Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The World Cup hits NZ

[Also posted at The Dropkicks]

In case you missed the extraordinary media fanfare surrounding the arrival of the A1GP in New Zealand ahead of this weekend's round in Taupo, I'm going to talk about it some more.

The A1GP is the 'brainchild' of Dubai's Sheikh Maktoum Hasher Maktoum Al Maktoum. In reality it's just little bits of other motor-series thrown together to make a super-series. The 'world cup' idea is sort of the same concept as Premier 1 Grand Prix/Superleague Formula, the 'power boost' is taken from Formula Renault, the sprint/feature format has been used by BTCC and many of the drivers are former F1 or other open-wheel series competitors.

The series works around the idea that each country is given the exact same car and is not allowed to work on these outside of designated sessions. Also, I've heard, but not been able to confirm, they are limited in how much they may change settings. This is supposed to make the success or failure on track reflect solely on the driver [barring the fact that the pit crew do the setup and compulsory pit stop work - which anybody who saw the first series will know was a farce as there appeared to be something suspect going on with the wheel nuts].

France took out the first season in convincing fashion, Germany the second and A1 Team Switzerland were rewarded for their constant backing of Neel Jaani with last year's crown. New Zealand has finished fourth, second and second in the championship over those three seasons.

Teams were originally purchased by a licence holder, who fronted up with $1m to secure the seat. Colin Giltrap, one of the heroes of NZ motorsport, saw the opportunity to have NZ up on the main stage of world motorsport and funded our successful licence application, securing Fisher & Paykel sponsorship after Team USA were rumoured to have demanded $4m per season to have F&P on their cars.

Sadly, finances is what has defined the A1GP. There has always been talk about whether the series was sustainable due to the high cost of the cars, travel, and not to mention the upwards of $200 punters were expected to pay at some rounds. Now it appears this theory of financial instability destroying the series might just become a reality. If you check the A1GP website it shows one circuit as TBA, despite the fact that race is to be held in March. The next round in Indonesia has been cancelled as the track was not ready for inspection in time, although there is chance that it may be moved to Sepang.

It will be a shame if the series does collapse as without it, Jonny Reid would probably not have had the same Champcar 'chances' he has, and the general NZ population would never have even heard of Chris Van Der Drift or Earl Bamber. Unfortunately, switching from Lola to Ferrari for the cars and a general lack of connection with the fans of the series looks to have turned Al Maktoum's dream into the World Cup of Financial Crisis. It will be interesting to see what happens to the series in future, especially since the series signed a six-year supply deal with Ferrari last year, despite a $212m loss in the first season and a 48% fall in returns over the first three.

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