The World Cup of Motorsport makes the second of its Far Eastern pit-stops this weekend, as it returns to Malaysia for round four of the 12-meeting series with the battle for honours really getting into full swing.

Following on from its inaugural street race in Beijing earlier this month, A1GP will be treading familiar ground as it sets up its stall in Sepang, home to the Malaysian Grand Prix. What's more, with just nine points separating the top ten nations in the championship, the competition is definitely hotting up.

"Sepang will be a tough race for the drivers, but I'm confident it will be very smooth running for A1GP," chief operating executive David Clare commented, in oblique reference to the problems encountered during the championship's debut trip to the Chinese capital two weeks ago. "This is the second time we have been to the circuit so we will be up to speed straight away.

"So far, as a series, we've had to learn as we've been going along visiting new tracks, but at Sepang we can really consolidate our experience and show how far we've come."

Designed by renowned circuit constructor Hermann Tilke in consultation with seven-time Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher, the state-of-the-art 5.5km venue - comprising 15 corners and eight straights - was built on a 260-hectare former palm oil plantation near to Kuala Lumpur International Airport, and blends modern technology with traditional Malaysian culture. The race will be one of the most difficult of the year for the drivers as the hot, exceptionally humid weather saps their strength and stamina, putting an extra-special emphasis on fitness.

Last year's A1GP races in the Malaysian capital were welcomed by an enthusiastic crowd, who were delighted to see their team finish eighth in the sprint race and fifth in the feature. This time around, though, buoyed by the squad's double triumph in Brno, hopes are even higher still.

"Last year we had a small but enthusiastic crowd, but this year we are expecting a big and enthusiastic crowd," confirmed A1 Team Malaysia star Alex Yoong, the first of his countrymen to race in Formula One when he made his grand prix debut in 2001. "For any driver it's a great thrill to race in front of your home crowd.

"Sepang has a good mix of fast and slow corners and all the drivers really enjoy driving it. No team has ever won its home race and we look forward to changing that, so the more people we have the better."

Currently fifth, just seven points adrift of leaders Mexico, a strong result in Sepang could catapult Malaysia to the top of the nations' standings. The team is well aware there will be fierce opposition from the current pace-setters, however, eager to preserve and even extend their early advantage built on a superbly consistent run.

"It's been an outstanding season for us so far," said driver Salvador Duran. "We knew we had learnt a lot since last year, but to have already achieved three podiums in six races is beyond our expectations, particularly with the series being so competitive this year. Of course, we're now putting ourselves under even more pressure - the only thing we haven't achieved this season is our first win!"

Also sure to be in the mix this weekend is A1 Team Canada. Its two drivers Sean McIntosh and James Hinchcliffe have led more races than any other team this year with 55 laps at the head of the field, but they too have yet to seal their elusive first 2006/07 victory. That, though, is surely very much a question of 'when' rather than 'if', and Sepang would be the perfect place to start.

 

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