Clarke to Lead A1 Team Great Britain at Home Event
A1GP World Cup of Motorsport heads to Brands Hatch for the penultimate round of the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport 2008/09 season next weekend, 1- 3 May, with Dan Clarke hoping for success in front of his home crowd and Aaron Steele getting his first chance in the Rookie session at his local track.
|Dan Clarke (GBR), driver of A1 Team Great Britain|
Home nation A1 Team Great Britain has had a mixed season to date sitting tenth in the championship, despite claiming two podium finishes and a pole position in Chengdu, China. However, the team has always performed well on home soil and Clarke will be looking for a boost from the British crowds to help get a good result next Sunday.
“I haven’t raced at Brands since 2004 when I won the Formula Ford Festival and because of that success this circuit will always be special for me,” said Clarke. “It’s also a great place to go racing, both for drivers and fans and I’m sure it will suit the A1GP car.
“It’s a unique home race for me, as I know that as the driver of the British car most of the fans will be supporting us. It is a big motivation to do as well as we can, although I am realistic about our potential for the weekend. I’m up against drivers who have much more experience of this car and the series, while I jumped in only recently. Of course we’re all racing to win and a podium would be fantastic for the British team at the British race, but if we’re close to this it will still be an achievement.”
Clarke, 25, has started four races for A1 Team Great Britain this season, scoring his best finish of seventh last time out in Portugal and will be looking to build on that next weekend. Steele, the rookie driver, will get his first taste of the new A1GP Powered by Ferrari car next Friday (1 May) morning. The 20-year-old from Chatham in Kent became the sixth finalist for the prestigious McLaren Autosport BRDC Award last year after winning a nail biting Formula Palmer Audi shootout race at Brands Hatch last November. After graduating from karting, Steele has competed in Formula Palmer Audi, BARC Formula Renault Championship and the Formula BMW UK Championship.
This race will also be very special for another driver, as after nearly two years of running as the team’s rookie driver, Aaron Lim will be promoted to the lead race seat for A1 Team Malaysia.
Lim has been an ever present part of the squad since the final races of the 2006/07 season and with this season’s regular driver Fairuz Fauzy unavailable due to other racing commitments, the team has opted to give Lim his chance.
“I’ve waited a long time for this and now it has been confirmed I’m both excited and nervous,” said Lim. “I love driving the A1GP Powered by Ferrari car and working with such a professional racing team, so to be given the chance to race for my country in this series is a dream come true.
“I’m probably making my debut at one of the more difficult tracks on the A1GP calendar, as Brands Hatch is renowned as one of the most challenging circuits. It is also very much part of the history and heritage of motorsport, so it’s quite a special place to be racing. I’m going to head over to the UK this week so that I can acclimatize to the time change and cooler weather.”
Lim has also been gaining experience of Brands Hatch in the A1GP simulator in Modena, to add to his track experience in last two season’s rookie sessions at the circuit.
“I am delighted to have Aaron driving at Brands,” said Jack Cunningham, chief executive of A1 Team Malaysia. “It is simply one of the best things that has happened to this team since we started on this journey in November 2004.
“No one should underestimate the standards that now operate in A1GP as evidenced by the grid at Portugal a few weeks ago.
“Aaron will be up against some former F1 drivers and others with very much more experience than himself. It is going to be hard on Aaron to come out and compete at this level for a whole weekend. However, he has earned his chance through the tremendous loyal support he has given the team throughout the past seasons.
“A1 Team Malaysia has given Alex Yoong his career's finest results and I think the same is true for Fairuz. Now we have the opportunity to graduate another young man in the team into the upper echelons of motorsport.”
Fresh from victory in the Firestone Indy Lights series in America last weekend (19 April), J.R. Hildebrand will be stepping up to the race seat for A1 Team USA. The 21-year-old Californian earned his second career victory on the streets of Long Beach last weekend and after taking part in the rookie sessions in Malaysia, New Zealand and South Africa for A1 Team USA, Hildebrand will get the chance to join the racing action when he takes over from Marco Andretti for the Brands Hatch event.
A firm fans’ favorite, Brands Hatch has played host to three superb A1GP races so far. It held the inaugural A1GP World Cup of Motorsport meeting in September 2005, as well as being the only circuit that has been used in all A1GP seasons to date. With the battle at the top of the championship heating up it looks set to be more action-packed than ever before.
The championship battle is incredibly tight with regular racers Switzerland’s Neel Jani, Ireland’s Adam Carroll and Portugal’s Filipe Albuquerque all vying for the top spot. Switzerland (88) currently leads from Ireland (86) and Portugal (82). However, as each team has to drop its worst weekend score Ireland is leading, but the team will still be looking for a convincing win in front of its Irish supporters and will leave nothing to chance at the closest event it has to a home race.
"I have had a fantastic season so far and the three-way fight between ourselves, Switzerland and Portugal has been really tough,” said Carroll after returning from promotional events in both Dublin and Belfast this week.
"Brands Hatch is a fabulous circuit and one of my favorites, so I am looking forward to this event. I should have won the Feature race last year but ended up having a tangle with Narain Karthikeyan (A1 Team India), so my goal this year is simply to put the car at the front of the grid and go for race wins. In terms of the championship, it is natural to look at points-permutations, but in reality the simplest thing for me to do is to make sure I beat Neel (Jani) and Filipe (Albuquerque) all weekend. I can't wait to drive the Ferrari-engined car on the Grand Prix circuit - it should be very quick and hopefully our racing will give the fans the usual thrills they have come to expect from A1GP."
Jeroen Bleekemolen will be back behind the wheel of the A1 Team Netherlands’ car also hoping to keep his nation in the title hunt.
Narain Karthikeyan took victory for A1 Team India in last season’s finale at Brands Hatch and will be looking for a good result, having not been on the podium yet this season.
"Brands Hatch has always been a happy hunting ground for me,” said Karthikeyan. “Last year we took A1 Team India's second win of the 2007/08 season there. We have every reason to believe that we are going to be in a strong position this season. I believe we have found a good setup in the Algarve and we were only denied a podium in the feature race because of a mechanical failure with the wheel hub. Brands Hatch is definitely the race I look forward to the most every season. There's also a huge Indian population in the UK who really come out in great numbers to cheer me on and I really enjoy and appreciate their support."
Salvador Duran believes A1 Team Mexico can continue its revival at Brands Hatch next weekend following on from its best finish in 30 races in the Algarve.
Salvador Duran finished in fourth place for A1 Team Mexico in the Algarve Feature race, its best result since he finished in the same position in Zandvoort’s Feature race back in 2007.
It got the team off the mark in terms of championship points this season, but now, because of his expert knowledge of the 2.3-mile Brands Hatch track in both Formula Three and A1GP (he scored a podium finish for Mexico in the inaugural event in 2005), he believes he will be able to push the team’s A1GP Powered by Ferrari car to its limits.
“I can’t wait to go to Brands Hatch because all my questions [about our pace] will be answered,” said Duran. “I will know how to make the car go quicker at Brands Hatch. I haven’t been to a track yet in the new car that I have known for this long a time.
“In Kyalami and Algarve our practice was limited, so we have had little time to develop the car or develop my driving.
“We are pushing hard and we are going to get there. I trust the guys a lot and we all have the talent to do it so we need to put everything together, and we will be there at the front.”
Felipe Guimarães will be back for Brazil, while Lebanon will have the familiar face of Daniel Morad behind the wheel. Vitantonio Liuzzi had an impressive debut for A1 Team Italy, claiming the team’s first A1GP pole position in the Algarve. Liuzzi will be back on track again hoping to secure a victory at Brands Hatch despite never racing at the Kent circuit before. Monaco’s Clivio Piccione and Australia’s John Martin will also continue to represent their nations as the 2008/09 nears its conclusion.
Battle resumes on 1 May 2009 when A1GP will get one step closer to seeing who will become crowned the 2008/09 Champion.
The A1GP Brands Hatch, Great Britain event runs from 1 – 3 May, with the series’ first track action being the rookie driver and developing nations’ sessions on Friday. Final practice and qualifying for the Sprint and Feature races will take place on Saturday with the two races scheduled to run on Sunday at 11.00 and 15.00 respectively.