Wheel­ing in soc­cer fans

A new racing se­ries pits top Euro­pean clubs against each other, writes STEPHEN OTTLEY

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Motorsport -

SOC­CER will merge with motorsport in an open-wheel se­ries that starts this week in Bri­tain. Teams backed by part­ner­ships with ma­jor soc­cer clubs — in­clud­ing AC Mi­lan, Glasgow Rangers, Liver­pool, AS Roma, PSV Eind­hoven and Galatasaray— will com­pete in the new Superleague For­mula.

The se­ries has taken more than two years to roll out, af­ter an ear­lier fail­ure with a con­cept called Premier 1 Grand Prix.

But there is no guar­an­tee of suc­cess. Sev­eral other open-wheel se­ries, in­clud­ing For­mula Mas­ter for re­tired F1 rac­ers in Europe and Champ Car in the US, have folded in the past year. The A1GP se­ries is also fac­ing chal­lenges in its fourth year, in­clud­ing the lat­est fail­ure of its Fer­rari-de­signed car in pre-sea­son test­ing.

But Superleague, start­ing at the Don­ing­ton Park track, which has stolen the Bri­tish For­mula One grand prix from Sil­ver­stone, has drawn 18 clubs for a six-race se­ries.

It is headed by Span­ish busi­ness­man Alex Andreu, who be­lieves the con­cept will be a hit thanks to the soc­cer fan base.

‘‘Ex­ten­sive re­search shows that our con­cept will be em­braced by fans of foot­ball and motorsport,’’ Andreu says.

‘‘We con­ducted fo­cus group re­search ses­sions with sea­son-ticket hold­ers at 10 of the top clubs in Europe.

‘‘We de­tected such in­ter­est that it con­vinced us that fans would em­brace the con­cept.

‘‘Foot­ball fans are al­ways in­cred­i­bly pas­sion­ate about their teams and this is an­other form of en­gage­ment. The in­ter­est from the motorsport fans will also be im­por­tant, given the tech­nol­ogy and car that will be used.’’

Each club races an iden­ti­cal Panoz-de­signed chas­sis pow­ered by a 4.2-litre V12 en­gine that pro­duces 560kW.

Though most of the driv­ers will be un­fa­mil­iar faces, the se­ries has at­tracted some strong con­tenders.

For­mer Champ Car race win­ner and F1 test driver Robert Doorn­bos will race for AC Mi­lan. F1 star Gian­carlo Fisichella will rep­re­sent his favourite club, AS Roma, with his team Fisichella Mo­tor Sport. He won’t drive though, in­stead leav­ing that job to ex-A1GP racer En­rico Toc­cacelo.

Af­ter this week­end’s Don­ing­ton race the se­ries will race at Nur­bur­gring (Ger­many), Zolder (Bel­gium), Es­to­ril (Por­tu­gal), Val­lelunga (Italy) and Jerez (Spain). Two races will be held at each venue, the sec­ond us­ing a re­versed start­ing or­der.

Reds racer: Liver­pool soc­cer team mem­bers in­spect their Superleague For­mula race car.

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