Damien Smith's Off the line

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Up for the Cup

Normally one-make racing does little to raise my blood pressure. Having reported on two years of Formula 3000 for Autosport  at the start of this decade, I’m more than aware that it often lacks the spectacle and zest of the open formulae. But still I find myself tingling with expectation as I arrive at Brands Hatch for the ‘inaugural round of the A1GP championship, the self-styled ‘World Cup of Motorsport’.

It isn’t yet 9am as I walk up on to the banking at Clark Curve, but it’s packed. Turns out 46,000 others feel the same tingle, that this could be the start of something special.

I watch the morning warm-up at Stirlings. Bang on 10am, the wail of 25 V8s echoes through the woodland, instantly transporting me back to the days of the DFV. I’m on the balls of my feet as the first cars dart through Sheene (formerly Dingle Dell Corner), then slither past me, popping, banging and flaming on the overrun at the banked left turn. I grin — Lola has got it right.

Boasting 3.4-litre Zytek engines that push out 520bhp through fat Cooper slick tyres, they are only two seconds faster than Formula Three lap times. But who cares? These fin-tailed, wide-track racers look and sound spot on — and they really slide.  It’s all down to the drivers — from the inexperienced Lebanese to grizzled GP veterans like Jos Verstappen — to make the most of it.

Nelson Piquet Jnr delivers a sprint and feature-race double for Brazil, 22 years to the day after his proud old man won the European GP in his Brabham. He even pulls off a demon overtaking move (take note, Formula One) — although the power-boost buttons and ‘passing-friendly’ aero spec are not enough to promote bravery. Perhaps it’s down to Brands rather than the cars — I reserve judgement for now.

So was it just like the old days?  In more ways than one. I listen to the whole of the Brazilian Grand Prix on the radio — and I’m still in the car park!  A journey that took 45 minutes this morning takes four hours the other way… Good old Brands.

Still, we all love the place, don’t we? That’s why we’ll celebrate the greatest moments from Britain’s best 2.6 miles in our next issue. A1GP has a lot of competition from the past half-century. What would you vote for?  Let us know.