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Team Ireland boss unconcerned by GP2 Asia threat

NEWS STORY
04/06/2007

When it was confirmed that there is to be a GP2 Asia series, ostensibly set up to bring new (eastern) talent into motorsport at a time when Bernie Ecclestone is attempting to woo the governments of rising nations to sign up to the F1 dream, many feared it would be the final nail in the coffin of A1 GP, the World Cup of Motorsport.

A1 GP has enjoyed success in the east, and has given several nations their first taste of motorsport on the global stage.

Clearly, Ecclestone has been watching from the wings, and with A1 GP having done the groundwork over the last couple of years, opening up doors that were previously closed, it is now felt that the time is right to step in.

With a new tour, which will include the much-anticipated Speedcar Series, featuring former F1 stars such as Jean Alesi and Johnny Herbert, one has to wonder if A1 GP can see off the challenge. A1 GP Team Ireland boss Mark Kershaw is confident that it can.

"I think GP2 is a great feeder series for F1" said Kershaw, "but adding another tier is more likely to lead to a lot of drivers with large cheques behind them coming in, rather than helping produce new talent.

"We didn't decide to enter A1GP as an alternative to GP2," he admitted, "we did it because, rather than a means to an end, it is a fantastic concept in its own right and has grown into a really strong championship. We want to be in a position to give the best new talent a chance to shine, regardless of whether they bring sponsorship with them.

"Asian GP2 sounds like it's just going to be a feeder series for another feeder series," he added.

Pitpass has long complained that A1 GP's main problems are away from the track, citing the lack of TV coverage and a failure to market the series. However, it cannot be denied that other than a couple of stars from motorsport's traditional European heartland - who have yet to fully prove themselves elsewhere - A1 GP has brought countries such as Lebanon, Singapore and Pakistan into the sport.

Lebanon and Pakistan have achieved little in A1 GP, but both teams demand total respect for their efforts as they attempt to ride the learning curve.

"A1GP is a recognised global championship, which already has a track record for developing talented drivers and helping establish national teams in the Asian region," says Kershaw. "People really seem to have embraced the nation verses nation concept that makes A1GP unique, the race attendances and TV viewing figures certainly prove this point. Over 80,000 people came to the race in Shanghai, and a further 20 million plus watched on TV. I can't really see how this new series will have any impact on A1GP, with season three already shaping up to be the best yet."

Kershaw is also adamant regarding A1 GP's global reach. "It is great for us to be able to speak to new sponsors and be able to demonstrate that they will gain exposure around the globe by associating themselves with the team. Many Irish businesses have a large presence in the Asian market and this is something that can only benefit us in the long term as A1GP continues to grow."

It remains to be seen whether Kershaw is correct, especially with only one race officially confirmed for the third season of A1 GP.

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