South Africa today unwrapped the operation that will mark the country's return to international motorsport, officially launching its own team in the high-profile A1 Grand Prix series being put together by His Highness Sheikh Maktoum Hasher Maktoum Al Maktoum.

South African president Thabo Mbeki unveiled his country's A1 car in its national livery at a reception in Johannesburg tonight, where he was joined by the Sheikh and national A1GP 'seat holder' Tokyo Sexwale.

"South Africa has a rich motorsport history and I am delighted it is entering the sport again," Sheikh Maktoum commented, "It is a great opportunity for South Africans to showcase their country and sponsors in the World Cup of Motorsport.

"It is a country that loves all sporting events and I am certain that, as a nation, it will be one of the most enthusiastic in supporting its A1 Grand Prix team and driver. From the moment we announced our series earlier in the year, it was obvious that one of the first seats to be snapped up was going to be South Africa knowing its great history in motorsport."

South Africa's commitment to the unique new one-make series, which is due to kick off in October 2005, was announced just over a month ago, when the Sheikh revealed the first six 'franchise' allocations in London. China, Lebanon, Pakistan, Portugal and the United Kingdom complete the original sextet, while the Johannesburg ceremony will Australia, Canada and Malaysia to the list.

Following the launch, the South African car, resplendent in the colours of the national flag, will be on show in Nelson Mandela Square in Johannesburg for two days, before then being transported to Kyalami, where South African-born former British F3 champion Alan van der Merwe will put it through its paces on Saturday [6 November].

The audience at the test is expected to include former president Nelson Mandela, whose role in modern South Africa will be commemorated by the use of 46664 - his prison number on Robben Island - as the car's official identification. Businessman and former freedom fighter Tokyo Sexwale, who also served 13 years as an inmate
on Robben Island, is the man behind the South African involvement in A1GP, and has also said that 2010 - the date that South Africa will host the Football World Cup - will feature on the car.

"A1 Grand Prix is effectively the world cup of motor racing - it will create a new patriotic edge to the sport, and add a new dimension to one of the most popular sports in the world," Sexwale said, "We are proud and pleased that there will be a South African entrant in this exciting global event. We fully subscribe to the need to spread motor racing away from its traditional European and North American roots and into the developing world. Welcome to the world of 'Motortainment'."

South Africa was always likely to play a big part in the ambitious A1GP series - billed as the World Cup of Motorsport - as Sheikh Maktoum's partners in the venture, businessman Brian Menell and entrepreneur Antonio Teixeira, both come from the country. The series' general manager and erstwhile test driver, Stephen Watson, is also South African.

 

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