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A1GP R4 Preview – Taupo, New Zealand
The 2008-09 A1GP World Cup of Motorsport roars back into life this weekend with New Zealand’s picturesque Taupo Motorsports Park welcoming the competing nations back for the third straight season, Friday 23rd – Sunday 25th January.

Round 4 down-under will again see TW Steel, the ‘Official Watch and Timing Partner’ of A1GP, active on the ground, introducing ‘The Watch in Steel’ to Taupo race fans through a series of competitions in the media and of course, the ever-popular, ‘Miss TW Steel’ competition.

Recent winners, Miss Dyan Zou Xiao Qian (Miss TW Steel China) and Miss Parveen Singh (Miss TW Steel Malaysia) are already booked up to head to London, England at the end of the season where they will compete alongside the other national winners from A1GP events for the title of ‘Miss TW Steel 2008-09’, $25,000 US in prize money and a photo-shoot with a leading lifestyle magazine.
With the welcoming of the New Year there is also an update to the sought-after TW Steel A1GP watches.  Following the highly successful launch of the A1GP watches in October 2008, all A1GP models – the TW602, TW604 and TW606 are now available with black straps.  The soft rubber A1GP strap, complete with racing tread, boasts an anti-dust protection layer while its material ensures unrivalled comfort on the wrist.

Black Beauty Targeting Repeat Home Glory:
A1 Team New Zealand is just one of two A1GP nations to taste success at its home event.  Following in the footsteps of Robbie Kerr’s Sprint victory for A1 Team Great Britain at Brands Hatch at the end of the 2006-07 season, New Zealand’s Jonny Reid steered ‘Black Beauty’, the name affectionately bestowed upon A1 Team New Zealand’s entry, to a rapturous home Sprint race win at Taupo Motorsports Park in January 2008.
Just four nations have climbed the podium at Taupo in two A1GP meetings.  A1 Team Germany leads the way with three victories from four starts including a top-step sweep for Nico Hülkenberg in the 2006-07 season.  Last year Germany’s Christian Vietoris captured the Feature win following Reid’s Sprint race triumph.
Prior to that victory Jonny Reid had led the Kiwi team to a pair of third place podiums at Taupo, finishing on both occasions behind A1 Team France’s Loic Duval, in second, and the aforementioned Hülkenberg for Germany.  Duval holds a podium finish in all four Taupo races, the Frenchman bagging a pair of third place finishes in 2008.  A1 Team Canada gate-crashed the party last year to score a second place Feature finish courtesy of rookie sensation Robert Wickens – the first time in four races that New Zealand was denied a home podium.

Chris van der Drift is charged with leading A1 Team New Zealand’s attack this weekend having made his A1GP race debut in Round 2 in China last November.  Ireland leads the points chase heading to Taupo with Portugal in second place (45-35) followed by France and New Zealand sharing third in the standings on 31 points.

Taupo Driving Impressions:
James Hinchcliffe is a familiar face to television viewers around the world this season thanks to his sterling efforts interviewing drivers and reporting all the action from the pit-lane for A1GP’s world-feed broadcasts.  The 22-year-old Canadian provides a unique in-sight into the driver’s perspective during a race weekend having recorded 20 A1GP race starts for A1 Team Canada through the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons.
With multiple race wins recorded across a variety of single-seater series in his native North America, Hinchcliffe is skillfully combining his racing and broadcasting talents, applying the same level of passion and enthusiasm to both.
While he’ll be working the pit-lane at Taupo Motorsports Park this weekend minus helmet and overalls, the A1GP podium-scoring driver has fond memories of his two sixth place finishes at the 3.5km New Zealand race track in January 2007 – Taupo’s debut on the A1GP schedule.

“I was there for the first-ever A1GP race meeting at Taupo and usually it takes a couple of years for an event to feel established, attract a crowd and so on,” reflected Hinchcliffe.  “From day one in New Zealand though it was probably already one of the best events A1GP had hosted.  The support the race had from the New Zealand people was just incredible.  They love their motorsport down there and it certainly showed with how we were all received.

“The track itself is a tight, little circuit.  It keeps a driver busy and it’s quite physically demanding.  I don’t mean that in the sense of, for example the Malaysian race is physical due to the long, fast corners, I just mean that there are just so many turns and really only one straight at Taupo so you’re just busy behind the wheel for the entire lap.  It’s definitely a ‘rhythm’ circuit and as a driver you have to be very precise to keep the flow of the lap going.  It’s very easy to get a corner wrong at Taupo and that will destroy your lap as it throw’s you off for the next set of turns.”

Drivers will have their first taste of Taupo behind the wheel of the all new A1GP car ‘Powered by Ferrari’ on Friday.  Previewing the on-track action Hinchcliffe thinks track knowledge is key to a successful weekend.

“I personally would take track knowledge over car knowledge any day therefore I believe the guy’s who have raced here before will probably have the slight advantage over some of the rookie drivers in the field.  That said, everyone’s a professional so they’ll all be up to speed pretty quickly and it’s certainly not a complicated track to get your head around if you’re seeing it for the first time.  I actually think the new A1GP car will be well suited to the circuit.  The drivers are all raving about its handling and responsiveness so with a short, twisty layout like Taupo that should be a bonus.”
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