It’s finally official. After days of rumor and speculation swirling around next weekend’s Nikon SuperGP race weekend in Surfer’s Paradise, Australia, it has been confirmed that the A1GP Series will not be coming to Australia. Nikon SuperGP General Manager, GREG HOOTON and TONY COCHRANE, Executive Chairman of V8 Supercars Australia, made the announcement Saturday. Hooton said A1GP had failed to fulfill its contractual obligations and Nikon SuperGP had terminated its agreement with the ill-fated series.
With Hooton and Cochrane for the pit lane conference was Nikon SuperGP Chairman, TERRY MACKENROTH, and PHIL REEVES, Queensland Minister for Child Services and Sport (now there’s a combination).
There was no mention of the money the Queensland government had committed to the event (purportedly $11.5 million) or the previous threat by Acting Queensland Premiere, ANDREW FRASER, to sue if organizers breached their contract.
A1GP Chairman, Tony Teixeira, said in an issued statement “The series found itself in a race against time to make the deadline for when its cars would have to leave the UK to be on track in Surfers Paradise next Thursday. The series organisers never doubted this was possible, but today have been forced to accept this now cannot happen.”
The cars had FIA-mandated sidepod changes required before the cars could be shipped, and the changes had not yet been done. The changes had been required last year and then waived until Season Five. The cars are in storage at DOT (Delivered on Time Ltd) in England. It’s been said that Ferrari was witholding tech services and access to the engines.
Thursday Hooton had held a pit lane press conference to announce that 19 A1GP teams were entered, including Team USA. The statement was worded so that it wasn’t actually said that the A1GP cars would race in Australia … just that they were entered and going through the motions of making down payments on accommodations, applying for visas, etc.
Thursday morning, Andretti Green Racing (as it is still called, pending finalization of the transaction between team co-owners), said that the Team USA crew had not left for Australia. “We’re still hoping to be on the grid next week and are hoping to run the full season. Our team is trying to work through some details with A1GP that are related to how our team will operate in Season Five and as soon as we have those things ironed out, we’ll be all set. Based on our Indy car experience, we know that the Nikon SuperGP will be an amazing event and we’re hoping to be a part of it.”
Thursday morning another A1 team, A1 Team Malaysia, announced it would not be on the grid for the Australian race. Chief Executive, JACK CUNNINGHAM, said “It has been a difficult decision, but without the proper preparation, it would be foolish, unsafe and unfair of us to put any driver in this position (no pre-season testing, new track and minimal practice time.)
The Nikon SuperGP race weekend schedule will be revamped, featuring the highly popular local V8 Supercars. A new race program is being worked out between The Bligh Government, GCMEC (Gold Coast Motor Event Co.) and the V8s. There will be four 150km V8 Supercar races, instead of two. This adds up to 600km of V8 racing, the most of any weekend save the Bathurst 1000 endurance race, which was run a week ago.
Going into the weekend, V8 driver JAMIE WHINCUP/Vodafone Ford Falcon is leading the Supercar standings with 2476 points.
Reeves said: “I’d like to acknowledge the V8 Supercars for their ability and willingness to step up and ensure the Nikon SuperGP is a fantastic event. The Nikon SuperGP is an iconic event and this change I believe can only enhance its reputation as one of the world’s greatest motorsport events.”
Cochrane said “I would also like to thank our V8 Supercar teams who will now need to do a huge amount of work to change their cars, engineering and race plans for the weekend. Without their support this would not have happened.”
Promoters have offered a refund to anyone who ticket holders who want to reconsider attendance without the international series.
More details will be revealed prior to the race weekend, which begins on Thursday for four days.
Teixiera’s statement: “I want to personally apologise to the people affected by this regrettable but unavoidable decision. The Queensland Government, Gold Coast Motor Events Co, the management and Chairman of the event have been patient and supportive of us in the past weeks. We were proud to be part of what has become one of the world’s most iconic motorsport events, and are devastated at the decision we have had to make. We also know the Australian motorsport fans are very protective of this event and had welcomed us with open arms. To them I also apologise and stress that we wanted to put on a show for them that they would never forget.
“In view of what has happened A1GP will refund to Gold Coast Motor Events Co the sanction fee paid, and will donate AUS $50,000 to a charity designated by them. Also contractors engaged directly by A1GP who have already incurred expenses on our behalf will be fully reimbursed.
“One effect of the UK operating arm of the series going into liquidation in June was that access to the cars and the ability to pay its suppliers has been impeded. What should have been a summer upgrading the machinery in time for the first race of the 2009/10 season has turned into a frustrating time for achieving this.
“We have recently announced 19 teams who were ready to race in Australia. I know they are still committed to racing in our unique series that pits nation versus nation. A1GP may be down, but I do not accept we are out. We have had four exciting seasons that have proved we are a force in the sport and now we shall consolidate on what we have achieved to date. My efforts will be on finding a way forward with the support of some very loyal people.”
ALAN EVANS, The Chairman of A1GP Australia Pty Ltd, issued a long apologetic statement. ”The Directors and Officers of A1GP Australia Pty Ltd have been endeavouring over the last several weeks to obtain clarification on the status of A1GP from A1 Holdings the international company which is the commercial rights holder of the A1GP series and also the company which has control of the A1GP Race Cars and the A1GP teams.
“During this period of time we have received numerous assurances from Mr Tony Teixeira, the Chairman of A1 Holdings both in writing and verbally that the necessary funding would be in place to ensure that the A1GP could meet its contractual obligation to conduct A1GP Races during the course of the Nikon SuperGP on the Gold Coast from the 22nd – 25th October 2009.
“The information we had been provided with was such that we all genuinely believed that A1 Holdings was in a position to provide the necessary funds to meet the contractual obligations entered into by A1GP.
“The matter has been further complicated by the proper requirement of the Federation Internationale Automobile (FIA) for A1GP to undertake two modifications to the race cars to ensure the safety of the drivers. In the time now available to A1GP they are not able to complete both modifications and this will preclude them from racing.
“I have today written to all the relevant parties to advise that due to inability of A1 Holdings to ensure the provision of 18 A1GP cars, drivers and teams, that we understand the Gold Coast Motor Events decision that we are unable to fulfill the terms of the contract.
“I will also advise the relevant National motor sport authority of all the circumstances leading to this action. ”On behalf of A1GP, I sincerely apologise to the Queensland Government, the Gold Coast Motor Events Company and its General Manager Mr Greg Hooton but most particularly the motor sport public for the failure of A1GP to fulfill its obligations. Be we and all other parties involved in the staging of the A1GP on the Gold Coast genuinely believed on the information continuously provided to us that A1GP would be in a position to compete at the Nikon SuperGP.
“It would now appear that there is no doubt that A1GP is not in a position to ship the cars to Australia in time to participate in the event. ”Unfortunately it appears that a great concept in motor sport namely A1GP with its equal cars with teams and drivers representing their nation has run its course in Australia for this year, we are however, hopeful that in future years we can return to Australia and compete to demonstrate the competitiveness of the category.
Not that it matters at this point, but Teixeira and Evans gave conflicting car counts – 18/19 A1GP Series cars coming to Australia.