Durban, South Africa – Friday, February 23rd, 2007

Say what you like about petrol-heads, those fanatical lovers of all things motor vehicle related, but their passion is seriously contagious. Although I’ve never been over-enamoured with cars (except for the sexy ones), given my childhood experience of constantly being an apprentice mechanic (my dad was forever trying to save money, doing more damage than good methinks), I have evolved into a bit of a motorsport fan, especially of Formula One.

Therefore, it wasn’t much of a stretch to start following the first season of the A1 World Cup of Motorsport ™ in 2005. And given that their first South African race was to be held on the North Beach streets of Durban, my hometown, the deal was sealed. In January 2006, I wasn’t quick enough to get media accreditation and had to settle for a visually appealing television broadcast. Not so this year.

I am, I think, the only openly gay journalist of almost 300 local and international media and photographers at this year’s race, and I’m damned proud of that fact. This is because one of my best mates offered to sleep with me for a ticket, and he’s straight! (I think he was only half joking.) Even a good gay friend of mine in Johannesburg, who is a huge motorsport fan and car fanatic, intimated something special for getting him in on race day. It seems that there are a lot more closet A1 Grand Prix fans than the other kind of closet characters I’ve recently been encountering. They simply love this sporting event, and for very good reason.

Absolutely nothing, including my own obvious excitement at being present at this showcase event, could prepare me for the sheer spectacle, atmosphere, raw energy and passion that the A1 offers. Moreover, I cannot truly do justice in words to describe the physical and psychological effect of standing a meter away from the fastest and loudest sportsmen on earth. Their steeds, identical Zytek V8 powered cars similar in shape and size to the familiar F1 car, churn out a maximum of 442Nm of torque at 412kW of power, sending a car to 100k/h in roughly 7.6 seconds. This bit of techno-speak means basically, that these cars are really, really fast, powerful, sleek, sexy and downright deafening at speed – around 110 decibels, or if you were standing next to the track, camera in hand, loud enough to make your ancestors vibrate. It is absolutely, unequivocally, the most sexual sound I’ve ever heard, and that’s saying something. Raw power has never felt so good from a distance!

“They’re clearly having the time of their lives, living their dreams and their passions, to an extent many of us can only imagine…”

As I understand it, there are two schools of thought on this type of sport: ‘I love it’, and ‘I hate it’. I am definitely within the former, as are a growing number of people from very diverse backgrounds. A1 has begun to transform high powered motor racing, and motorsport in general, into an event series unlike any other, in a class of its own, dispelling all prior conceptions of the sport being elitist and inaccessible. On a level playing field, 23 nations from across the globe compete, as at the start of every feature race it is announced: “for the pride of your nations”. Pride, something we are long familiar with in its capacity to both empower and unite, is the key ingredient in A1, from the teams and drivers, to the spectators and even the support staff. People support their national team in this World Cup of Motorsport, with fervour, dynamicism and diversity-transcending patriotism.

What is similarly amazing is the average age of the drivers: around 20. These young men have a steely sense of confidence that is clearly cultivated from many years of controlling powerful, very dangerous and ultimately thrilling machines of exquisite manufacture. Most commenced their careers when they were kids of around eight, and have worked their way up through the various strata of motoring competition. Their competitive drive, however, belies their truly fun, often mischievous nature: a recent press junket to uShaka Marine World’s water rides had lifeguards and staff vexed as these energetic youngsters got ever more daring with their exploits on the slides. They’re clearly having the time of their lives, living their dreams and their passions, to an extent many of us can only imagine.

The whole event has, as opposed to Formula One, been geared towards building, sustaining and thoroughly entertaining a global audience. Nowhere else is this more prevalent than in Durban, where the nature and layout of the track gives a distinctly Monaco-like atmosphere to the race, with residential apartments and hotels located literally right at track-side. There are very few other types of events that can bring a spectator closer to the action, although with these noise levels, you can be four kilometres away and still hear the action!

Subject to numerous local complaints about both the noise and the inconveniences stemming from road closures (much of the track traverses major arterial roads and the terminus/start of the northern freeway), A1 still seems set to remain a distinct part of the city’s sporting and events calendar. That isn’t to say that the organisers of A1 and the eThekwini municipality haven’t tried to address the naysayers, but there’s only so much you can do with free passes for locals and loads of earplugs. But honestly, the actual amount of time that the A1 cars are on the track over the three-day race weekend, is negligible when compared to the overall benefit and excitement that this grand prix is bringing to ‘the old fishing village’ of Durbs.

Images and words by Jason JL Fiddler

Jason JL Fiddler © 2007

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