A1 Grand Prix racing, billed as the “World Cup of motorsport”, made its South African début last night when President Thabo Mbeki unveiled the country’s first A1 series racecar in Midrand.

A1 Grand Prix racing, billed as the “World Cup of motorsport”, made its South African début last night when President Thabo Mbeki unveiled the country’s first A1 series racecar in Midrand.


CARtoday.com reported last month that South Africa's participation in the unique one make series had been announced in London along with that of China, Lebanon, Pakistan, Portugal and the United Kingdom. On Monday, it was also revealed that Australia, Canada and Malaysia will join the A1 Grand Prix grid. More nations are due to be added at the next national team launch in Lebanon.


The series founder and chief executive, Sheikh Hasher Al Maktoum, a member of the Dubai royal family, presented South African seat holder Tokyo Sexwale with the car at the glittering event, also attended by top businessmen and some cabinet ministers.


“It is a great opportunity for South Africans to showcase their country and sponsors in the World Cup of Motorsport. It is a country that loves all sporting events and I am certain as a nation it will be one of the most enthusiastic in supporting its A1 Grand Prix team and driver. From the moment we announced our series it was obvious one of the first seats to be snapped up was going to be South Africa, knowing its great history in motorsport,” said Sheikh Maktoum.


Sexwale, who announced in London that the car would carry two numbers - 46664, which was former president Nelson Mandela's prison number, and 2010, the year South Africa will host the World Cup - said: “A1 Grand Prix will create a new patriotic edge to motorsport. We are proud and pleased that there will be a South African entrant in this exciting global event. We fully subscribe to the need to spread motor racing away from its traditional European and North American roots and into the developing world”.


The series will be run on six continents, with up to 26 countries competing. Each country will be allowed one entry, with the points awarded to the country itself. The prize money is R6,2 million.


The SABC has secured exclusive rights with A1 Grand Prix Holdings to broadcast the series, which starts in September 2005, on radio and television for the next three years. South Africa will be the fifth country to host the event, but South African enthusiasts will be able to see the car at Kyalami on Saturday when former British F3 champion Allan van der Merwe puts it through its paces.


Sexwale told on Monday that South Africa’s official driver for the A1 GP series would be confirmed at a later date.