The idea had merit but in the end the delivery faulted. A1 Grand Prix was a single seater category where drivers represented their countries. Promoted as the ‘World Cup of Motorsport’, the series ran from 2005 through to 2009. Over the four seasons of competition, New Zealand twice finished runner up. First, in the second season (2006/07) and again the following season (2007/08).
Taupo Motorsport Park in the central North Island hosted a NZ round three times. For those that made the trip for the weekend two things stood out. The cars were quite big in size, larger than any single seater we had seen competing here before. Secondly, they were very, very quick. This was particularly so in 2009 when the chassis was based on the F1 championship winning Ferrari F2004, powered by a 600 bhp Ferrari engine.
For the 2007/08 season, all teams used same A1 Grand Prix car including Zytek-powered, Cooper Avon-shod and Lola chassis.
A1 Grand Prix came to NZ when our domestic categories were at their strongest. The NZV8s had large fields and a strong fan base. The Porsche GT3 Challenge Cup was still alive and well. Formula Ford had plenty of drivers and the Toyota Racing Series was into its third season.
January 2008 saw the second visit to Taupo which turned out to be a tremendous success for Team NZ.
Driver Jonny Reid put the Team NZ car, ‘Black Beauty’, on pole for the Sprint race (29 minutes + 1 lap) and drove away from the field fighting behind him which saw a number of crashes taking place. Reid won ahead of Germany, France, South Africa and the Netherlands.
The main feature race (69 minutes + 1 lap) didn’t go according to plan. Reid didn’t get away at all well and dropped down to 12th on the opening lap.
Reid was still in superb form picking up places over the 50 lapper which required two compulsory pitstops, eventually finishing fourth overall. Germany’s Christian Vietoris winning from Robert Wickens (Canada) and France (Loic Duval.
There was some serious prize money for each round of the series with the winner of the Sprint race receiving $100k and for the Feature race, $200k. Points were also awarded down to tenth place as well as the fastest race lap time.
Reid drove in every race that season, finishing with four race wins and two other podium finishes. This included winning both Sprint and Feature races at the second round at the Brno Circuit in the Czech Republic.
Switzerland’s Neel Jani was the overall winner with Team Great Britain (Oliver Jarvis and Robbie Kerr) third.
The 2007/08 season saw some world class talent with future F1, IndyCar and sportscar drivers taking part, including: Loïc Duval, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Narain Karthikeyan, Robert Wickens, Tomáš Enge, Alex Yoong, Neel Jani, Nicolas Lapierre, Ralph Firman, Michael Ammermüller,
Other future stars that took part in the three other A1GP seasons included Charlie Kimball, Marco Andretti, J.R. Hildebrand, Nicolas Prost, André Lotterer, Robert Doornbos, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Karun Chandhok, Will Power, Will Davison, Ryan Briscoe, Nelson Piquet, Jr., Christian Fittipaldi Tomas Scheckter, Graham Rahal, Alexandre Prémat, Scott Speed, Bryan Herta, Timo Scheider, Karl Reindler, Bruno Junqueira, Sébastien Buemi, Nico Hülkenberg, Sergio Pérez, Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Matt Halliday was the initial driver for Team NZ in the inaugural 2005/06 season. Reid joined Halliday and drove in four of the 11-rounds the following season, then all ten rounds in the 2007/08 series. Brendon Hartley, Earl Bamber and Chris van der Drift each tested Black Beauty at some stage that season. Bamber and van der Drift shared the driving duties in the fourth and final season.
The key component in in both the forming and success of Team New Zealand was Kiwi businessman and car dealer Colin Giltrap. Colin put the team together and backed it through the A1 Grand Prix period. That also meant that we gained a home round for three of the four seasons.
While the intention and objectives seemed right at the time, in the end the A1 Grand Prix faulted and the opening round of the 2009/10 season in Australia was cancelled five days before the first practice was going to get underway. This resulted from disputes over its financial viability and ownership. Over the next few years there were various rumours regarding the series getting underway again but this was never to eventuate.
It could be described as quite a unique time for Kiwi motorsport. Pitting country versus country seemed to galvanise more interest from the Kiwi public. Reid, who had up until then spent most of his motorsport career overseas, became a household name and deservedly so.
2008 Sprint Race results – Taupo Motorsport Park
Po,s Team, Driver
1 New Zealand Jonny Reid
2 Germany Christian Vietoris
3 France Loïc Duval
4 South Africa Adrian Zaugg
5 Netherlands Jeroen Bleekemolen
6 Ireland Adam Carroll
7 USA Jonathan Summerton
8 Portugal João Urbano
9 Australia John Martin
10 India Narain Karthikeyan
11 Pakistan Adam Langley-Khan
12 Italy Edoardo Piscopo
13 Brazil Sérgio Jimenez
14 China Cong Fu Cheng
15 Lebanon Chris Alajajian
16 Indonesia Satrio Hermanto
17 Mexico David Garza Perez
Ret Canada Robert Wickens
Ret Czech Republic Tomáš Enge
Ret Great Britain Robbie Kerr
Ret Malaysia Alex Yoong
Ret Switzerland Neel Jani
2008 Feature Race results – Taupo Motorsport Park
Pos, Team, Driver, Laps
1 Germany Christian Vietoris 50
2 Canada Robert Wickens 50
3 France Loïc Duval 50
4 New Zealand Jonny Reid 50
5 Ireland Adam Carroll 50
6 Brazil Sérgio Jimenez 50
7 South Africa Adrian Zaugg 50
8 Netherlands Jeroen Bleekemolen 50
9 Mexico David Garza Perez 50
10 Pakistan Adam Langley-Khan 50
11 Czech Republic Tomáš Enge 50
12 Portugal João Urbano 50
13 Switzerland Neel Jani 50
14 USA Jonathan Summerton 49
Ret China Cong Fu Cheng 43
Ret Malaysia Alex Yoong 38
Ret Australia John Martin 37
Ret Indonesia Satrio Hermanto 21
Ret Great Britain Robbie Kerr 4
Ret Italy Edoardo Piscopo 3
Ret Lebanon Chris Alajajian 3
Ret India Narain Karthikeyan 1