The Indy Pro Series and Champ Car Atlantic Championship will each field a newcomer at this weekend's A1GP event in Beijing, with former IPS champion Wade Cunningham and Atlantic racewinner Raphael Matos joining Team New Zealand and Team Brazil respectively.

The pair were expected to benefit from the initiative introduced to encourage franchises to give younger drivers A1GP experience, with drivers under the age of 28 now permitted to contest the opening practice sessions on the Friday before a race weekend, but Matos has gone straight into a race role

Cunningham, still only 22, was first invited to join Team New Zealand at the pre-season test at Silverstone in late August, and has since been invited back to fill the Friday role as the squad hopes to benefit from his experience temporary courses from the United States series.

"From the map, it looks fairly standard for a temporary circuit - plenty of 90 degree corners, one fast sweeper and one very long straight," said Cunningham, who led the Indy Pro Series with four victories, but ultimately missed out on a second title, in 2006. "Something else that may well be a factor is the weather. I've been keeping an eye on the temperatures over there and by the look of things it is going to be freezing."

Matos also tested at Silverstone in late summer, and makes his full A1GP debut this weekend. However, instead of taking the expected Friday test role, he has been promoted straight into the race seat because of the street circuit experience he has gained in various US series over the past few seasons.

The Brazilian recently signed to return to the Atlantic series for a second season with Sierra Sierra Enterprises, and made his debut in a Grand-Am Daytona Prototype at Daytona on Monday, but insists that the Beijing event remains his focus for the time being.

"The A1GP race is definitely my biggest goal right now,?EUR? he enthused, "It makes me very proud to represent my country in one of the highest level championships in the world.

"It is a unique feeling for sure. You are always looking to be competitive all the time, but it is a little bit different when you are representing your country. I was quite surprised when I was called to be the first driver, but I am very happy for the chance. I want to thank Emerson Fittipaldi and the whole crew for the opportunity."

Matos is confident that, despite his inexperience in the A1GP car, the specially-constructed street course, in the Yizhang area of Beijing, will play to his personal strengths. The track is just over three kilometres in length and snakes through the city's economic and technology districts.

"It is a street course which I think fits perfectly with my driving style," he confirmed, "I learned a lot about how to race on a street course from the Atlantic Series this year. The circuit looks very interesting, with some very long straights and tight turns and a hairpin like Long Beach. I am looking forward to racing it."

Although regular pilot Tuka Rocha will be on hand to help set up the Team Brazil entry, Matos is under no illusions as to what lies ahead.

"I am still learning the car because I only got 45 minutes at Silverstone, so there is a lot to learn, but the full weekend will give me the time in the car," he noted, "From what I have been talking over with my engineer, I believe we have a pretty good baseline in the car. We definitely need to be quick right out of the box if we want to be quick all weekend long.

"Being a rookie, I get to run on Friday, and I think that is going to be really good for me. I am going to get good seat time in the car. I believe we are going to have a really good weekend."

 

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