1 January 1901
A1GP: Austria, Italy, Japan complete line-up.
As had been increasingly likely over the past couple of weeks, the final three pieces in A1 Grand Prix's international jigsaw have been provided by countries with a proud motorsport heritage, with Austria, Italy and Japan getting a first chance to test at Silverstone on Monday prior to their unveiling.
The latest additions to the 25-car field come with less than a week to go before the inaugural A1GP season kicks off at Brands Hatch, and the test provided each team with a brief opportunity to get to grips with the set-up of their cars and requests of their drivers before first official practice session on Friday afternoon.
"We promised to deliver 25 teams by the start of the first season, and we've done it," A1GP CEO Tony Teixeira, who brokered the deals with the A1GP teams, commented, "In fact, we have been so successful in generating interest in A1 Grand Prix, the national competition began before our cars have taken to the track. We've had to turn away applications from a number of countries to keep to our limit of 25 teams."
The Austrian car will be run by two Formula One world champions, with Niki Lauda and Keke Rosberg set to join fellow title winners Alan Jones and Emerson Fittipaldi on the grid. Rivals on track in the 1980s, the two men are now working together to lead A1 Team Austria, despite Rosberg's obvious Finnish background. The car will be driven, as expected, Lauda's son Mathias.
The Italian team is headed up by former F1 pilot Piercarlo Ghinzani who, after a successful career as a driver that lasted for 20 years between 1970-1990, founded his own race team in 1992, finding success in F3. Sportscar star Matteo Bobbi, GP2 frontrunner Gianmaria Bruni, Renault World Series regular Daniel la Rosa and new Minardi test driver Enrico Toccacelo are all in the running for the seat, but the entry for the Brands Hatch round is not expected to be announced until the entry signs on this Thursday.
In contrast to its two fellow latecomers, the Japanese seat will be held by a business conglomeration, which has seconded crack F3 squad Carlin Motorsport to run its car. Ex-F1 star Hideki Noda shook down the machine at Silverstone yesterday, but World Series midfielder Ryo Fukuda will be behind the wheel at Brands Hatch. BAR F1 star Takuma Sato - rumoured to be out of a drive if Jenson Button is to remain at the team - could feature later in the campaign.
"I am pleased to welcome three countries with such a strong motorsport pedigree to the A1 Grand Prix family," series founder Sheikh Maktoum said, "We now have 25 countries battling for the honour of being the best in the world in a competition that starts in only a few short days.
"When our 25 engines start for the first time this weekend, A1 Grand Prix enters a new dimension. After beginning as the vision of one man, and after three years of planning and hard work, I am proud to bring the World Cup of Motorsport to millions of viewers around the globe."
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