BAHRAIN READY TO RUMBLE TO THE THUNDER FROM DOWN UNDER Manama, 23rd November 2006: The Australian V8 Supercars Series has arrived north of the Equator for the first time in its illustrious history to an enormous welcome from the Kingdom of ...
BAHRAIN READY TO RUMBLE TO THE THUNDER FROM DOWN UNDER
Manama, 23rd November 2006: The Australian V8 Supercars Series has arrived north of the Equator for the first time in its illustrious history to an enormous welcome from the Kingdom of Bahrain. The Desert 400 race weekend has already established itself as one of the highlights of the international calendar of events at the Bahrain International Circuit before the massed ranks of 650bhp Holden Commodores and Ford Falcons even takes to the track.
In the weeks leading up to the event, the penultimate round of this year's 13-round Supercar calendar, a spectacular series of events has introduced the sight and sound of the fastest touring car series on earth to the Middle East and the outgoing, can-do attitude of the stars. During the BIC's Ramadan drift events, which drew thousands every night throughout the month of fasting, the Toll HSV Team Holden was a regular performer drawing huge applause for its V8 symphony and tyre-smoking antics.
Showcars from Holden and Team Betta Electrical Ford have toured every major hotel, university and public event in the Kingdom with plasma screens showing highlights from the Supercar season so far. The cars have also been seen merging with the local traffic at rush hour, bringing added colour and excitement to many commuters' days. In pride of place at the sell-out International Drag Racing Festival last month the Supercars truly caught the imagination of the visiting drag fans from across the Gulf
The Desert 400 also sees the inaugural race of the Gulf region's own touring car series: the Lumina CSV Championship Middle East. Organised and promoted by he Bahrain International Circuit, the fleet of 380bhp Chevrolet Lumina SS V8s - smaller siblings to the Holden Commodore Supercars - will be on the supporting bill of every major event in the Gulf including A1GP in Dubai, Grand Prix Masters in Qatar, the 24 Hour Race of Bahrain and ending in support to the 2007 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix on April 13-15 2007.
In order to launch the series a travelling Lumina CSV Championship Middle East Roadshow has got underway in Bahrain with a national DJ competition to find the official spin-doctor of the series, who will also play the opening set for international party maestro Judge Jules when he comes to BJ's nightclub in Manama next month. Lumina CSV Pit Stop Challenge events at Bahrain's universities and the roadshow itself at the Seef Mall last weekend drew huge attendances and saw dancing in the streets.
The action now focuses on the track, where an estimated 12,000 fans will be gathering for the three V8 Supercar races. Over 2,000 Australians and New Zealanders have made the 12,000km trip and a similar number of race fans from Europe have taken advantage of Bahrain's proximity to get their first-ever taste of Supercar action.
"I just love racing, I watch the British Touring Cars and DTM and people who have been to Australia have told us good the Supercars are," said 38-year-old Anthony from Hereford, UK. "We get to see a little bit on TV so we decided to come for a few days, get some winter sun and enjoy the action. It's unbelievable - the whole country is V8 mad!"
The Desert 400 is anticipated to provide in the region of $10 million for the Bahraini economy through the businesses employed to set up, promote, cater for and provide travel and accommodation for the event. Already long streams of cars are to be seen coming across the causeway that links the Bahraini islands to the mainland of Saudi Arabia from where race fans of all GCC nations are being drawn to the show, and the overseas contingent flying in from further afield continues to touch down.
The visiting teams and drivers have all been in residence since Sunday and have been out meeting the people of Bahrain. Visits to local schools and a host of Arabic-Antipodean cultural and community events have filled recent days, leaving the Aussies with plenty to savour. "Every time I see it, I'm blown away by the magnitude of the Bahrain International Circuit," said Garth Tander, whose BIC initiation came when he partnered British Olympic legend Sir Steve Redgrave to victory in the Pro Celebrity Race at this year's Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix.
"Everything about the BIC and the country is top notch, and it's a great place to go racing. The last time we saw something on this scale was at Shanghai but it's still very different. The corners are faster, more flowing compared with the Shanghai track it's going to make for a great show."
Tander's sentiments were echoed throughout the visiting party of drivers. "The whole setup for the Desert 400 and particularly the circuit are first class," said Fujitsu Racing Ford driver Warren Luff. "I think the series as a whole, and anyone involved in international motor sport can learn a lot from the way things are done here."
The 2006 Australian V8 Supercars Series is poised for a dramatic climax as the drivers prepare for this, the penultimate event of the year. The three races over the weekend, totaling 400km - hence Desert 400 - throw in the added variable that the cars and the stars do not know the track at all. Currently Toll HSV Holden driver Rick Kelly leads Team Betta Electrical Ford driver Craig Lowndes in the points by the narrowest of margins. Lowndes last month claimed the marquee Bathurst 1000 race at Mount Panorama, Ford's first victory there in the last nine attempts. Now a new challenge awaits all the teams in Bahrain.
"We'll be working very closely with our engineers to get the perfect set up," said Lowndes. "Everything is new for this race from our tyres to our knowledge." Lowndes' view was echoed from his rivals in the Toll Holden camp, battling Lowndes and Ford in the drivers', manufacturers' and teams' title race. "No one can be favourites yet," said Toll Holden driver Garth Tander. "We're all racing on a clear slate, None of us have any data or past experience so until we get out on Thursday for the practice rounds we're all at the same level."
Teams positions are open to change too. With each team member trying to generate as many points as possible they are all hoping to use the Desert 400 race and its novelty to their best advantage. Another title contender is Mark Winterbottom, who races with Ford Performance Racing, and is anxious about the coming event. "If Rick (Kelly) gets good points from Bahrain then it will make our job pretty difficult but we can only do our best and hope we close the current gap between us and Toll HSV in the teams' points."
The dynamic action yet family-orientated entertainment of the Supercars Series, and the personalities of the teams and drivers, are what brought them to the Kingdom of Bahrain. The Bahrain International Circuit entered its agreement to bring the Supercars to the Kingdom for just that reason: as the ideal family entertainment for this region. For the stars themselves, this is also an opportunity to make new friends and to reciprocate the welcome they have received with three all-action races over the coming weekend. Holden driver Steven Richards explained: "Anyone who comes to see us this weekend will be impressed with the kind of racing we do. The Desert 400 in Bahrain is a great opportunity for us to bring a new audience to the Australian V8s."