The motorsport series some are billing as a rival to Formula One was unveiled in Dubai today [31 March], as the worlds of business and motorsport joined forces to launch the FIA-sanctioned the A1 Grand Prix Championship.

The brainchild of His Highness Sheikh Maktoum Hasher Maktoum Al Maktoum, a member of the ruling family of Dubai, the series will attempt to 'marry a unique business model with the high-speed excitement' of international motorsport.

The series is scheduled to run in 'warm' countries during what is commonly regarded as motor racing's 'off season', with the first race taking the green light in September next year [2005], towards the end of the F1 campaign. Dubai, Bahrain, Qatar, China, South Africa, Malaysia and Australia have already been chosen to host races in the first A1 Grand Prix season, with two further possible flyaway events mooted.

Contrary to the F1 model, however, each team will field identical Lola single-seaters, fitted with identical Langford Performance Engineering 3.5-litre engines, which form part of the largest single order for new cars ever placed. Thirty of the brand new chassis have been requested.

In another interesting twist on traditional motorsport values, the series' will expect each team to run under the flag of an individual country. As such, the organisers hopes to promote the championship as a 'World Cup' of motorsport, and talks are already underway with 23 countries interested in entering a 'national' team. According to reports, interest has already been received from Asia, Africa, the Americas, Australia and Europe.

The driver, as well as the sponsors, must be indigenous to the nationality of the team, underlining the 'World Cup' notion. In order to ensure that no one country is favoured by budget and technology, however, the organisers will mandate a level playing field, with no electronic driver aids and only limited adjustments allowed to the car's set-up.

The series' business concept will allow each franchise owner - or 'seat holder' - for his nation to focus on running a profitable and sound business model with income generated through sponsorship, local media rights, merchandising and significant prize money. A1 Grand Prix has said that it will provide the entire infrastructure for the championship and will be responsible for providing the cars and engines, handling the transportation logistics of the cars and ensuring maximum television and media coverage of all the races.

Each three-day racing weekend will have the same format, with day one hosting free practice, day two further practice and qualifying, and day three a 15-20-minute sprint race which will determine the grid positions for the longer main event, which is expected to last for 40-50 minutes.

Sheikh Maktoum has appointed a strong management team - of which he will be president and CEO - to run the championship.

His South African business partners, Brian Menell and Tony Teixeira, are executive directors and will both be actively involved in selecting franchise participants. They
have enlisted former international racing driver Stephen Watson as general manger.

Watson, also from South Africa, has raced in the FIA F3000 series, and tested cars in Formula One, as well as being a motorsport's entrepreneur in his own right. He is also working behind the scenes to ensure a proposed Champ Car event in Durban.

In order to ensure vital televison coverage, the team has recruited Richard Dorfman, a professional television rights negotiator, to act as commercial director. Dorfman's experience includes negotiating the television rights for the FIFA World Cups in 2002 and 2006, and three IRB Rugby World Cups.



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