It has been almost fifteen years since Sheikh Maktoum Hasher Moktoum Al Maktoum announced his plans for a new worldwide racing class. The idea: the A1 Grand Prix, 'The World Cup of Motorsport' was announced at a press conference in Dubai. Today we present out first part of a closer look at the series.
On Tuesday, March 30, 2004, the A1 Grand Prix got its official launch during a presentation in Dubai. Sheikh Maktoum Hasher Maktoum Al Maktoum announced that the new series would be called A1 Grand Prix. The idea behind the project was to develop a World Cup of Motorsport that consisted of teams made up by countries. It should be a winter championship that should take place between November and February, as it opted not to get in the way of the Formula 1 season. Dubai, Bahrain, Qatar, China, South Africa, Malaysia and Australia were to organize the races.
The organization A1GP had found a constructor to build the cars through an attractive bid. Lola would prepare 30 chassis and accessories for the first season. During the presentation it was also announced that the A1 Grand Prix had received official status within the FIA. Ex-Formula 3000 driver Stephen Watson was appointed General Manager of the project, while Richard Dorfman became responsible for the television rights. Dorfman had been responsible for the sale of the television rights for the FIFA World Cups football of 2002 and 2006. He was appointed by A1 Grand Prix as its official commercial director. Sheikh Maktoum let it be known that he hoped that 24 teams would start the first race. Each team should represent a country and drivers and sponsors had to have a link to the respective country. He also wanted the first race of the championship to be held at the Dubai Autodrome in Dubai.
On 25 July 2004, A1 Grand Prix appointed John Wickham as its Technical Operations Advisor. Wickham had to oversee the test program that would lead to the finalisation of the AIGP cars. The car (the Lola A1GP), would undergo extensive testing. Technical data concerning the engine and chassis were announced at an early stage.
Engine technical data:
Engine: Zytek ZA1348
Configuration: 90 degrees V8
Content: 3400 cc
Width: 619 mm
Height: 542 mm
Length: 543 mm
Weight: 120 kg
Cylinder block: Sand cast aluminium alloy
Cylinder head: Sand cast aluminium alloy
Valves: 4 overhead camshafts 4 valves per cylinder
Motor Management: Zytek EMS 4.6.1
Ignition: Zytek DCDI
Spark plugs: NGK Spark Plugs
Fuel: 100 octane bio
Torque: 442 N-m maximum
Power: 520 hp
Chassis technical data:
Aluminium honeycomb based on bionic engineering principles. Only FIA approved products.
Suspension: Double wishbones, front and rear. Row height adjustable, twin coin over dampers
Clutch: Carbon-Fiber, lightweight
Gearbox: A1GP 6-speed with reverse
Tyres: Cooper Tires, slicks and wet weather tires
The first test;
Ralph Firman was appointed as the official test driver of the A1GP Program. The Irish driver was involved in the development of the car in November 2004. At the Vallelunga circuit, Firman tested for three days. This test, where the driver covered almost 1500 kilometres, was a follow-up test to a secret test at Jerez. The test at Vallelunga was important as it provided A1GP information on the development of the engine, brakes, tyres, rims and the "push to pass" system. During this test it rained on Monday and Tuesday. This was a huge advantage for A1GP, because it could feel the car and tyres in the poor weather conditions.
"The A1 car is really a beast, it is incredibly fast and it will astonish many people how good this car is," were Firman's first words. "The car is great in balance, has a lot of grip and will be physically difficult to drive. It will be a huge challenge for the drivers. We were lucky that it was raining, so we were able to test the wet tyres from Cooper. These are ideal and can process the water perfectly. "
The first presentation
Team South Africa was in November 2004 the first team to present its car to the press. President Mbeki attended this presentation and pulled the cloth off the car. Sheikh Maktoum was delighted with the first presentation: "South Africa has a rich history concerning the car and motorsport, and I am very happy that they have chosen to join our class and it is a great experience for South Africans. It's an opportunity to see their sponsors and people at work in the World Cup of Motorsport. This country loves big sporting events and I am sure that the South African fans will receive our class with great pleasure.
The team was headed by Tokyo Sexwale, a former politician and anti-apartheid activist who had spent years in federal imprisonment. Stephen Simpson was later added to the project as the first driver, who would be taking charge of the first season with Tomas Scheckter.
The Calendar for 2005-2006
The A1 Grand Prix calendar for 2005-2006 would consist of eleven weekends. During the weekends, a sprint race and the main race was driven. The qualification procedure consisted of four segments of which the fastest two times would count.
Round 1: Brands Hatch, September 25
Round 2: Eurospeedway Lausitz, October 9
Round 3: Estoril, October 23
Round 4: Eastern Creek, November 6
Round 5: Sepang, November 20
Round 6: Dubai, December 11
Round 7: Durban, January 29
Round 8: Sentul, February 12
Round 9: Fundidora Park, February 26
Round 10: Laguna Seca, March 12
Round 11: Shanghai, April 2
Prior to the first race at Brands Hatch, Sheikh Maktoum took the microphone and announced the words "Gentleman, for the pride of your nation, start your engines". This was the official moment that A1 Grand Prix got its baptism of fire. You can read more about the A1GP 'World Cup of Motorsport' in the second part of our report tomorrow. In this part we will highlight the first season, we talk about the insane race in Durban won by Jos Verstappen and we take some bizarre moments that occurred the first season.