A1GP R5 Preview – Kyalami, South Africa
South Africa once again plays host to the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport this weekend but it’s a case of pastures new for the nation versus nation championship with the Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit in the Gauteng Province making its debut on the schedule, Friday 20th – Sunday 22nd February.
Round 5 of the 2008-09 A1GP season switches to the historic 4.26km circuit, located 20km north of Johannesburg, following three highly popular A1GP street races on a specially designed temporary track incorporating the stunning shoreline in Durban.
TW Steel, the ‘Official Watch & Timing Partner’ to A1GP, is already an active presence in South Africa with retailers across the country selling the impressive range of oversized watches – including the sought-after TW Steel A1GP collection, created to celebrate TW Steel’s partnership with the ‘World Cup of Motorsport’.
This weekend’s on-track activities will again be supported off-track with the hosting of the final of ‘Miss TW Steel South Africa’. The winner of Sunday’s final, hosted at the track between the Sprint and Feature races, will go on to the grand final in London, England later in the year to compete against all the other ‘Miss TW Steel’ national winners for a prize of $25,000 US and a photo-shoot in a leading lifestyle magazine.
Change of Venue, Change of Luck?
One man hoping that the switch from Durban to Kyalami will bring about a change of fortune is A1 Team South Africa’s Adrian Zaugg. With three A1GP victories to his credit, the 22-year-old has been a model of consistency this season with seven top-ten finishes from eight race starts, South Africa currently sitting ninth in the Nations Standings. It’s likely though that the man leading his nation’s charge would gladly trade his previous successes for a shot of a home win in South Africa.
Zaugg’s personal best on home soil is a brace of seventh place finishes in Durban, one coming in the Sprint race in 2007 and the other in last season’s Feature event. A1 Team South Africa’s strongest showing came back in A1GP’s inaugural season when Stephen Simpson raced to a fifth place finish to the delight of the partisan crowd after the disappointment of an earlier Sprint race retirement.
South Africa boasts a variety of different A1GP winners with five nations triumphing over the six races held there to-date. France and The Netherlands shared the spoils in Durban in the first season before Germany’s Nico Hülkenberg locked out the top step of the podium in 2007. Last season saw Canada’s Robert Wickens score his maiden A1GP triumph in the Sprint event before the ever-present Neel Jani led eventual World Champions, A1 Team Switzerland to the Feature race win.
Jani scored another Feature win last time out in New Zealand but Adam Carroll’s earlier Sprint success and second place finish behind the Swiss in the second race ensured A1 Team Ireland maintained its points lead heading to Kyalami for Round 5 this weekend, the gap between the top two nations just thirteen points (65-52).
Kyalami Driving Impressions:
While Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit hosts an A1GP meeting for the first time this weekend, the track is no stranger to international motorsport. John Watson is just one individual heading to South Africa with A1GP eager to return to a circuit steeped in history, including his own with the five-time Grand Prix winner making regular Formula One starts at Kyalami from 1974 to 1983.
Watson will be back to commentate on all the A1GP action for TV alongside Ben Edwards. In addition to calling the race John’s duties also include being the first to grill the top-three podium finishers for their post-race thoughts. He was himself a podium finisher at Kyalami back in 1978 when he drove his Brabham to third place in the South African Grand Prix, coincidently beating A1 Team Australia Seat Holder Alan Jones to the final podium spot, behind Sweden’s Ronnie Peterson, who won, and France’s Patrick Depailler.
“The first thing I have to say is that racing in South Africa was always a pleasure,” Watson stated. “Kyalami was usually the third Grand Prix of the year, with the first two being Argentina and Brazil, so more often than not this meant South Africa marked the debut of the new season’s car. We’d spend the preceding days there testing and developing in what was obviously a great climate and it always proved to be a highly social, very welcoming event. Looking back, one thing that always struck me was the strength of South Africa’s home-grown talent.”
Looking back on A1GP’s debut in South Africa in Durban and the change to the Gauteng Province this year Watson commented: “I thought Durban was a wonderful venue for A1GP. The location on the beach was terrific, some of our TV pictures there were simply amazing, and importantly we were taking A1GP racing straight to the city. In terms of A1GP, as a series, and its growth, there’s no doubt that moving to Kyalami, and being nearer the likes of Johannesburg, is going to take things to the next level. The history of motorsport at Kyalami is well documented and the population close-by is obviously significant. There’s no doubt this is going to be a bigger show and that understandably has a value to both the series and the promoters.
“I’ve heard it’s a much more contemporary circuit, the original layout was dominated by a massively long straight but that’s no more. It still incorporates much of the old Kyalami circuit but for most of the drivers this weekend it’s going to be a new experience. It’s important to note that altitude might play a part, driver’s will have to be at the peak of their fitness as Johannesburg is 5700 feet above sea level, they’ll have to adapt! In brief, South Africa’s a beautiful country, it’s great that A1GP races there and everyone I know in international motorsport who’s raced there always comes away with a smile on there face, it should be a fantastic weekend!”