- MARCO TO RACE A1GP TEAM USA IN CHINAYoung MARCO ANDRETTI of Andretti Green Racing will drive the A1GP Team USA car in the next round of the A1GP World Cup of Motorsports in Chengdu, China on 9 November 2009. KIM GREEN, one of the three co-owners of Andretti Green Racing, confirmed the driver nomination Sunday morning after IndyCar warm-up at Surfers Paradise. Andretti will share the ride with DANICA PATRICK, the other American AGR driver. AGR hasn’t yet determined which driver will run which races – AGR doesn’t want to make a hasty decision.
In China, Andretti will have extra track time as he’s never been in the car. He has been working with a racing simulator.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI, AGR co-owner, had made the surprise AGR announcement in Holland the Friday of the season’s opening race at Zandvoort on 5 October 2009. Despite naming his two American AGR drivers for the team, the team has received a lot of calls from American drivers wanting to be considered. Owner Andretti said the driver line-up would be announced later. While he was in Holland, his a, KEVIN SAVOREE, was with the AGR P2 American Le Mans team at Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, while Green was in Indianapolis holding down the fort.
AGR now runs the A1GP US entry in the four-year old series. For the first three years, Team USA was run by RICK WEIDINGER of Indianapolis. Green said AGR was approached within a fortnight of the opening race in Zandvoort to run the US team. Since the A1GP announcement that AGR would be fielding the US team, Weidinger has refused several requests for an interview, saying through his spokesman that he wasn’t ready. Weidinger thought he had the US franchise. It’s been said that Weidinger is suing A1GP for $50 million in a publicly filed court document in McLean VA.
The opening A1GP September round was canceled due to the mandatory new cars with Ferrari engines not yet ready for all teams. The cars are higher tech, nicely built and good for racing, said Green.
With a short window regarding the open window for AGR to enter A1GP in October, it was quick but thorough with its due diligence. After determining that A1GP was a strategic and business opportunity in a series fighting to gather momentum, then AGR went to work. It fielded a team drawn from within its ranks, and sent them to England to work on their car. There was also the matter of quickly finding a driver. It was too soon for the two American AGR drivers – Andretti and DANICA PATRICK, who had other commitments. On Monday before the race, American CHARLIE KIMBALL – who had raced with the American entry in the past – was called in Europe where he was already, and he was in England Tuesday for seat fitting and preparations. As Kimball was not a Rookie to the series, he didn’t run in the Rookie Orientation session at Zandvoort. He finished eighth in the sprint race and tenth in the feature race.
Several A1 teams have British-based crews, but AGR plans to utilize its Indianapolis-based team. TINO BELLI, AGR’s Technical Director for IRL & ALMS will run it. AGR has assembled Bogner Regis from the South Coast. The tools and pit equipment will be kept in England. The A1GP crews have a limit on the number of boxes it can ship to each race, and the number of crew members it can bring – possibly 12.
There was a A1GP two-day test Thursday and Friday at Snetterton in October just prior to the Dutch round, in which AGR participated on Friday. Then its car, along with the others still a work in progress, took the night ferry to Holland, while the crew flew. The whole exercise was a big logistical challenge for AGR as it was also getting ready for the Petit Le Mans the same weekend.
Usually A1GP keeps custody of the cars, delivering them the day before the three day weekend for the teams to work on them, and then collecting them the day after the race. However in this case, because the cars were so late in delivery, the teams were allowed to work on the cars once they were delivered. The advance AGR crew arrived the weekend before the Dutch race. Driver CHARLIE KIMBALL, who had already raced in the US car, was called on Monday before the race and arrived on Tuesday. He finished tenth in the feature race, after finishing eighth in the sprint race.
AGR has a four-car IndyCar team with Andretti, and Patrick. Their foreign teammates are 2004 IndyCar Champion, TONY KANAAN, and HIDEKI MUTOH, who won the 2008 IRL Rookie Championship. The team originated in 2003. It now has extended into the American Le Mans Series, running a LMP2 team, with several drivers throughout the season.
Patrick indicated in a Friday Surfers Paradise IRL media conference that she is looking forward to racing in A1GP. She was very excited when it happened. “There are definitely events we’re trying to do for the upcoming season. It will be a really cool opportunity for a driver to get seat time in a high performance car; and I love to travel and see different parts of the world.”
Green said the series would be a fantastic opportunity and great for the American drivers, giving them good seat time. The current IRL has limited testing. with the next test not until 2009, and it will be great to race in the ‘off-season.’ The three AGR team owners will split A1GP race duties. Green’s first A1 race will be the round in South Africa on 22 February 2009, at a site TBA.
Green knows another A1GP team owner, JAN LAMERS, who is involved with Team Netherlands, Back in 1986 Lammers drove for GERRY FORSYTHE and DAN GURNEY, Green, of Australia, also knows of ALAN JONES of Team Australia. Green wants Americans involved in the unique format of the A1 series, which is of team participation rather than individual drivers. AGR doesn’t intend to bring both of its drivers to each race and have them swap out between practice, qualifying and the two races – a practice used by some A1 teams. All of A1 races are on road or street courses, which will provide valuable experience to its two IndyCar drivers whose IRL experience has been mainly on ovals.
AGR’s core business is with three series – IR with IndyCar and Indy Pro Series, ALMS, and now A1GP, plus the promotion of two street races – Toronto and St. Petersburg. Already there have been discussions about a A1 race in the United States. AGR has struggled with its ALMS P2 teams, which is an expensive series; it’s no longer a gentleman’s series. The 2009 sponsorship isn’t there yet. Maybe the team will consider Grand-Am Rolex Series, which is less expensive.
With the 2009 scheduling of IRL for Surfers Paradise very much up in the air, A1GP has put in a bid for consideration. The Queensland Premiere, ANNA BLIGH has said the popular weekend must have an international open wheel series, for the State government to continue funding the street race event.