Wheeling in soccer fans
A new racing series pits top European clubs against each other, writes STEPHEN OTTLEY
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.