Kiwis will be up against Formula
One drivers when the new A1 GP series – the World Cup of Motorsport –
starts at the end of next month.
A1 GP looks like the next big thing in motorsport, and a
multimillion-dollar investment by Auckland car magnate Colin Giltrap is
giving New Zealand drivers the chance to compete on equal terms with
others from around the world, including a few with F1 experience.
Holland is running Jos Verstappen – who raced Formula Atlantic in New
Zealand in his younger days – and Portugal has selected Pedro Lamy;
these two are both former F1 drivers.
Brazil – whose team is owned by soccer star Ronaldo – is expected to
field Williams test driver Antonio Pizzonia, and India is lining up
Jordan racer Narain Karthikeyan.
That's tough opposition but, on the other hand, the Kiwi drivers –
mainly Jonny Reid and Matt Halliday – will earn more kudos if they do
well in such a strong field.
And since A1 GP is a one-make series, they will at least start on an
Reid and Halliday, who both have high-level international experience in
fast single-seaters, tested the team's first car at Silverstone in
England earlier this week, preparing for the opening round at Brands
Hatch on September 25.
They can both drive the car during the series because the championship
is for nations, not drivers or manufacturers.
"We'll probably run Matt at the first two rounds and then put Jonny in
the car for Portugal because he knows the track," said A1 Team New
Zealand chief executive Bob McMurray, a former senior executive with the
McLaren F1 team.
In fact, New Zealand could run more than two drivers, because McMurray
is looking at putting Scott Dixon in the car for a round in the United
States, and Greg Murphy in for the Australian round at Eastern Creek.
The rules require that the drivers and key team personnel belong to the
country that enters the car.
The New Zealand team has set up an administration base in Auckland,
while the running of the cars will be in the hands of WSR (West Surrey
Racing), the British-based team owned by expat Kiwis Dick Bennetts and
"We want the team to have a clear New Zealand identity, so the car will
be predominantly black and silver," McMurray said.
All cars in the series are identical, Lola chassis with Zytek V8 engines
producing more than 500hp.
Early testing indicated that performance is similar to that of last
year's F3000 racers – like the one Reid drove to fourth in the Euro
The series will run over 12 rounds during the F1 off-season, with about
25 countries taking part – ranging from racing powerhouses such as
Britain and the US to newcomers like China and Malaysia. TV3 will
broadcast it in New Zealand.
Sheikh Maktoum Hasher Maktoum Al Maktoum, a member of the royal family
of Dubai, came up with the idea and is the promoter. His wealth enabled
him to make the investment to get the ambitious project under way.
Halliday says the hype around the A1 Grand Prix series is just starting
to build in Europe.
"A lot of people in the motorsport community have been excited for a
while, and in the next month or so I'm sure that will extend to the
"When people see their national colours on the start line and see their
countrymen going hard on the world stage in such a thrilling event, wow,
it's going to capture the imagination big-time."