New Sasol GTC cars set for thrills

The iconic Grand Prix Circuit will present a new challenge to the GTC drivers as they tackle the country’s fastest racetrack on June 16.

Suzuki’s new Swift hatch and sedan in SA

Suzuki kicks off its new model assault with an all new Swift hatchback and standalone sedan called the Dzire.

SA committed to A1 GP

2006-07-07 12:24

John Oxley

Cape Town - South Africa is still very much a part of the A1 GP single seat motor racing championship - dubbed the World Cup of Motorsport - and the Durban race will go on as planned in February next year.

That's the news from Richard Dorfman, executive director of A1 GP.

In an exclusive telephone interview from London, Dorfman told me the Durban street circuit would essentially be the same as last year's, with any alterations aimed purely at improvements.

Dorfman said the A1 GP series was this year expected to be a lot more exciting following changes that had been made to its format.

Principally these would mean the extension of the Feature race from 60 minutes to 70 minutes, with a commensurate reduction of the Sprint race from 30 minutes to 20 minutes.

To make racing closer there will also be a change in the points system, allocating points to the top six finishers only in the Sprint race.

But the points system and prize money for the Feature race will remain unchanged.

Race changes

A major change is that the time between the Sprint race and the Feature race will be increased to nearly three and a half hours, allowing for scrutineering, the lodging of any protests, and technical adjustments to the cars.

This will mean more chance of cars which are damaged or have mechanical problems in the Sprint race being fully competitive for the main event.

Last year this would have particularly helped the South African team, which encountered niggling problems in some of the Sprint events that couldn't be fixed in time for the Feature race.

Dorfman said one of the most important changes taking place this year was a move into a period of financial stability which would ensure the future of the A1 GP series.

While refuting claimed losses of $200-million last year - Dorfman said it was closer to $100m - he pointed out that any business required a capital startup phase.

Cars and equipment had to be bought, for instance, and these expenses would not be required this time around.

"It's a normal startup cost, you amortise it over a number of years," he said.

"We would not expect to make losses anywhere near that this year," he said.


Dorfman said one of the problems with A1 GP was that it had been conceived and brought to fruition in a very short time, and this had resulted in quotations being accepted and equipment bought without going through normal business practices, such as tendering.

"For instance, we quickly discovered we didn't need four hoists in each pit garage. And travel costs were a big problem," he said.

"In the beginning we were travelling three 747s to each race with all the equipment, but by the end of the season we had cut this down to two.

"There has been a lot of trimming."

Moves to increase the capital foundation of the A1 GP company were also very positive.

Wheels24 has already reported on this here but to paraphrase, it means cash to cover debts is being raised ahead of flotation of the company on the London stock exchange.

Financial security

This should add $500 - $600m to the coffers.

"This is all about funding the series and ensuring its financial security," said Dorfman.

This was one of the reasons why the A1 GP company had been restructured.

Dubai's Sheikh Maktoum Hasher Maktoum Al Maktoum, is the enthusiastic founder of the series, but now there's a board of directors, including non-executive members, headed up by South African Tony Teixeira, formerly A1 GP deputy chairman and co-founder of the series.

"We are now a more professional operation," Dorfman said.

"When you make plans to go public you have to follow certain business practices," he said.

"Major decisions are voted by the board."

One criticism of the upcoming A1 GP series has been that the race calendar appears to clash with some Formula One races.

This is seen as difficult for fans who follow both series, especially since A1 GP was initially punted as filling the "dead season" when F1 races aren't taking place.

However Dorfman disagreed with this.

Time zones

"Where there appear to be clashes it must be noted that the races take place in different time zones.

"And in any case we have to work with the availability of the circuits," he said.

Another gripe with the series has been that drivers have been largely unsung heroes in a series that puts national pride foremost.

Dorfman disagreed.

"They are part and parcel of the same thing," he said. "If you have good drivers coming out (of the series) the public will follow the team and follow the driver.

"This will give more impetus to the team as long as the driver is still racing under his national flag".

  • Apart from the involvement of Teixeira, South Africa has other strong connections with the A1 GP series.
  • As a "seat holder" for Team South Africa businessman Tokyo Sexwale has a say in how things are run, and he also heads up a team which races the South African car, Vulindlela.

    Most of last year's races were driven by "rookie" Stephen Simpson, who acquitted himself extremely well and was rewarded by gaining the title 'Most Improved Driver' in the inaugural series.

    In addition Sexwale won an award for 'Most Supportive Franchisee' along with Colin Giltrap from A1 Team New Zealand and Emerson Fittipaldi from A1 Team Brazil.

    And Team South Africa's CEO Dana Cooper collected the award for 'Best Presented Event' in recognition of the first A1 GP street race in Durban.

    South African companies are also involved in the series in terms of sponsorship, particularly ABSA Bank, SABC 3 Sport and Soviet Clothing.

  • The A1 Grand Prix World Cup of Motorsport is the first opportunity in any area of motor sport for nations to compete with other nations on an equal basis.
  • More than 20 national teams race identical cars with identical engines and no electronic driver aids.


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