Hola! The A1GP series came to Monterrey, Mexico on Thursday to race at Parque Fundidora, a parklands street circuit measuring 2.104miles (3.386km) long, with twelve turns on its counter-clockwise layout.

The course is known to be slippery and slow, and is in the midst of an area which used to be a steel foundry, which went bankrupt.

All the international visitors were greeted by mixed weather, a presidential candidate's political speech, and a veritable United Nations gathering of motorsports folks.

The A1GP series was conceived last year as the World Cup of Motorsports by SHEIKH MAKTOUM, member of the ruling family of Dubai. Sheikh Maktoum, whose full name is Shiekh Maktoum Hasher Maktoum Al Maktoum, shares series administration with CEO TONY TEIXEIRA. There are eleven races run basically during what used to be known as the off-season, which is now almost non-existent in this busy sport.

The philosophy behind the series is for nations to compete on a level playing field in motorsports. There is no drivers' championship. Points are awarded each race to the top ten teams. Currently, Team France is leading the points with 132, followed by Switzerland with 104 and Brazil with 70. The United States is 17th, with 15 points.

Drivers can be switched throughout the weekend within certain parameters, as long as the nomination deadlines are met. The drivers all compete in basically spec cars on spec tyres. As of this weekend, all teams have but one chassis and extra spares. There are no back-up cars being shipped any longer.

The maximum number of cars in the inaugural season has been set at 25. This weekend there are 23. Russia has dropped out, and India is missing its first race this weekend. Pakistan missed the last two, but has returned for the Mexican round. The teams can have up to three drivers per weekend at any given time, but they have to be nominated by Friday morning at which time the official entry list will be announced.

But there are many names already known, including the five who appeared in the Thursday afternoon media conference - CHRISTIAN FITTIPALDI of Team Brazil, PATRICK CARPENTIER of Team Canada, ALEX YOONG of Team Malaysia and DAVID MARTINEZ of Team Mexico, accompanied by the second driver for his team this weekend, SALVADOR DURAN, who finished third in last weekend's sprint race at Sentul Circuit in Indonesia.

One new driver joining the series for the first time is young GRAHAM RAHAL, who will be racing for Team Lebanon. The 17-year had his seat fitting this afternoon, accompanied by his father, BOBBY RAHAL. Graham Rahal could possibly be the youngest A1GP driver this weekend, with India's 16-year old Armaan Ebrahim sitting out.

Bobby Rahal's father came from Aitanette in Lebanon to the United States as a young man. The Rahal's were approached by Team Lebanon, and Graham tested well in Misano, Italy last weekend. The team found him to be an intelligent and consistent driver. Rahal has been racing in the United States for the past two years, and just last month competed in the Rolex 24 Hour race at Daytona International Speedway, where he was the youngest driver among the nearly 300 competitors.

Team Lebanon's other two drivers, KHALIL BESCHIR and BASIL SHAABAN, are both here with the team. Their background is racing junior series in Europe, as Lebanon has no race circuits. Although the team is one of three teams yet to score any points, it has a devoted following. At the Australian round at Eastern Creek Raceway in Sydney, a large vocal turnout of Lebanese was in full force, Sydney having one of the largest Lebanese communities outside Lebanon. For many, it was their first car race.

The Lebanese car has a white nose with a green Cedar of Lebanon. It is expected that Rahal will race with the team at the next race, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in California.

With the wide variety of drivers, personnel and race officials involved in the series, it is to be expected that there will be scheduling conflicts for someone. Race director TIM SCHENKEN of Australia is one example. He has been the F1 clerk of course at the Australian Grand Prix since its inception in 1985, and he will miss the A1GP season's finale in Shanghai to be at home in Albert Park for the third F1 grand prix of the year. That weekend is also the season's opener race at Homestead for the Indy Racing League's IndyCar series, so don't expect to see BRYAN HERTA driving for Team USA that weekend. Herta will compete in the two North American A1GP rounds, but will miss China to again run IRL with Andretti-Green Racing. Carpentier, on the other hand, has not yet found a full season ride in IRL or any other series, so he would be available for Team Canada.

Carpentier has a tough act to follow for Team Canada. Last weekend its regular driver, SEAN McINTOSH, came from last to win the race, despite a stop-and-go penalty. Carpentier joked that he 'thanked Sean many times' for giving him a winning car, which Carpentier likened to 'an Atlantic on steroids'. Carpentier said the series looks like a lot of fun and he's looking forward to the two North American races.

No doubt Fittipaldi, Carpentier and Herta were selected to run these two venues for several reasons, including their prior Champ Car experience on the two tracks with the same sounding name. Carpentier ran three times with Forsythe Racing, and Fittipaldi placed third in Monterrey in 2002 with Newman/Haas Racing. Herta raced for BOBBY RAHAL, and won twice at Laguna Seca, which is another counter-course circuit, not a common race direction.

Four other drivers this weekend have prior experience at Monterrey - Yoong, who raced in the 2003 Champ Car race with Dale Coyne Racing in a one-off race; MARCUS MARSHALL, who raced last year's CCWS race with Team Australia; Martinez, native of Monterrey, who finished third in last year's Atlantic race in a one-off appearance; and Duran, who has run karts on the parklands road circuit.

The A1GP races are telecast in 120 countries and, in the first seven rounds, have been seen by more than eight million viewers. The nations concept has created a whole new viewership, including folks who haven't been interested in motorsports before, but now follow their country's progress.



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