Beijing balls-up

Sat, 11 November 2006, 03:38

During last season, the city of Durban in South Africa brought a touch of Monaco magic to the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport series as it held the sport’s first street race. It was highly successful, well organised and went off without a glitch. Tidings were good for future street races in the series.

Beijing’s first attempt, however, seems to be proving the opposite. The Beijing race made headlines as no other motorsport event has ever been held in the city, but so far those were the only good headlines associated with this weekend’s race.

Friday started off well as the FIA gave the track the necessary Grade 2 approval to start practice. The race organisers though, were not satisfied with one section of the track, and delayed the free practice sessions.

The first practice session, when it finally got underway, did not last long either. Two cars experienced ‘minor incidents’ at turn eight which caused a red flag, leading to the suspension of all track activity pending further investigation. The track eventually had to be modified to obtain approval from the FIA’s safety delegate. The straight was shortened and turn eight, a hairpin bend at the end of the straight, was modified to effectively double its width and widen its turning circle. The second practice session was duly cancelled.

On Saturday, it was announced that the third practice session would be extended by 90 minutes to allow teams to familiarise themselves with the circuit. After only 25 minutes, however, this session too was red flagged. A manhole cover had come loose on the racing line between turns three and four. One would think they would learn from F1…

The third practice session was subsequently cancelled as work on the manhole covers commenced and, eventually, so was qualifying. The organisers invoked Sporting Regulation 144, which states that, in the event of no qualifying taking place, the grid will be determined by fastest practice times. This will, of course, not find favour with those teams who did not manage to complete many laps during the two practice sessions held so far. The usually quick and competitive Team France, for instance, only completed five laps and will have to start in a lowly 21st place on the grid – with only team Pakistan behind them. The heavily mixed-up grid should at least make for plenty of overtaking attempts and an exciting set of races.

The organisers, meanwhile, had finally taken a leaf out of the Durban organisers’ book and have now implemented the South Africans’ method of securing all manhole covers. Holes will be drilled into the covers, allowing the use of bolts to secure them. An added measure that was used in Durban was the injection of silicone into the free space between the cover and its ‘seat’ – this measure will also be duplicated here.

A1 Team Greece have a similar amount of egg on their faces. Their selected driver is on national service and has not been allowed leave for the weekend. The team has issued a statement confirming that they will not take part in the Beijing race.

Edu de Jager

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