the tight format of an A1GP weekend provides a limited number of practice laps. The restricted nature of practice at Taupo would not allow Reid a reasonable number of laps to properly familiarise himself with the new A1GP Powered by Ferrari car.
As the teams only rookie, van der Drift will have the advantage of running in the additional Friday morning rookie session, and says he wont let the pressure of racing in front of a home crowd get too much for him.
Taupo is an important race for the team, he said. Seeing as I havent done much racing in New Zealand in my single-seater career, its so fantastic to have the opportunity to drive Black Beauty at Taupo.
I havent driven on the circuit in its current form, but I know the circuit and have walked it when I was helping Earl Bamber in 2006. Ill treat Taupo like any other race. I dont feel too much pressure, and wont let that get in the way of my performance.
Jonny Reid will also be in attendance, co-hosting for TV3 New Zealand from the A1GP pit lane alongside Shaun Summerfield and also racing in the Porsche GT3 Cup.
A1 Team Brazils Felipe Guimares will be in action again and will be able to call upon some extra advice from the teams seat holder, two-time Formula One world champion and two time Indianapolis 500 winner, Emerson Fittipaldi. Fittipaldi demonstrated kiwi Grand Prix legend Denny Hulme's McLaren M23 at the series first race there in 2007. The Brazilian believes the event will test the skills of the A1GP drivers to the very limit, commenting: In this new generation of A1GP Powered By Ferrari cars, the Taupo circuit will be a supreme challenge for the drivers. Its infield section should provide a spectacular opportunity for the New Zealand race fans to see these machines and their drivers on the limits. These are real thoroughbred racing machines capable of rivalling anything and they will be extremely quick on this circuit.
The track has a long straight which will give the cars a great chance to stretch their legs, and some incredibly challenging corners. The fast right hander onto the old circuit is one of the most challenging on the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport calendar. Nobody wants to get that wrong. And the hairpin before the main straight offers a superb passing opportunity, but is very difficult to get right with consistency, whoever you are.
Congfu Cheng will make a return to the driving seat for A1 Team China in Taupo, with 18 year-old Adderly Fong from Hong Kong making his rookie debut at the event. Cheng, whose last A1GP race was at Brands Hatch, has had limited running in the new A1GP Powered by Ferrari car with just 20 laps testing at Silverstone in October: The power is very good and the acceleration is smooth. The tyres and aerodynamics are completely different to last season.
A1 Team Malaysias Fairuz Fauzy and Aaron Lim have already arrived in New Zealand to help them acclimatise ready for action. Neither driver has raced at Taupo Motorsport Park, but both have been at the event as rookies. Fauzy explained why he is not fazed about his lack of track time: It doesnt worry me that I havent raced, as I will have the practice sessions to reacquaint myself with the layout and characteristics of it. Of course Ill be in the same position as everyone on the grid as none of us have driven the new car here.
USA will retain the services of Marco Andretti as the team aims to secure its first win with the 21-year-old at the wheel. Im looking forward to the race in New Zealand, said Andretti. Ive never been over there, but Ive heard a lot of good things about it from Scott Dixon and I am looking forward to getting there. I know very little about the circuit, but Im sure well get up to speed pretty quick. Its just great to be able to race this time of year. I love to drive and a lot of people arent getting that chance right now.
Robert Doornbos will be in the car for A1 Team Netherlands after making an impressive debut in China to finish on the podium in the Chengdu Sprint race. Portugal and France will have the familiar faces of Filipe Albuquerque and Loc Duval at the wheel, and certainly they will be nipping at the heels of Adam Carroll in the car of current championship leader, A1 Team Ireland.
I am determined to have a strong weekend in Taupo; we have had a terrific reaction in Ireland to leading the series, and I want to keep the momentum going, said Carroll. The track is tight and technical, and a little bumpy in places. Last year I had a sixth place in the Sprint and came from the back to finish fifth in the Feature, so I enjoyed it. I'm expecting tough competition as usual - New Zealand, Switzerland, France, The Netherlands and Portugal in particular - but we've been working hard too. With all the doom and gloom in the world at the moment, it'll be good to race and better still to win.
A1 Teams Germany and Pakistan have postponed their Season Four debuts, with both teams now planning to be on track for the first time in A1GP Gauteng, South Africa on 20-22 February.
The A1GP Taupo, New Zealand event runs from 23 25 January, kicking off with the rookie driver and developing nations sessions on Friday from 10.45 to 11.15 and again from 11.35 to 12.05. All teams can take part in the later practice session from 14.00 to 15.00. Final practice and qualifying for the Sprint and Feature races will take place on Saturday with the two races scheduled to run on Sunday at 11.00 and 15.00 respectively.
Thursday PR activity:A selection of A1GP drivers will enjoy a traditional Maori warrior welcome at the stunning Wairakei Terraces just outside Taupo town centre before being given a haka lesson by Te Ori Paki an accomplished orator on Maori culture and a very experienced performer of the haka.
Following the Maori experience the drivers will be treated to 20 minutes of awesome jet boating on the Waikato river and will view the majestic Huka Falls from their base. Travelling at speeds up to 80km/h, the drivers, in one of the state of the art jet boats, will power past cliffs and trees before it performs a series of 360-degree spins in the water.
Drivers from the following nations will be taking part in the morning event: New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, Great Britain, Indonesia, Ireland, Lebanon, Malaysia, Monaco, Netherlands and Switzerland.
About Taupo circuit:The new Taupo Motorsport Park racetrack complex, built by MIT Development Ltd, took over the original site used for the existing Taupo Car Club. The old 1.4-kilometre circuit underwent an upgrading and lengthening, to create the new international layout in 2006.The complex now also includes a motorsport business park and driver training centre. The track includes three alternative configurations, with two separate pit areas and start/finish lines, to allow simultaneous use of two tracks. The international circuit, used for A1GP, features an 830-metre straight, which also doubles as a drag strip. The circuit was altered slightly for 2008, with a tighter chicane introduced at the end of the back straight. This was instrumental in providing more overtaking opportunities at last seasons events.
Track length: 3.5km (2.17 miles)
Circuit Lap record: 1:14.679s Neel Jani, A1 Team Switzerland, January 2008