Sentul: Round five preview

INDONESIA BECKONS FOR A1GP For the second time in two weeks, the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport series returns to South East Asia. This time, the series will set up camp at the Sentul circuit on the Indonesian island of Java, 42km from the ...

INDONESIA BECKONS FOR A1GP

For the second time in two weeks, the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport series returns to South East Asia. This time, the series will set up camp at the Sentul circuit on the Indonesian island of Java, 42km from the capital Jakarta, for round five of the 12-round season. The circuit is located in the wealthy region of Bogor, a popular summer resort and centre of trade for products of the surrounding region including coffee, tea and assorted spices.

The 4.12km track is set against a backdrop of the spectacular scenery of the area, in the shadow of volcanoes and thick rainforest, and features fast, flowing corners up to 15m wide and straights up to 900m in length. Completed in 1994, the circuit was the first serious attempt in South Asia to host a Formula 1 Grand Prix, however the country never hosted the championship for which it was built. The circuit has however hosted a round of MotoGP and regularly welcomes the Asian Formula 3 Super Series.

Last year's races provided thrilling racing for the 46,000-strong crowd, with A1 Team France taking victory in the Sprint race after overtaking pole sitter Robbie Kerr on the first lap. The Feature race produced a surprise result however, with Canada's Sean McIntosh finishing on the top step of the podium despite starting last on the grid and suffering a drive through penalty.

The race this year takes place in early December during the Indonesian monsoon season, so heavy rain and high humidity levels could well feature on practice and race days. Series leader A1 Team Germany's Nico Hulkenberg however proved himself adept at coping with the Asian deluges last time out at Sepang. The 19-year-old star took the lead of the rain-soaked Malaysian Feature race on the first racing lap and went on to win by an unprecedented 43 seconds from Great Britain's Robbie Kerr. "There's a good chance it could rain in Sentul, just like it did in Sepang," said Hulkenberg. "Obviously we did very well when it rained -- we looked at the weather and did a compromise set-up for rain and if it dried. Of course as a driver you'd need to adjust your driving style too, but I hope we can do just as well in the wet here as we did in Sepang."

Hulkenberg has never raced at the Indonesian circuit before, but has been preparing well for his first trip to Sentul, "I've never raced at Sentul before but to prepare for it I've watched last year's race, looked at the onboard footage and the team has given me the data and the speeds from last year. When I arrive I will also walk the track with my engineers. The track looks quick, there are lots of straights and not many chicanes so it's important to get a good balance between downforce and speed."

Hulkenberg's preparations have also included a GP2 test with Super Nova in Valencia, "The first day was not too bad, especially as it was only the first time I had sat in a GP2 car, and the second day we improved by 0.2secs, perhaps I expected more, but all in all it was a good test and the team were very happy."

A1GP's visit to Sentul will be particularly special for A1 Team Indonesia, especially for lead driver Ananda Mikola who lives just a few kilometres from the circuit. "The circuit is not so difficult to learn, but it's quite easy to make a mistake when you push too hard. We've got to focus on the racing because we know we have good car, we set some good lap times here last year so I know I can be up there. I want to be on podium and I think that anything can happen -- a lot depends on me and strategy. Hopefully the spectators will help us; it's really important we do well as we need to prove to everyone that we can bring the World Cup of Motorsport here and make it a success."

David Clare, A1GP chief operating officer, fully expects this year's race weekend to attract the same enthusiastic crowd, "For many fans, last season's race was the first time they had seen international motorsport on their own soil. To see the popular, well-known figure Ananda Mikola at the wheel of a car emblazoned with their national flag was a real thrill and everyone really got behind the team. This year I hope we will show just how far we've come as a series too; we're now better prepared for the challenges of this area and have worked closely with the Indonesian government and organisers to ensure the spectators have an even more enjoyable experience."

The weekend's action starts on Friday 8 December with the rookie driver and developing nations' practice session from 11.00 -- 12.00. Following Qualifying on Saturday, the Sprint and Feature races will take place on Sunday 10 December at 11.00 and 15.00 respectively.

Hot facts

Little and large: Indonesia is the world's largest archipelago and is made up of 18,108 islands, of which 7,000 are inhabited. The most populated island is Java, on which Sentul is situated, with half of the population, followed by the islands of Sumatra, Borneo, New Guinea and Sulawesi. Indonesia is also the most populous Muslim country in the world and the fourth most populated country in the world overall.

Raindrops keep falling--: Bogor means 'city of rain' in the local dialect. Not much surprise there; Indonesia is the ninth-rainiest country in the world.

Record breaker: It's an A1GP car that holds the lap record at Sentul. Last year A1 Team Ireland's Ralph Firman slashed the lap record down to 1min 19.029secs.

Keeping it in the family: A1 Team Indonesia is the only team in the field to have two brothers as their driver line-up. Ananda Mikola may not live far from the Sentul circuit, but it's younger brother Moreno Soeprapto who has the most experience of the 4.12km track. While Ananda left Indonesia to race in Europe, Moreno competed in Asian Formula 3 and, as a result, is much better acquainted with its fast, flowing corners.

Black beauty: Jonny Reid's podium in the Feature race in Malaysia was New Zealand's first podium in 28 races. The Kiwis finished third in the first-ever A1GP race at Brands Hatch in 2005, however the podium has eluded them ever since.

Birthday boys: Several A1GP drivers have celebrated or will celebrate their birthdays soon. Switzerland's Neel Jani will be 23 on Friday practice day, Italy's Enrico Toccacelo will be 28 on 12 December Tuka Rocha will be 24 on 13 December, while Canada's James Hinchcliffe celebrated his 20th birthday on 5 December.

Irish eyes: Richard Lyons, the 27-year-old 2004 Formula Nippon champion, will be making his A1 Team Ireland debut this week in Sentul. The Tokyo-based driver is currently racing with Nissan in the Japanese Super GT championship and also made his Australian V8 Supercar debut earlier this year.

Testing times: Several A1GP drivers have been filling the time between Malaysia and Indonesia trying to get as much racing experience as possible. Nico Hulkenberg, Nicolas Lapierre, Xandi Negrao and Adrian Zaugg have all been testing Formula 1 feeder series GP2 in Valencia, while Neel Jani flew to the States to test in Houston for the PKV Racing Team competing in the Champ Car series.

-credit: a1gp

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Series A1GP
Drivers Ananda Mikola , Robbie Kerr , Ralph Firman , Richard Lyons , Neel Jani , Sean McIntosh , Nicolas Lapierre , James Hinchcliffe , Jonny Reid , Nico Hulkenberg , Moreno Soeprapto , David Clare