Is there any future for A1GP in Britain?

By LJ Hutchins

CalendarMonday, September 21st, 2009

 
 

The fifth season of the World Cup of Motorsport is due to start in less than one month – and, at the moment, it is highly questionable whether there will be a British team or race date.

British fans may have to get used to the fact that there will be no driver to cheer on and no late-season appearance at Brands Hatch in 2010, as has happened for the last three years.

In fact, the series appears to be following the trend set by Formula One by turning its back on European venues and increasingly concentrating its energies in the Pacific and Far East.

Certainly its administration is shifting from the UK. In July A1GP’s British arm was wound up in the High Court after creditors chasing unpaid bills applied for it to be shut down.

The series blamed cashflow problems for its inability to pay suppliers who applied on May 12th for an order to wind up the UK company A1 Grand Prix Operations Ltd. It is thought that South Africa-based series boss Tony Teixeira plans to relocate to Portimao as part of what is described as a planned restructuring.

Of course, all this begs the question of whether the series will survive its recent financial turmoil and get its fifth season off the ground at all. This morning Autosport is reporting that the celebrated tie-in with Ferrari is under threat.

No engines means no racing and, if A1GP goes under altogether, the question of Britain taking part will prove to be pretty irrelevant. On the other hand, sceptics have been predicting its demise for around five years now and have not yet been proved right.

What’s happening with Team GBR?

The Team GBR franchise, owned by Tony Clements and his partners Wade Cherwayko and Tunde Folawiyo, went into administration in the spring of this year following round five of the competition in South Africa.

This left organisers with a dilemma, since in order to host a race a nation must have an active A1GP team and the competition’s seventh round was due to be held at Brands Hatch.

The team was run by a combination of personnel from the A1GP series and the Team Germany pitstop crew to see it through to the end of the season.

Series boss Tony Teixeira promised that a new team would rise from the ashes of the old, saying: “As long as we have A1GP, Team GBR will run. It’s obviously unfortunate that this has happened, but we have undertaken to run the team for the forseeable future. This is clearly a sign of the times and it’s a shame.”

But since then there has been a deafening silence about the future of the British franchise.

Will Dan Clarke drive again?

In August Brits on Pole spoke to 2009 Team GBR driver Dan Clarke, the man behind the wheel when the Clements-run team went bust.

He told us then: “I have no idea really who’s going to take over that team. I think it’s quite open, a lot of people are trying to get in that seat because it’s locked out to just the British drivers and there’s a lot of good British talent out there.

“I came back to the UK a few weeks ago to have meetings with A1GP, talked a lot with the guys there, and they’re really excited about the prospect of me coming back and driving the GBR car again. It was all last-minute, last year, when I came in, but I really enjoyed it, had a lot of fun.

“I hope we can do it again — I’d really like to race in A1GP before next year’s IndyCar Series. If A1GP comes together then they’d very much like to have me back and I’d very much like to drive that car again.”

But it seems clear that Clarke was meeting with series officials rather than team officials and, at that point, no new franchisee had been lined up.

What about the season five race schedule?

In June a series press release announced that the FIA had approved a 10-race calendar, but it only included one confirmed date, the upcoming Gold Coast race.

It also mentioned the Assen venue in the Netherlands, a departure from the traditional Zandvoort event, which is listed on its website as taking place next May. These are the only two announced race dates for season five.

A provisional race schedule said to have been sent to the teams who competed last year has been published on the Ten Tenths motorsport forum. It lists dates in Australia, Malaysia, China, an unconfirmed Asia/Pacific round (which might prove to be Indonesia), South Africa, Brazil, Portugal, an unconfirmed European round and the Netherlands.

According to the series’ own rules a race cannot take place in a country that does not field an A1GP team.

A press release from series organisers published earlier this month states that 20 teams will take part in a pre-season testing day due to take place before the October 22-25 race weekend at Surfers Paradise on Australia’s Gold Coast. A1GP is due to replace the US IndyCar series as a support race for the popular annual V8 Supercar event.

But it does not say who those 20 teams are. Currently 23 nations are listed on its website, including Team GBR and Adam Khan’s mothballed Team Pakistan, which failed to compete in a single race last year. Malaysia is also re-evaluating its commitment to the series in the light of its successful bid to get a Lotus team back into F1.

The release reads: “A1GP teams will get to shakedown their cars ahead of the 2009/10 season at Queensland Raceway on Monday, 19 October. A one-day test for all teams will take place at the 3.12-kilometre circuit located near Ipswich in Queensland, Australia.

“The test will be the first time new generation A1GP cars powered by 4.5-litre V8 Ferrari engines have driven on Australian soil and will be the start of the build up to the racing action at Surfers Paradise later that week.”

Where are the cars?

This press release implicitly confirms that no car development has taken place between the end of the 2009/09 season and the start of the 2009/10 one. In fact, the whereabouts of the cars poses an interesting question at present, after they were impounded by a series supplier who had not been paid.

Australian publication The Weekend Bulletin reported this weekend that London freight company DOT is holding some cars against unpaid bills reported by the site as in the region of £1 million.

Paul Cherry, A1GP general manager of franchises and special projects, is quoted as saying: “We are working with DOT, obviously they have to protect their position and have taken some of the cars. They are working with us very well to ensure we are going to be there on October 16 even though we haven’t ironed out all the commercial difficulties.

“They are one of our major creditors but they are also one of our major supporters. Whichever way it is, whether DOT is paid fully beforehand or whether we work out a payment plan, we are going to be there for the SuperGP.”

Cherry is also quoted in the article claiming that FIA confirmation of the series’ 2010 calendar has been held up by the inquiry into race fixing at Singapore by the Renault F1 team.

Will Adam Carroll return to defend his title?

It is possible that, in addition to no Team GBR and Adam Khan’s arguably questionable commitment to A1GP since signing as a demonstration driver with Renault, there will also be no appearance from Northern Irish driver Adam Carroll on the grid this year.

Winning team boss Mark Gallagher has left Status Grand Prix Ltd, the outfit that runs the Team Ireland franchise, to head up Cosworth’s bid to supply F1 with engines. He does, however, remain as a shareholder in the team, according to Autosport.

In an interview published on the series website in July, he said: “Adam would love to play a part in defending Ireland’s World Cup of Motorsport title. I think the phrase ‘play a part’ is important because he knows that after two years that we might want to bring other young drivers on and he would encourage that.

“It’s come as no surprise to people to learn that Adam would love to look at other opportunities beyond A1GP, he would love to do races like the Indy 500 and the Grand Prix in Monaco, and those other series do hold an appeal for him but he has a huge passion for A1GP.

“He believes this is the best series he has ever done, he has promised us that whatever or if ever he went on to do other things he will still drive for A1 Team Ireland again.”

If that promise was made personally to Gallagher it may well no longer apply. Should Adam Carroll, for example, find himself driving for an F1 team in 2010, top of the list to replace him would be Niall Quinn, the Team Ireland rookie during last season. Also in the frame is Peter Dempsey, currently finishing a storming season in the US-based Star Mazda open-wheel series.

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