Spaniard Adrian Valles will return to drive the Liverpool FC car in the new Superleague Formula season later this month – but he will not get the chance to renew his rivalry with champions Beijing Guoan as the Chinese club is not defending its title.
Valles kept the Reds in title contention last year until the final race weekend of the season, when a last lap mechanical failure while cruising to victory in the first of the two Jerez races ended his challenge.
He said at the time that he hoped to come back this year for another shot at the championship – and the continuity his return offers makes the Hitech-managed squad one of the pre-season favourites.
The 23-year-old from Alicante said: “It was good to be fighting for the championship and, but for a couple of reliability issues, we should have won it. We were very, very strong. I took more pole positions than anyone else, won in Belgium and Portugal as well as leading elsewhere. I’m sure this year will be even better – I’m determined to make up for missing out in 2008.”
The football teams in Superleague Formula lend their branding to the cars but do not contribute financially to running them, seeing the series instead as a marketing exercise. Ian Ayre, Liverpool FC commercial director, said: “Superleague was an exciting new venture for all us at Liverpool in 2008 and we were thrilled to see Adrian win races and mount a serious bid for the championship in our car.
“Now we are sticking with a winning team and targeting some even better results in 2009. We’ve already established a great relationship with Adrian and we are confident that he has what it takes to represent Liverpool on the race track.”
But if Valles and Liverpool are returning, two squads not doing so are the pair managed by Zakspeed – champions Beijing Guoan and Borussia Dortmund, which won the final race of 2008 with James Walker at the wheel.
Sevilla and Al-Ain will also not be back, while Zakspeed will instead manage AS Roma and newcomers Sporting Clube de Portugal. Olympique Lyonnais and Denmark’s FC Midtjylland are the other two newcomers, making 17 cars in total.
The series has also added a new gimmick in its bid to reproduce the ideas and concepts of football – a shoot-out at the end of the weekend to decide an overall winner. No championship points will be at stake in this six-car third race, but the prize money distribution will be affected.
Four of the six race weekends will feature this shoot-out, while the other two will just use points scored in the two 45-minute races to decide the winner.
Superleague Formula’s competition director Robin Webb said: “We are significantly increasing the spectacle and excitement for the fans by investing more of our resources into the on-track entertainment in 2009 and are confident that a 17-car grid plus the revised race format will deliver even more excitement and unpredictability than in our highly successful inaugural season.”