London, Great Britain -- As the excitement continued on the track and Switzerland and Ireland took the spoils, the action continued in the paddock as A1GP enjoyed its last outing before the Christmas break in Sepang, Malaysia last week. The week...
London, Great Britain -- As the excitement continued on the track and Switzerland and Ireland took the spoils, the action continued in the paddock as A1GP enjoyed its last outing before the Christmas break in Sepang, Malaysia last week.
The week kicked off with another animal-themed outing, this time the drivers getting the chance to meet the Asian elephants at the world famous Kuala Gandah National Elephant Conservation Centre outside Kuala Lumpur.
Drivers from seven nations were given a rare opportunity, thanks to Tourism Malaysia, to ride an elephant in the jungle with the help of an elephant guide, or mahout, and help feed them.
Portugal's Filipe Albuquerque, France's Loïc Duval, India's Armaan Ebrahim, Lebanon's Jimmy Auby, New Zealand's Chris van der Drift, Indonesia's Satrio Hermanto and local Malaysian drivers Fairuz Fauzy and Aaron Lim all had the chance to visit the sanctuary.
It is estimated that there are only 1,200 wild Asian Elephants left in Malaysia and this is the only conservation centre set up to provide them a sanctuary in the wild. Since opening, the centre has relocated more than 500 elephants from areas where their habitats were encroached by plantations or other human development, to other suitable habitats throughout Peninsular Malaysia.
The centre is currently home to 14 elephants, aged between three and 32 years old. The drivers were able to meet five of these, as the centre strives to educate visitors in the importance of habitat and environmental conservation.
Away from the elephants, another driver was also experiencing the Malaysian wildlife. A1 Team Monaco's Clivio Piccione took time out in the days before A1GP Sepang, to visit the KL Bird Park.
Located in the serene Kuala Lumpur Lake Gardens, it is the world's largest free-flight walk-in aviary and is home to over 3000 birds of 200 local and foreign bird species. Piccione was very impressed by his first experience of being able to hold and get extremely close to all the birds. His visit also coincided with a group of kids from the Kajang Orphanage, who were on holiday and only too happy to get Clivio's autograph.
Drivers from A1 Teams Malaysia, Monaco, Indonesia and Lebanon, also took to the red carpet at the third annual OK! Magazine Malaysia party on Saturday evening in Kuala Lumpur. The party was held at the popular Zouk nightclub and the drivers received a warm welcome from celebrities and fans who had their pictures taken with them and got to meet their racing heroes.
Back on the track, an incident involving USA, Brazil and India meant a busy race day for the teams involved. As the cars came in formation towards the rolling start of the Sprint race, the pack appeared to pick up pace as it approached the start line, but then backed off causing a concertina effect towards the back of the field.
The USA car of Marco Andretti and the Brazilian car of Felipe Guimaraes took it in turn to climb over the back of Narain Karthikeyan's Indian entry scattering debris across the pit straight. Due to the damage sustained, it looked probable that none of the cars involved would be able to make the grid for the Feature race only fours later, but thanks to some fast and dedicated work from the crews, a full grid was in place that afternoon. Andretti went on to finish third and score his first A1GP podium while Guimaraes finished seventh, his personal best race result.
In motorsport, glory can turn into disaster on the turn of a wheel nut though, or in the case of A1 Team Malaysia the pressing of a button. Fairuz Fauzy had a great home Feature race and was looking to claim his third podium of the year on a weekend when 47,000 Malaysians turned up at the Sepang International Circuit to cheer him on. It says a lot for the strength of character of the driver that he was prepared to sit in front of his media to be grilled on what happened during the race that robbed him of a podium.
It is difficult to say whether it was as simple or as complex as his in-car radio picking up a message that was meant for another driver. He heard the words his team use to bring him into the pits and, as he was already having problems communicating with them, could do nothing but respond. An investigation has pinpointed the call from A1 Team Great Britain as the message he heard. While it is impossible to replicate away from Sepang the scenario, the organisers are sure this is what happened and it must have been a combination of freak circumstances that led him to hear this message and dive into the pits from a safe third place.
Now as the team's nominated lead driver, the 26-year-old, who was born down the road from the Sepang circuit in Kuala Lumpur, has come into his own. He was able to master the atrocious conditions in Zandvoort to not only claim his first A1GP podium, but at the same time his first win. His exploits since he began his racing career in karts at the age of eight have been impressive and he is certainly one of the finest drivers in his peer group to hail from Malaysia.
As the sun set on the final race meeting of the year, most the teams began heading to their respective homes, however a number of A1GP representatives headed on to Australia's Gold Coast. Alongside a driver from A1 Team Australia and V8 Supercars, they joined together to announce the co-headline event which is scheduled for 22 -25 October 2009.
A1GP World Cup of Motorsport and V8 Supercars Australia will co-headline the biggest motorsport event in Australia on the Gold Coast with a newly designed pit complex to host forty teams from A1GP and V8's combined.
Terry Mackenroth Chairman Gold Coast Events Co: "We are happy to formally announce a contract with A1GP for the next five years here on the Gold Coast. We will continue our association with V8 Supercars. To complete an agreement for a replacement to the IRL as far as motorsport is concerned was in record time. We first met with A1GP in 2007 to see how their series operated in Taupo and are happy with the proposal and future of A1GP with Tony Teixeira"
A1GP now has an extended Christmas break with the teams having time to reflect on the first three events of the season and prepare for the trip to New Zealand in the New Year when battle resumes in Taupo on 23 -- 25 January 2009.