47.5K for first day in Albert Park

A first-day crowd of 47,500 basked in Melbourne’s Albert Park sunshine as the stars of Sunday’s 2007 FORMULA 1™ ING Australian Grand Prix spoke out ahead of one of the most eagerly-awaited stars to a new season in years.

“I’m still here," joked Renault veteran Giancarlo Fisichella, who needs to pick up where departed World Champion Fernando Alonso, now with McLaren, left off for the Anglo-French outfit.

“For me," added the 34-year-old Italian, winner here in 2005, “it’s a good opportunity this year as the person who has been here before. We have better reliability than the other front-runners at the moment, which is good ahead of these first races."

Meanwhile Felipe Massa, the man who has to step up for Ferrari now that Michel Schumacher has also gone, spoke confidently of his own team’s chances.

“For sure our winter tests were very good, so the expectations are high,’ said the 25-year-old Brazilian. “For the first race, we need to be strong, but we also have to be intelligent to bring the car home safely and score as many points as we can."

The long list of national categories got down to race action headed by the colorful cavalcade of Porsches in the Carrera Cup.

Alex Davison took full advantage of pole position to win the opening race from current national champion Craig Baird, who led until the final lap.

“I reckon we passed each other more today than we have done in two years," enthused the Melbourne driver.

Paul Kemal took out the first Aussie Racing Cars clash at Albert Park with a third-lap breakaway that carried him clear of Paul Morris and Paul McCashney.

“Right up there with some of the best races I’ve ever had," said an excited Morris, veteran of the V8 scene. “It makes me realize why I started racing cars in the first place."

Britain struck the first blow in the international field of Formula 3 racers as Charles Hollings profited from early leader Karl Reindler’s drive-through penalty for a jump start, heading Tim Macrow home.

West Australian Grant Johnson took out the Cleanevent V8 Utes opener but nearly binned it as he admired his own handiwork.

“I got a big lead and just monitored it from there," said Johnson. “I was then looking at myself on the big screens a few times and had a few moments!"

Off-track, Jenson Button carried Honda’s ‘earth car’ message out into the Melbourne community as he helped Albert Park schoolchildren replace the 491 light bulbs in their school to environmentally friendly fluorescent tubes.

Toyota veteran Jarno Trulli, celebrating 10 years in F1, went karting with AFL stars like Brendan Fevola and Luke Ball, while Minister for Children Lisa Neville accompanied a group of disabled children on a walk down the pit lane at Albert Park to mark Çhildren’s Day’ at the Grand Prix.

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