A1GP will break new motorsport ground this weekend, by becoming the first series ever to race around the streets of the Chinese capital of Beijing.

The championship - in its second season - is proud of its reputation for pushing back traditional boundaries within the sport, and the third round of the 2006-07 campaign will be held on a new circuit featuring long straights and a tight hairpin bend, as well as a dusty surface that promises to provide particularly spectacular action throughout the weekend.

With the Olympic Games scheduled to take place in Beijing in 2008, the A1GP meeting is one of the first steps in a long-term plan to host major, high-profile events to establish the city as a centre for international sports. With a capacity for 25,000 people in the grandstands alone, the race will be the biggest motorsport event the capital has ever witnessed.

"We couldn't have hosted the race without the considerable support and guidance of the General Administration of Sports China and Chinese authorities," A1GP chief operating officer David Clare remarked. "The race is a fantastic opportunity for all involved - for Beijing to promote itself as a world-class sporting venue and for Chinese fans to have another opportunity to see a top racing series."

The third round of the A1GP calendar will take place at the onset of the Chinese winter and conditions are expected to be variable, taking in everything from rain, sleet and freezing temperatures to bright, crisp sunshine.

Equally as unpredictable so far has been the second season of A1GP - with three different winners from four races, competition has been fierce and the championship is still wide open. South Africa and Germany claimed a victory apiece in Zandvoort, with Malaysia's Alex Yoong then sealing a double triumph in Brno, the first clean sweep since Mexico won both the sprint and feature races in Laguna Seca last March.

Yoong will face tough opposition to score a third straight win, as Zandvoort star, 19-year-old Adrian Zaugg of South Africa, returns to the fold in Beijing. German rookie Nico Hulkenberg will also be eager to maintain Germany's overall lead in the teams' championship, though he faces a steep learning curve as Beijing will only be his second-ever street race.

Rule changes from China onwards have opened up the series to more drivers, including Malaysia's Fairuz Fauzy and Marcel Fassler of Switzerland, who will make his A1GP debut this weekend. There is a new qualifying format for the feature race too, with the grid henceforth to be determined, as per last year, by the results of the earlier sprint.

Champ Car ace Ryan Hunter-Reay, meanwhile, will make his A1GP debut this weekend for Team USA, while Chinese star Congfu 'Frankie' Cheng will have a special incentive to do well at his national event. Cheng hails from Beijing but has never raced in his home town before as he moved to the UK to further his racing career in 2001.

The 22-year-old has enjoyed considerable success in Europe, becoming vice champion of the Formula Renault UK Winter Series, and the first-ever Chinese driver to win a race in the world's most competitive junior single-seater category. He also became the first Chinese McLaren F1 driver when he drove a lap of the Brno circuit in 2004.

 

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