SA TEAM MAKES ITS MARK AT FINAL TEST SESSION FOR INAUGURAL A1 GRAND PRIX 'WORLD CUP OF MOTORSPORT' Le Castellet, France, August 26 - The South African national flag flew proudly today at the famous Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track here in the ...
SA TEAM MAKES ITS MARK AT FINAL TEST SESSION FOR INAUGURAL A1 GRAND PRIX 'WORLD CUP OF MOTORSPORT'
Le Castellet, France, August 26 - The South African national flag flew proudly today at the famous Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track here in the south of France along with the flags of 19 other nations as the final test session took place before the inaugural race of the A1 Grand Prix World Cup of Motorsport, which starts at Brands Hatch circuit in England on September 25.
In two and a half days of testing which started on Wednesday at the world's only dedicated high speed test track, situated on top of a mountain near the historic medieval town of Le Castellet, Team South Africa's test drivers - Tomas Scheckter and Stephen Simpson - completed some 200 laps of the 4,2-km circuit and posted competitive times in each of the five sessions that covered 16 hours of high-speed track action.
With former Formula 1 drivers like Jos Verstappen (Team Netherlands), Alex Yoong (Team Malaysia) and Pedro Lamy (Team Portugal) and several current GP2 drivers like Nelson Piquet jnr (whose father is a former world champion), there is stiff competition in this series and intense interest among all the motor racing nations.
The top nine or 10 drivers each day were within a second of each other and if early predictions are to be made, the teams to watch out for include the USA, France, Brazil, New Zealand, Portugal and Ireland.
Watching Team South Africa's progress and offering enthusiastic encouragement and support were Tokyo Sexwale, chairman of Mvelaphanda Holdings and owner of the Team South Africa franchise, and Ms Dana Cooper, CEO of A1 Grand Prix Team South Africa.
"The vision of A1 Grand Prix founder, president and chairman, Sheikh Maktoum is for a world series between competing nations which offers a global audience of billions the opportunity to show their passion for their countries and support their nation's team in this unique motor sport competition," said Mr Sexwale.
"This is all about the pride of the nation and we are very happy to be a part of it. A1 Grand Prix uses the medium of motor racing to present a unique opportunity for a country's peoples to support a team that represents the nation, in much the same way as the rugby World Cup or the Africa Cup of Nations. This is our motor racing Bafana Bafana, our Amabokoboko on wheels," said Sexwale.
"It has been very exciting watching our team in action among the 20 nations who participated in the test programme," said Ms Cooper. "We have all felt a strong surge of national pride and we have seen this reaction among all the other teams.
"While there has been close and spirited competition among the individual drivers to record the fastest times of the day, which of course is what motor racing is all about, in the end it has been about doing your best for your country.
"With the wholehearted support of all South Africans, not just the motor sport fans, our young team will do us proud when this important new series starts next month."
"Tomas opened the testing on Wednesday as he was only available for one day, before returning to the United States to prepare for his next race in the IRL IndyCar series in California on Sunday," said Mike Carroll, sporting and technical manager of A1 Grand Prix Team South Africa.
"We were able to record the sixth fastest time on new tyres early in the day, before we concentrated for the rest of the day on a busy programme of testing various options for the set-up of our A1 Grand Prix car.
"Stephen spent most of Thursday getting to know the car and the Paul Ricard circuit. Today we were able to put in some fast laps during the early part of the session, but we again concentrated on improving the set-up and preparing the car for Brands Hatch.
"We have learnt a lot over the two and a half days and have a great deal of data to assist us with further preparation. We have made good progress and, importantly, our performance has improved with each session," said Carroll.
"We are confident of giving a good account of ourselves at Brands Hatch."
There will be place for 25 nations when the A1 Grand Prix cars, brightly liveried in the colours of their national flags, line up on the grid for the first race in England. Among the 23 already signed up are Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland and the USA (all of whom participated in the Paul Ricard test), plus Canada, South Korea and Turkey.