Ryan Briscoe's Albert Park dream debut

Dream Debut Drive at Grand Prix For 20-Year-Old Aussie on Course For F1 While Mark Webber will make his Formula One debut at the 2002 Foster's Australian Grand Prix, 20-year-old Ryan Briscoe will get the chance to "learn" Melbourne's Albert Park ...

Ryan Briscoe's Albert Park dream debut

Dream Debut Drive at Grand Prix For 20-Year-Old Aussie on Course For F1

While Mark Webber will make his Formula One debut at the 2002 Foster's Australian Grand Prix, 20-year-old Ryan Briscoe will get the chance to "learn" Melbourne's Albert Park circuit in a $750,000 Ferrari for a possible entry to F1 at next year's Grand Prix.

The brand new machine that Briscoe will race - in the traditional red of the Italian marque and bearing its famed black prancing horse logo ? will not be an open-wheeler anything like four-time world champion Michael Schumacher's.

But apart from the 22 "rockets" in the opening round of the FIA Formula One World Championship it will be the most exotic and expensive car on the track throughout the four-day Grand Prix carnival, from February 28 until March 3.

Briscoe's "mount" will be a Michelotto version Ferrari 360 Challenge coupe, which he will drive in the Cleanevent Nations Cup - the category featuring many of the world's most exciting sports cars and which is a major support feature at the Grand Prix.

Briscoe is the leading driver in new F1 entrant Toyota's junior development program and the Japanese motor giant's team management wanted the Sydney youngster, who has done most of his racing overseas, to have a chance to familiarise himself with the Albert Park track - a sure hint that, like Webber, he may get to make his F1 debut on it in the next couple of years.

The Ferrari has been ordered from Europe by Melbourne-based Prancing Horse Racing, which already has a stable of six Ferrari 360 Challenge cars it fields in the Nations Cup.

The car is being prepared by tuning specialist Michelotto near Ferrari's headquarters at Maranello in Italy and Briscoe may have a special test at Ferrari's private Fiorano track in mid-February before it is flown to Melbourne.

The deal for Briscoe to race the Michelotto was engineered by Peter Hansen, the chief executive of CAMS (Confederation of Australian Motor Sport), after a request from long-time friend Ove Andersson, boss of Toyota's F1 team, to find the youngster a suitable drive at the event.

Melbourne businessman Tom Warwick, president of the Ferrari Club Australia's Victorian division and co-founder with Hansen of the CAMS foundation to assist young Australian racers progress in international competition, was quick to lend sponsorship support.

Mark Coffey, a director of Prancing Horse Racing, and Ross Palmer, chairman of Nations Cup organiser PROCAR, are now rounding up other backing for the Briscoe entry.

Briscoe won the Italian Formula Renault Championship last year in his first season out of kart racing.

Apart from F1 testing duties with Toyota this year he is set to drive in the International Formula 3000 Championship (in which Webber has won four races in the past two years) with last year's title-winning team, Nordic Racing.

Peter Hansen said that, while a Ferrari 360 Michelotto was "somewhat unusual" for a 20-year-old to race for the first time at his home Grand Prix, Briscoe was "an exceptional natural talent and we should get behind him - and we have".

"It was important for Ryan to have the opportunity to learn the circuit for the future, but it was also important that he be in a competitive car," Mr Hansen said.

"He is accustomed to single-seater, open-wheeler racing cars, so this will be his first time in a 'tin-top' - if you can call a Ferrari sports car a 'tin-top'.

"An enormous amount of goodwill has gone into making this deal happen from the various parties involved and it is very satisfying now to see it coming to fruition."

Briscoe, who has been based in Italy for several years, agreed it was "a bit novel" for an aspiring F1 driver to have such an opportunity but that "it should be excellent".

"It will be a privilege to be associated with a team like Prancing Horse Racing, which I've heard such good reports about, and to get to drive a very different kind of racing car to what I'm used to - as well as learn the track," Briscoe said.

"I don't really know what to expect, but I really appreciate all the effort everyone is going to on my behalf and hope it's a fantastic experience for all of us."

The four Cleanevent Nations Cup races at the Grand Prix - an eight-lapper on the Thursday, 10-lappers on Friday and Saturday, and a six-lapper less than two hours before the F1 race on the Sunday - will pit Briscoe against some of Australia's finest and most experienced racers.

Among them will be the legendary Jim Richards and Peter Fitzgerald in the latest Porsche GT3 Cup coupes, Paul Stokell in an ex-Michele Alboreto Lamborghini Diablo GTR and Geoffrey Morgan in one of three V10-engined Chrysler Vipers.

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