A familiar face returns to the cockpit of Black Beauty for the sixth round of the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport at the Portuguese circuit of Algarve next weekend, 10-12 April
Eighteen-year-old Earl Bamber will step into driving duties for New Zealand for the fourth time this season. More importantly though for Bamber, the sixth round of the championship will be his first back to back A1GP race weekends. This continuity will allow the quick young Kiwi the chance to continue to build on his pace from the previous round at Kyalami.
New Zealand currently sits sixth in the championship points standings, after a challenging season to date.
With Bamber back in Black Beauty for the second round in a row, hopes are that New Zealand can work its way up the points table, with three rounds remaining in the championship. France is just five points ahead of New Zealand in fifth place, however Malaysia are only four points behind New Zealand. Switzerland leads the championship with seventy three points.
New Zealand's performance was relatively strong at the last round of the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport at Kyalami in South Africa, with highlights including third on the grid for the Feature Race. A better overall result was hampered through an early race collision with the Malaysian team, knocking the Kiwi team out of third place early in the Feature Race.
In preparation A1GP's first visit to Algarve, Bamber has spent some time at Modena in Italy driving the A1GP simulator. Designed around an actual ‘tub' of an A1GP race-car, the simulator gives drivers a considerable head-start when they arrive at the circuit for the first time in person.
Given that modelling of the race circuits on the simulator is so realistic, Bamber can hit the track for his first laps and know, to within a few metres, his exact braking markers and other vital points on the track.
In addition to the track knowledge, the accuracy of the simulator is such that Bamber travels to Italy with his Race Engineer, Chris Gorne, and can test car settings without actually turning a wheel in the ‘real' Black Beauty.
This pre-race preparation will prove even more critical for A1 Team New Zealand at the Portuguese round of the championship, as the coming round marks the first A1GP race weekend that Bamber is no longer classified as a Rookie driver. This means he misses out on the first hour of practice run on the Friday morning.
A decision is yet to be made about whether the team will field a Rookie driver at all at Algarve.
Almost all drivers heading to Algarve will be driving the circuit for the first time. With construction only finished in October 2008, the near brand-new circuit will be something of a leveller as barely any A1GP drivers have driven previously at the circuit.
Not only is the Algarve circuit new to A1GP, racing action next weekend will mark the first ever international motor-race to be held at the circuit.
Conditions at the Algarve circuit can be expected to be hot, but not as draining as those experienced at tracks such as Sepang in Malaysia.
While the Autodromo Internacional Algarve (the official name of the circuit) is yet to host its first major international race meeting, a number of profile tests have taken place at the circuit, including Formula One testing by teams including Ferrari in December 2008 and January 2009.
Black Beauty's first run on track is scheduled for Friday afternoon, with Qualifying on Saturday, and Race action on Sunday of Easter weekend. Coverage of A1GP Algarve can be followed on TV3 or via the A1GP website, www.A1GP.com.
"Next weekend we'll have our feet on the ground and head down, focusing on some strong results. It's nice to have some continuity in our program.
"The circuit has some nice high speed, sweeping corners which will be really taxing on the neck.
"The only time I've driven Algarve is on the simulator but that's really the same for everyone."