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Taupo track transformed

 

Taupo Motorsport Park in New Zealand, the venue for the next round of the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport between January 19-21, has undergone a facelift Joan Rivers would be proud of.

Taupo Motorsport Park in New Zealand, the venue for the next round of the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport between January 19-21, has undergone a facelift Joan Rivers would be proud of.

Situated in a rural area on the outskirts of the central North Island town of Taupo, the Motorsport Park was, until 12 months ago, essentially a club circuit with minimal facilities.

A small army of contractors has changed that by extending the circuit to 3.5km and completing a permanent control tower and pit lane garages.

For the A1GP event, considerable earth works have preceded the building of 25,000 temporary grandstand seats, the erection of marquees and temporary buildings and the enhancement of safety fences. Grass has been sown and telecommunications and electrical cables have been laid, as have fields of scoria bed run-off.

The venue, with green fields, tree-lined hills and the impressive Tauhara Mountain providing a picturesque backdrop, is becoming a unique motorsport venue, even though the timeframe for the transformation has been incredibly tight.

Taupo was officially given the green light to host Round 6 of the 12-round A1GP championship on August 11, leaving just 23 weeks to organise the event and create facilities in keeping with the quality of the Series.

There have been roadblocks along the way that have made the timelines even tighter, not least the lack of enough temporary grandstand seating to accommodate the anticipated number of spectators.

With no firm in Australasia able to supply the quantities needed off the shelf in the time available, the event promoters, in conjunction with Acrow International and A1GP, sourced the structures from Asia.

Some 25,000 seats were bought, enabling final crowd numbers to be determined and tickets to go on sale, late in November.

All but 5,000 grandstand ticket-holders will be in numbered seats, the majority of them in a lengthy row of structures 21 rows deep and 5.5 metres high along the majority of the main straight with superb panoramic views of the track.

Ian Maskell, the project manager for A1GP, said the philosophy is to provide a platform for optimum viewing pleasure while giving spectators their own personal space.

"If they want to grab something to eat, have a toilet stop or even make a quick trip to their car (parked in a field behind the main grandstands), with allocated tickets they can't lose their seat," Maskell said.

"We've endeavoured to be as fan-friendly as possible while completely rebuilding the site.

"It's essentially a brand new purpose-built circuit. Anyone who has gone to an event at Taupo in the past wouldn't recognise it. The old circuit was there for 27 years and it is virtually unrecognisable."

The changes were necessary to host cars of the calibre and power of the A1GP single-seaters.

Not only are the cars the fastest to ever race in New Zealand, the track has been adapted to international standards that are also a New Zealand-first, given the rigid requirements for cars that can approach 300km/h. It is a case of "the faster the car, the higher the level of circuit".

Motorsport's world governing body, the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), has specific criteria for its Grade 2 tracks and they must all be met if an event is to be officially sanctioned.

"What's different? It has to be longer, it has to be wider and it has to have longer run-off areas," Maskell says. "The minimum length has to be 3.5km and the minimum width is 15 metres. Most other tracks are no wider than 12 metres. Taupo is 17 metres wide in some places.

"Taupo is now New Zealand's first track to be homologated to FIA Grade 2 standards and we're determined that this entire event will be world-class as well," he says.

That means a wealth of entertainment, good catering and an incredibly exciting support race programme.

The opening ceremony before the two points-scoring races on the Sunday will feature more than 100 volunteers and performers on the start/finish straight paying tribute to the local region with a focus on Maori culture, Taupo 'moments' and New Zealand today.

The ceremony includes the utilisation of a local 40-strong Kapa Haka group, local school children performing in costume and a visit from a denizen of the deep Lake Taupo - the region's most impressive landmark formed by one of the most violent volcanic eruptions in history.

On the food front, the caterers will be bringing in all their equipment, including four state-of-the-art Combi Ovens worth almost $30,000 apiece that will allow them to cater at the level of a five-star hotel.

Some 530 catering staff will be operating on the weekend to provide breakfast, lunch and dinner to the 450 crew from A1GP and the 21 competing nations, as well as service 200 media representatives, provide 10,000 corporate meals in nine separate environments and churn out countless hotdogs and pottles of chips. They also have to make 600 packed lunches for themselves!

To cope with the leftovers from such a massive hosting exercise, event organisers sought specialist advice from the Waikato Waste Advisory Service to put in place a ground-breaking recycling programme.

Initiatives range from provisions for the teams to recycle engine oil to providing spectators with the ability to easily recycle drink cans and bottles. Amenities and signage have been designed and intended for re-use in following years and a tree-planting programme in conjunction with local schools will help mitigate carbon emissions.

But it is hard to escape the conclusion that the track itself will be the hero of the A1GP weekend.

While major focus will be on Corner 1 and the potential for some real action, knowledgeable locals will also be keeping an eye on Corner 9 in the in-field. In re-configuring the track, a tight chicane has been replaced by an ultra-fast right-hander that could make it a real test of bravery as well as skill.

With more than $12 million being spent on transforming the venue, event organisers are committed to making the Taupo event one of the real highlights on the A1GP calendar.

That way they maximise the circuit's appeal as a long-term A1GP home...and only the odd piece of cosmetic tinkering should be needed to ensure the facelift remains attractive.


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