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Game on for World Cup of Motorsport

2006-07-07 08:11

The series, which made heavy losses when it started up last year with 25 national teams competing in identical cars over 11 races on six continents, this week published an expanded provisional calendar for 2006/2007.

Events in Germany and Portugal have been dropped due to disappointing crowds but New Zealand, with a well-supported team, has been added provisionally and China will have a race in Beijing as well as Shanghai.

The season starts in October and finishes in April at two tracks that once echoed to the howl of Formula One cars - Zandvoort in the Netherlands and Brands Hatch in England.

Organisers say more than 100 000 tickets have already been sold for Zandvoort.

Other locations include Malaysia, Indonesia, Dubai, South Africa, Australia and the Czech Republic as well as another race to be confirmed in North or South America.

"We learnt a lot of lessons (last season), as you can imagine," A1's chief operating officer David Clare told Reuters.

"But we had some very strong races...and I think we proved the concept.

"It will be a lot slicker (next season) and a lot better operation," he added.

"The series started off with a lot of enthusiasm and drive and I think it evolved over the course of the season...into a more efficient business prospect."

Heavy losses

Dubai's Sheikh Maktoum Hasher Maktoum Al Maktoum, the enthusiastic founder of the series, suggested last year that A1 could be a "two-billion-pound business" by year two if all worked to plan.

However A1 executive director Richard Dorfman confirmed cash losses were in excess of $100m last season, although others have put the figure at more than twice as much, but considered that inevitable for a start-up.

"Going forward we are funded, we're going to be here for years to come," he said.

A1 engaged Japanese brokers Nomura in May to raise an institutionally-targeted debt financing before a float of the series, a move Dorfman said was intended to add $500-600 million to the coffers.

The main focus of the series, originally intended to fill in the quiet European winter months, remains those countries - such as India, Pakistan and Lebanon - who otherwise lack a major presence in motor racing.

The cars, less sophisticated and slower than Formula One racers, are painted in national colours and provided to 'seat holders' on a franchise basis.

Each country has one car on the starting grid and drivers must be citizens of the nation they represent with points awarded to countries and not individuals. France were the inaugural champions.

China secret

Clare said A1 was aiming to create new markets in its second year and deliver something relevant to the local population in a way that others could not.

China, already a host for Formula One and MotoGP races but without local teams or drivers in either championship, was a case in point.

"The situation (with two races) in China is a direct result of the enthusiasm and support both within the country and also from its federation and the ministry of sport," said Clare.

"Our season finale in Shanghai was very popular locally and, unlike other series, we didn't bus anybody in. The people that turned up did so because they came and bought tickets.

"Formula One takes an excellent show to each market but it doesn't necessarily have local content. And I think that is what we understand, it has to have local relevance."

Clare said there had been 'significant interest' from countries interested in running teams and expected between 26 and 28 to be represented.

A calendar overlap with GP2, the one-make support series to Formula One, did not trouble him even though last season several drivers competed in both.

"Eventually we have to get to a position where we stand on our own two feet," said Clare. "I think that towards the end of this season we have already developed our own cadre of drivers who want to drive in A1.

"Yes, there will be some situations where drivers have to make a choice. But ultimately we believe in the strength of what we're offering and we hope that we'll have loyalty."


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