With less than a month to go before the Superleague Formula show is back on track, the scene is set for an even more enthralling season of high-speed sporting action and intrigue. Alex Andreu, Superleague Formula President, answers questions about overcoming the global recession, the growing appeal of his championship and changes planned for the forthcoming season which features even more clubs and star drivers.
What impact have the current global economic conditions had on your plans for Superleague Formula?
We have to bear in mind that SF has reached an important level of awareness and positioning with only six rounds in its first year. This is our main asset and all we have to do is to continue delivering a very good spectacle and product. This is what people want. We have a full grid in 2009 plus a star-studded driver line-up now including the reigning GP2 champion Giorgio Pantano.
As we know the global economic climate has changed considerably over the past six months and, like so many others, weve had to revisit our financial plans. Internally we have revised our shareholding structure to secure our financial future for both 2009 and 2010 but there will be no changes to the way that the series is run aside from substantial reductions in our overheads and operational expenses to reflect the economic changes. We are very conscious of the current situation and we are adapting to it. However, we have received a significant endorsement and support from race teams, circuits, suppliers, TV networks, etc. and this is not only helping us immensely to deliver 2009 season with very acceptable standards but encourages us to continue developing SF to reach the level and quality that everybody is expecting. Preparations are nearing completion and, with three new venues on the calendar plus three new clubs on the grid, Im predicting even more drama and entertainment in 2009.
How happy are you with the six event 2009 Superleague Formula calendar?
Im very pleased both with the schedule and with the huge change in the attitude circuits are displaying towards Superleague. Twelve months ago we were having a fight just to hold our races at certain venues and in just six races we have turned that around. As a result we are now being offered money to bring Superleague to circuits. Formula 1 is pricing itself out of Europe and organisers are seeking realistic alternatives. Magny-Cours, for example, has given us its traditional Formula 1 date at the end of this month.
The Superleague Formula grid includes clubs from South America, the Middle East and Asia, are you looking to expand the series into those markets?
Yes, our business plan has always taken us outside Europe but only when the right financial conditions exist. We were offered a chance to race in Marrakech this year and have promoters in both Brazil and China knocking on our door. They are coming to us because they know we have a spectacular event with famous brands, great value and real passion which, at the end of the day, is what people want. Also we have had approaches from various cities interested in holding street races and we are exploring these possibilities that will take the racing to the people as well as a potential race in the US where soccer is a growing sport. We are broadening our horizons, in other words.
Are you expecting more football clubs to join the existing Superleague Formula grid in 2009 and beyond?
We have recently announced the addition of Olympique Lyonnais, FC Midtjylland and Sporting Clube de Portugal all three are significant additions to our 2008 portfolio. Olympique Lyonnais is our first French club and, adding to the excitement, it will make its race debut on home soil at Magny-Cours. FC Midtjylland is not only our first Danish club but also the first from Scandinavia an area that has a rich tradition in both football and motor sport. Lining up alongside FC Porto, Sporting is our second club from Portugal and thats significant as Estoril was one of our best venues in 2008. Though, in the light of the current economic situation, we are looking to consolidate our business in 2009, we are also in negotiations with other football clubs around the world that clearly are impressed with our championship concept and keen to join the series.
Will there be any technical changes to the cars in 2009?
Our engine partner, MCT, has produced an upgraded version of the V12 SF engine that powers all our technically identical single-seater race cars and thus provides us with a level playing pitch. This year it will produce slightly more power and provide even more reliability. Im pleased to report the revised engine was successfully tested recently at Magny-Cours and will be available for all our teams in good time for the opening race in France.
Are all your race teams and drivers confirmed for 2009?
I believe most of the teams and drivers are confirmed though not all have announced their plans yet. Its already clear, though, that Superleague is now attracting an even higher caliber of driver. Last years grid featured former F1 drivers such as Antonio Pizzonia and many established single seater stars including Tristan Gommendy and Adrian Valles. This years line up is even more impressive with the addition of reigning GP2 champion Giorgio Pantano and more ex-F1 drivers such as Enrico Bernoldi. Moreover Superleagues status is also attracting the next generation of top drivers: future stars such as John Martin and Pedro Petiz. Im sure you will agree, its a great mix of youth and experience.
What changes will you be making to the race format in 2009?
For starters we will continue to work with many of the most respected names in motor sport including MCT, Elan Motorsports Technologies, Michelin and Hewland to deliver the very best on-track action. We will be announcing one exciting change to our race day programme but are sticking to the hugely successful reverse grid format used for the second race in 2008. It produced some really exciting racing and helped 13 of the 18 competing teams to reach the top three podium. In fact, no fewer than eight soccer clubs (AC Milan, Al-Ain, Beijing Guoan FC, BVB Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool FC, FC Porto, PSV Eindhoven and Sevilla FC) all experienced race victories during a dramatic inaugural campaign before Chinese club Beijing Guoan finally was crowned as the first Superleague Formula champions. This needs to happen to keep the fans entertained, so we will be sticking to the same concept in 2009. Commitment from our investors is underwr iting a total prize fund of $2m which remains one of the largest on offer in motor sport with a prize fund of $333,000 at each event.
Can you confirm which television networks will be screening Superleague Formula races in 2009?
Our main target is to establish live broadcast agreements with national terrestrial broadcasters in those countries where either we have competing football clubs or races on the calendar. This route will provide us with the widest possible audience and thus meet the commercial expectations of our partners. We are also experiencing an increased demand for high quality digital sporting products and this isnt just limited to those countries with direct Superleague links. The series has awakened interest in places such as Japan, Australia and eastern European markets. On top of this we finalising contracts with international broadcasters and production companies for our Newsfeed to be included in sports magazine programmes for worldwide distribution.
What other new developments are in the pipeline?
We are always looking at new initiatives to recruit and excite new fans. For example, we are working on a state-of-the-art computer game that could be ready later this year and we have also introduced our own official pages on Facebook and YouTube.