Team principle of West Surrey Racing, or WSR as they now like to be known as, Dick Bennetts, might have a very distinguished history when it comes to single seater racing, but it's been a while since the Kiwi has been running open wheelers until A1GP came along. Crash.net Radio caught up with Dick ahead of this weekend's inaugural A1GP race at Brands Hatch to find out some more about the team running the New Zealand entry in A1GP.

Q:
How did it all come about that you are running the New Zealand entry?

Dick Bennetts
I guess because I am a Kiwi, but not only that because there is a reputation in F3 and Touring Cars about how we go about things.

Q:
It has been touring cars for quite a few years now but this is a step back into the world of single seaters. How excited are you at that move?

DB:
We felt our way in slowly at Silverstone on the shakedown but we did a lot of work on the car between Silverstone and the Paul Ricard test and to be honest we came away from Ricard very pleased considering there were a few people in the pit lane who thought it would take us a while to get in the groove. To be fourth both days with two different drivers and only two and a half tenths of first, we were very pleased with our progress.

Q:
The Sheikh has his vision of what he wants A1 GP to be - he wants it to be the World Cup of Motorsport. What do you make of the concept to make it nation against nation?

DB:
I think it is brilliant, I think his concept is very good because you get your nation behind you. There were also a lot of critics and now there is going to be 24 cars on the grid at Brands Hatch, which for a brand new formula is incredible.

Q:
Is there quite a lot of support in New Zealand behind the team?

DB:
Yes. Colin Giltrap, the franchise holder, he is a very enthusiastic motorsport man, he is a very successful business man and he has supported teams and driver in the past. But we are not resting there as we have a marketing team actively looking for sponsorship and we already have two good sponsors on board and we will hopefully be announcing another one at the Brands weekend.

At the moment, the primary sponsor is Fisher and Paykel which is a dishwasher and fridge maker so that is a big New Zealand company and they are very pleased to be involved because they are looking expand into Europe and the Middle East.

Q:
We are going to be visiting venues that are not especially known for their motorsport. What do you think of the idea of taking motorsport into untapped markets?

DB:
I think it is good because not only are we bringing motorsport market to a different field of people, but the opportunities where the marketing side comes in for these sponsors, they are looking at untapped markets to get their name in there so it is good for the drivers to go to new venues. Some drivers will know some of the circuits and some wont. The series will be very competitive, there are some very good established drivers out there and we have two young lads Jonny Reid and Matt Halliday. They are not that well known in Europe but we are hoping to help their careers too.

Q:
How did it come about that Jonny and Matt got the drive? Did you do a shootout like some of the teams did or were they the two logical drivers?

DB:
We didn't bother, so we chose from what was available in New Zealand. There are a lot of younger lads coming through the system who we think we will be very good in the future for an A1 GP programme, but there is a possibility that Scott Dixon could be involved too. They are just sorting out with the team in the States on the IRL side and you may well see Scott in for a race. That is another good thing because it is nation championship, not a driver series championship.

Q:
Do you think it is a good thing or a bad thing in a way?

DB:
There are two ways of looking at it. A good driver will adapt a car, get the best out of it and get the feedback. Our engineers will then work on it and dial the car in to suit that driver. With Jonny and Matt at Paul Ricard, Jonny ran first then had to fly back for a Formula Three race in Japan, then Matt took over and developed it further so it just kept going quicker and quicker.

Q:
What do you make of the A1 GP car itself? It is quite drastic compared to some of the other single seaters we see racing around the world.

DB:
It may look drastic but underneath it all is not drastic. Basically, the A1 GP car is an evolution of a Lola 3000 with some different aerodynamics but the mechanicals are the same apart from a new gearbox I do believe.

Q:
From a team point of view, what can you do to make an identical car quicker than the rest?

DB:
It is the understanding of what you have got. We have all got dampers that cannot be revalved, but you have got quite a lot of adjustment for springs and all the geometry set ups you can play with down to the ride heights, cambers and aerodynamics. It is getting that working as a package and getting it as a good, consistent car to give the drivers confidence to push it harder. That is what we did not have at Silverstone and once both Matt and Jonny had their run at Ricard they were very happy with what we had done to the car to give them confidence to push the car harder.

Q:
It is always very risky at the start of a new season as to make predictions for what the season might hold, but what are you hoping to achieve?

DB:
We always aim at podiums and the higher the podium the better, but we are realistic. It is a new venture and it takes time for everyone to gel but up to now we have exceeded our expectations. We set targets and after Ricard we have exceeded them already with both drivers. We did a race run with the car and we were very impressed with the car then, but there are a lot of experienced GP2 drivers and there are a lot of ex-F1 drivers, so to be mixing with them, being just behind them or in front of them, we are very pleased for Team New Zealand to be up there.

It is a 12 meeting series, with 24 races, in the first year and we are looking at it as a three years project. We have sponsors who have signed up for three years, so it is not just a flash in the pan.

 

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