Move over, Formula One : A1GP is set to break the stranglehold the mighty US dollar has on auto sport


David Clare, A1GP’s chief executive for the Asia-Pacific, hopes Thailand can participate in A1GP racing and believes that now is the right time to promote motor sport in the Kingdom.

Modern auto racing is not really fair competition, because the team with the most bucks always seems to win.

Formula One racing has given us clear examples of the principle of “more bucks equals more wins”. These days, fewer than 20 per cent of the teams involved in Formula One actually expect to win. So whatever happened to edge-of-your-seat competition, victory for the underdog and the fight for grid positions?

How do we level the playing field in auto sport?

The answer may be A1GP, also known as the World Cup of Motor Sport. A1GP is an open-wheeled auto-racing series. Its most unusual feature is that competitors represent their country rather than a carmaker. The competition is ratified and regulated by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, and races are held in the traditional Formula One off season.

In A1GP, one car is provided for each team, which represents its country. The cars are identical, and certain restrictions have been imposed to limit performance and running costs, so that no team will have an advantage over others because of better equipment. Ultimately, the playing field is level, and success comes more from the skill of a driver and the ability of his team to work together than from the bank balance supporting the effort.

The current A1GP season, which began last weekend, will see 22 countries competing at 11 circuits around the world. It is A1GP’s third season.

“A1GP is not simply a competition; it’s about developing motor sport in individual countries. It is about providing an opportunity for countries that otherwise would never be able to race in an international series. Good examples are India, Pakistan and China. More than 50 per cent of the world’s population lives in Asia, and the markets here are developing. A1GP gives these countries an opportunity to take part in international motor sport,” says David Clare, A1GP’s chief executive for the Asia-Pacific.

A1GP is still in its infancy; the first two seasons were new for both organisers and teams. Clare admits there are many changes to be made. For instance, the cars driven in the first two seasons used hard tyre compounds, which made it easier for rookie drivers. But this is likely to change as the drivers become more expert.

A1GP also holds a rookie driving session that allows each team to test out new drivers.

“It is important for us to maintain relations with each country and to help develop motor sport in that country. Formula One chooses to come to a country, stage a race and leave, but we need to constantly monitor the situation. We are currently working on getting TV coverage in each country and establishing ourselves better,” Clare says.

The organisation is in the process of establishing a regional office in Singapore aimed at helping people understand the sport correctly.

Clare says that in A1GP, competition, involvement is more important than success. New teams must go though a steep learning curve as they adjust to the short time they are given with their car before they must race. Upon joining the competition, new teams are provided with mechanics by the A1 organisation.

However, more and more

teams are beginning to use mechanics of their own nationality. For instance, more that half of the Malaysian

teams are made up entirely of Malaysians.

“Although Thailand does not have an A1 team yet, I see no reason why it should not. Support for the sport is high among authorities I have spoken to. There is already a racing culture in Thailand that can be developed. Any new team deciding to join will require about one year before all the processes are completed,” Clare says.

A1GP is a patriotic form of motor sport, and if the government of Thailand decided to support a national team, like in rallying, then the country would benefit, he says.

“The reason why sport is so important worldwide is because it allows nations to come together to compete in a friendly manner. A1GP brings this concept to motor sport,” Clare says.

Unlike other forms of auto racing, A1GP attracts families rather than a predominantly male crowd. People turn up in their national colours to support their teams.

As motor sport develops in Thailand, many enthusiasts see the Kingdom’s participation in a series like A1GP as inevitable, because of the many people moving up the ladder from sports like go-karting.

“It will be another two or three years before we get the recognition for A1GP that we want, but we are sure to achieve it. I must also say that this is an optimal time for a country to join, because the process is likely to become more difficult in the future, as the series develops,” Clare says.

Vijo Varghese

The Nation

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