Olivier Panis has revealed that A1 Team France's standard-bearer and most impressive driver over the last two years – Loïc Duval – will race for the squad full-time in 2008/09, as les bleus
bid to reclaim title glory in the World Cup of Motorsport's rapidly approaching fourth season.
France has been a front-runner in the nation vs. nation series from the word 'go', crushing all of its rivals to triumph in 2005/06 and finishing fourth in both of the two successive campaigns, even if its 2006/07 and 2007/08 efforts yielded just a sole victory between them, courtesy of Duval in the Eastern Creek Sprint race back in February.
Having fallen a mere nine points shy of the runner-up spot last season – during which the driving duties were shared out between Duval, Nicolas Lapierre, Jonathan Cochet and Franck Montagny, due to the former's prior racing commitments in Japan – France is determined to bite back when the action gets underway again at Zandvoort in just under a fortnight's time, and to that end has signed the 26-year-old up to a full seven months of competition.
“We are preparing the team to fight to win the championship this year,” A1 Team France sporting director Olivier Panis told Crash.net Radio
, “which is why we have decided to take on Loïc Duval for the whole season, even if we have not decided on the second driver yet.
“I think it will be a pretty exciting season, first of all because we have the new car, whose performance and technology I think will be really much better than last year's car. As a way of preparing young drivers for other series' during the winter time I think A1GP is great, and I'm really excited about it and looking forward to it.”
The former Formula 1 star and Monaco Grand Prix winner is also confident there will be no teething troubles in the races as a legacy of difficulties in the birth of the new, Ferrari-powered and designed single-seater for 2008/09 [see separate story – click here] – and confirmed that though he has no intention of racing the car himself, he may still get behind the wheel.
“When you see who designed and built the car, for sure I think the problems will be solved in time for the start of the season,” the 42-year-old underlined. “Unfortunately the problems are still there at the moment, but I'm not really worried about this. I think A1GP is getting bigger and bigger, and with the Ferrari car this year I think the series will take a big step forward.
“There were rumours [he may drive it himself], but I certainly won't be racing the car, because the Le Mans Series and Le Mans 24 Hours are my priorities in terms of driving. I'm really enjoying my role as the sporting director with the French team because the ambiance is good, and racing for your nation I think is a really good idea.
“Maybe I will test the car, so I know what I'm talking about when I speak to the drivers about the set-up and philosophy of the race; that way we can perhaps tune the car a little bit quicker and help the team to have some better ideas for the beginning of the season.”
by Russell Atkins
TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL: CLICK HERE
To read Panis' latest exclusive Crash.net
column, click here