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We interview SA's A1 hero

2005-09-26 14:14

Wilmer Muller

Stephen Simpson is congratulated by team principal Tokyo Sexwale. All pictures on this page by Ron Gaunt Motorpics

The A1 Grand Prix, or the World Cup of Motor sport, is believed to become the "next big thing" in international racing.

A relatively unknown driver was behind the wheel of the South African A1 car at the inaugural A1 GP race in Britain - and became one of the heroes of the event.

Wheels24 spoke to Stephen Simpson - and the people closest to him - at the Brands Hatch track in Britain.

At first sight the slender Stephen Simpson, 21, appears shy, but when you start chatting to this youngster you realise he is self-assured and loves what he is doing.

His performance at Sunday's race at the famous Brands Hatch track proved that he is a racer with talent and maturity, and who knows how to perform well under pressure.

Started at the back

In the sprint race he crashed with Netherlands' Jos Verstappen, which meant the young South African had to start the main race right at the back of the grid for the main event.

Stephen told Wheels24 that the incident with Verstappen was unfortunate, but that accidents are a reality when you compete in motor sport.

"One has to accept that these things happen and after the sprint race I was just more driven to make most of the main event," said Stephen.

Despite this setback he managed to race from his 25th starting position to finish in an astonishing sixth place.

But who is this young South African whose great performance impressed his team and fellow racers?

Love for motor sport

Stephen's family, who live in Hout Bay near Cape Town, also attended the British A1 GP to watch him compete in the most challenging event yet of his life. It was also the first time since 2000 that his mother and sister had seen him racing.

Listening to Stephen's parents it is clear that racing was always pretty much a way of life for this Capetonian.

"Since I took Stephen to watch his first motor sport event at the age of seven, he was hooked," said his father Paul.

"When he was eight he told me he wanted to make a career of motor sport, and that is exactly what he has done - nothing stopped him. The fact that he lived up to this dream shows that he is determined."

"His performance at the first A1 Grand Prix makes us so happy, and it was hard work for Stephen to get this far."

During his teens Stephen won two WP Karting Championships and was awarded Western Province colours.

After winning the Formula Ford Cup in South Africa in 2000 he decided to pursue his career in Britain the following year.

In 2001 he was the Race of Ace of Great Britain, and in 2004 this young South African also became the British Formula Renault Winter vice champion.

Now he is representing his country in the A1 Grand Prix.

Stephen's mother, Jan, believes her son is doing what he is passionate about, and that the A1 GP is like a dream come true for him.

"He always gives his best and since his karting days it was his ambition to climb the ranks in motor sport," she said.

"When I see Stephen racing I feel so proud of him, and I am actually quite emotional about it."

Disciplined driver

According to Stephen A1 GP is the biggest challenge yet of his life and he foresees that this new motor sport niche is to become even more competitive.

His father feels confident that Stephen is more than able to compete on an international level.

"Stephen is extremely committed to racing and he is focussed," he told me.

Paul claims that one of Stephen's best qualities, as a driver, is his discipline.

"Although he is still learning the car and won't gamble much on the track, he knows when to take calculated risks. Stephen is a calm and smooth driver."

"A1 Grand Prix is a great opportunity for Stephen and it is the best thing that could have happened to my son.

"The rest of the A1 team supports him and they take good care of Stephen. He is in good hands and this will do so much for his career."

South African A1 CEO Dana Cooper also has faith in Stephen to compete on an international level. She agrees that Stephen is disciplined and will not take irresponsible chances on the track.

"Stephen proved to be a mature driver with great talent," Cooper said.

"He is proudly South African and honoured to represent his country on an international level.

"People should show the same support for him and the rest of the A1 team as for other South African sportsmen and women.

South African team owner Tokyo Sexwale was also impressed with Stephen's performance.

"It was great to see how Stephen made the most of the opportunities during the race and that our car performed well," Sexwale told me.

Hard work

"The quality of our team's performance is the result of a lot of hard work.

"South Africans can be proud of Stephen - this young man is an inspiration."

Whether South Africans eventually support Stephen Simpson the same way they endorsed sport sensations such as Ryk Neethling and Natalie Bezuidenhoudt or not, there is no doubt that he is proud to be behind the wheel of the South African car.

Stephen was not only one of the more impressive drivers at the Brands Hatch race, but his patriotism and willpower are admirable too.


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