COMPETITION HOTS UP AS A1GP HEADS TO MALAYSIA Following the success of its ground-breaking Beijing street race, A1GP World Cup of Motorsport returns to the Far East next week to the Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia, for the fourth of the...
COMPETITION HOTS UP AS A1GP HEADS TO MALAYSIA
Following the success of its ground-breaking Beijing street race, A1GP World Cup of Motorsport returns to the Far East next week to the Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia, for the fourth of the 12 round series. The series made history one and a half weeks ago when it co-hosted the first-ever street race in the Chinese capital, but this week, however, it returns to a circuit for a second consecutive year following last season's November round at the Kuala Lumpur track.
The Sepang International Circuit on the outskirts of the Malaysian capital opened in 1999 to host the Malaysian round of the FIA Formula One World Championship. A modern-day motor racing classic, the 5.5km circuit comprises 15 corners and eight straights with a width of up to 25m in places, which provides many overtaking opportunities.
Designed by renowned circuit constructor Hermann Tilke in consultation with seven-times Formula 1 World Champion Michael Schumacher, the state-of-the-art circuit was built on a 260 hectare former palm oil plantation near to Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The race will be one of the toughest of the year for drivers as the hot, exceptionally humid weather saps strength and stamina, putting an emphasis on driver fitness.
"Sepang will be a tough race for drivers, but I'm confident it will be very smooth running for A1GP," A1GP chief operating executive David Clare said, "This is the second time we have been to the circuit so we will be up to speed straight away. So far, as a series, we've had to learn as we've been going along visiting new circuits, but at Sepang we can really consolidate our experience and show how far we've come."
Last year's A1GP races were welcomed by an enthusiastic Malaysian crowd, who were delighted to see their team finish eighth in the Sprint race and fifth in the Feature race. This year, buoyed by Malaysia's double win in Brno, expectations of the home team are high, "Last year we had a small but enthusiastic crowd, this year we expect a big and enthusiastic crowd. For any driver it's a great thrill to race in front of your home crowd," Malaysia's lead driver Alex Yoong commented, "Sepang is a good mix of fast and slow corners and all drivers I know really enjoy driving it. No team has ever won its home race, and we look forward to changing that, so the more people we have the better."
Currently fifth, only seven points off leaders Mexico, a strong result in Sepang could catapult Malaysia to the top of the series' standings. A1 Team Mexico will, however be looking to consolidate their consistent performance this season, "It's been an outstanding season for us so far," added driver Salvador Duran, "We knew we had learnt a lot since last year, but to have already achieved three podiums in six races is beyond our expectations, particularly with the series being so competitive this year. Of course, we're now putting ourselves under even more pressure -- the only thing we haven't achieved is our first win this season!"
The weekend's racing action kicks off with the rookie driver and developing nations' session on Friday 24 November from 11.00 to 12.00. All teams can take part in the later practice session from 14.00 to 15.00. Final practice and qualifying for the Sprint race will take place on Saturday, with the Sprint and Feature races scheduled for Sunday 26 November at 11.00 and 15.00 respectively.
This time last season in Sepang-- - Switzerland and France raced wheel-to-wheel in both the Sprint and Feature race, however it was France who took victory in both en route to the 2005/06 series title. Great Britain and Czech Republic were third in the Sprint and Feature races respectively. The Feature race was also notable for A1 Team China, whose car rolled several times after contact with Portugal.
Eastern Promise -- With only two weeks between the Beijing and Sepang races, many drivers elected to stay out in the Far East. Great Britain's Oliver Jarvis and Switzerland's Sebastien Buemi were just two drivers who went to the island of Macau to compete in the famed Formula 3 race. Although they didn't follow in the footsteps of other A1GP drivers including France's Alexandre Premat and Nicolas Lapierre, who took the spoils in 2004 and 2003 respectively, and Great Britain's Darren Manning, who won in 1999, the pair still achieved respectable results. Buemi claimed fourth position, with Jarvis finishing 15th.
Going Dutch? -- Jeroen Bleekemolen's Beijing Sprint race victory was the Dutchman's first single-seater victory since 1998. His pole position was also his first single-seater front of the grid start since the 2000 German Formula 3 championship; the 25-year-old has since focused more on sportscars and touring cars, laterally racing in FIA GT with the Spyker Squadron.
That elusive win -- A1 Team Canada have led more races than any other team this year. Sean McIntosh and James Hinchcliffe have spent 55 laps in the lead in the three events held so far, however have yet to seal that elusive first 2006/07 win. The Canadians will no doubt be looking to rectify that score this time round in Malaysia, or at least better their 2005/06 15th place in the Malaysian Sprint and retirement in the Feature race!
The old and the new - The Sepang complex blends modern technology with the Malaysian culture. The unique double-fronted main grandstand roof resembles a banana leaf, while the Canopy Tower, nestling at the tip of the V-shaped double grandstand, has a roof similar to the Malaysian national flower, the hibiscus. Seats here give a view of 70% of the track.
Yoong at heart -- Alex Yoong became the first Malaysian to race in Formula 1 when he made his debut in 2001. His 15 races in 2001 and 2002 yielded a best result of seventh in the 2002 Australian Grand Prix and a 10th in the 2002 French Grand Prix. Yoong's team mate Fairuz Fauzy is yet to make it to Formula 1, but aims to reach the top echelons of the sport. This season Fauzy competed in GP2 with Super Nova International, his best result coming at Silverstone when he finished seventh.
The knowledge - Selected A1GP drivers will have the chance to visit the 452 metre-Petronas Towers, the landmark attraction in Kuala Lumpur, over race week when they head over for a press conference. Other drivers will have a slightly more off-the-wall experience when they head to try out an indoor rollercoaster at one of KL's largest shopping malls. Not for the faint-hearted!
Singapore scores -- Singapore's eighth place in the Beijing Feature race was the tiny nation's first-ever A1GP points. Team principal Ravi Sasikumar is used to breaking records, however; he was an international footballer with the Singapore National Team and scored the winning goal in a major competition that gave Singapore its first international win in the history of the country.
-credit: a1 world cup