Gauteng, South Africa -- A1GP World Cup of Motorsport gave its drivers the opportunity to take in some of the local cultures including a guided tour around the south western Johannesburg township of Soweto this morning ahead of Go-GP.Org A1GP ...
Gauteng, South Africa -- A1GP World Cup of Motorsport gave its drivers the opportunity to take in some of the local cultures including a guided tour around the south western Johannesburg township of Soweto this morning ahead of Go-GP.Org A1GP Gauteng, South Africa this coming weekend.
Soweto is an urban area in the City of Johannesburg with its name being an English syllabic abbreviation, short for South Western Township. Covering 120 square-kilometres, Soweto consists of between 50 -60 townships with approximately 2-million people living there speaking between them 11 official languages. The area has a real entrepreneurial spirit with many locals choosing to start their own businesses in their back yards in order to look after themselves and their families. The streets are lined with colourful displays of items on sale from carved animals and beaded jewellery to clothes and pottery.
The first stop for the drivers was the iconic Apartheid Museum and the Nelson Mandela Exhibition where they learned more about the system of legal racial segregation enforced by the National Party government of South Africa between 1948 and 1994.
They then moved on to visit the site of the Soccer City Stadium being built in preparation for the 2010 World Cup. The stadium is designed to mirror a traditional African Zulu bracelet -- similar to the ones the drivers were presented with by their tour guide, Jimmy, a Soweto local who had been doing this for 35 years.
The drivers then visited the Hector Peterson Monument, one of the cornerstones of Soweto which has the iconic image of 12-year-old Hector Peterson being carried by his friend to the place where he died.
Soweto came to the world's attention on June 16, 1976 with the Soweto Uprising, when mass protests erupted over the government's policy to enforce education in Afrikaans rather than English. Police opened fire on 10,000 students marching from Naledi High School to Orlando Stadium, with Hector being the first student killed after being hit with a rubber bullet at close range. The place where Hector died is commemorated with the monument and the A1GP drivers all paid their respects this morning by placing a white rose each at the site. Despite the tragedy the riots continued for a further ten years.
The drivers continued down the famous Vilakazi Street, the only street in the world with the homes of two recipients of the Nobel Prize - Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
The final stop was the Don Mattera School for children with special education needs. The warmth of the welcome by the children as they sang a South African song to the A1GP group brought both smiles and a few tears to the eye. The A1GP drivers were then addressed by Principal Mr Bachelor who also presented each driver with a 'message in a bottle' made especially for them by the school children. The messages were prayers of thanks for coming to visit them in their school.
While at the school the drivers took part in some traditional African games with the youngsters. In Soweto, the children cannot afford karts or cars so they get hold of the closest thing to them that they can, in this case, tyres. The children had great fun racing their colourfully painted tyres and wire cars against the A1GP racers in their playground -- this is their form of motorsport. Current championship leader Adam Carroll and South African Adrian Zaugg were among the drivers who were all out-raced by the children before finally they all gathered for the reading of a poem 'when rubber meets the road' by local poet Mr Donovan Mitchell, who was also mentored by Don Materra.
A1 Team South Africa's Adrian Zaugg said: "It's very interesting for everyone today especially the experience with the kids; they all looked pretty happy about us being there and it was exciting to see all the games they play here. It's also been something special for me I have never spent much time in Johannesburg so some of the sites were new to me.
Looking to the weekend ahead he continued: "It's always great to race on home soil and have all the people cheering for you I just hope to do them proud and have a good race."
A1 Team Netherlands' Jeroen Bleekemolen said: "It was good to see a bit of Johannesburg and hear some of the history of South Africa. It was difficult racing against the children at the school as they are really good but they have had a bit more training. We grew up with Playstations and they grow up doing this but they have as much fun as we did which is great to see."
On being the only A1GP driver this weekend to have raced at the Kyalami circuit before he continued: "I was invited over here to race in the Shelby Can Am series and I had a lot of fun as the people here are great. Unfortunately I didn't win but I took pole position so it wasn't too bad. It's a great circuit as it's really quick and it will be exciting."
A1 Team Brazil's Felipe Guimaraes said: "This is the first time I've been to South Africa and is was really nice to see some of Johannesburg and learn about the history of the country. It was also very special to meet the children at the school who gave us such an amazing reception. I have been thinking a lot today about what a good life we have and visiting these children makes you think about the life you have. I was able to make some comparisons with Brazil as it is a similar climate and we also have the kind of shanty towns that we visited so that was interesting to see."
Australia's John Martin, Brazil's Felipe Guimaraes, Great Britain's James Winslow, Ireland's Adam Carroll, India's Narain Karthikeyan and Parthiva Sureshwaren, Malaysia's Fairuz Fauzy and Aaron Lim, the Netherlands' Jeroen Bleekemolen and Dennis Retera, New Zealand's Earl Bamber and Chris van der Drift, Portugal's Filipe Albuquerque, Switzerland's Neel Jani and Alexandre Imperatori and local South African driver Adrian Zaugg all took part this morning.
As part of the build-up to this weekend's racing, several A1GP drivers also took time out to visit the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve near Johannesburg yesterday. The reserve is a privately owned, non-subsidised game reserve, situated in the "Cradle of Humankind", a declared World Heritage Site, about 40 km north-west of Johannesburg.
The venue played host to the weekend's first A1GP Sprint race- a racing driver against a cheetah.
South Africa's Adrian Zaugg and Portugal's Filipe Albuquerque were both given their starting orders against the world's fastest land mammal, an animal that can accelerate from 0 to 60 in only three seconds, before hitting a top speed of 75mph. Both drivers were annihilated, hopefully for the first and only time this weekend.
"Racing the cheetah was something I never thought I would do," said Albuquerque, catching his breath. "I was keeping up the first few metres but when he got running there was no chance!"
Zaugg however, has his excuses ready: "I took a turn a little too sharply and fell, so that's why the cheetah beat me!"
They are one of the many animals that A1GP drivers got to experience at the reserve. All of the drivers played with three-month old baby tiger cubs, and baby lions including one of only 40 known endangered white lions.
The reserve, which last year boasted the birth of 32 rare cape hunting dogs, three cheetah cubs and a rhino, has just purchased two Bengal tigers, which should arrive this week and will be incorporated in a breeding programme.
A1GP heads to Kyalami motor racing circuit in South Africa for round five of the 2008/09 season this weekend, 20 -- 22 February 2009.