For Jiang Tengyi, this has been a roller-coaster summer. First, he parted company with his former manager who failed to find him a drive in Europe for the 2005 motor racing season. Then, out of the blue, the 20-year-old landed the opportunity to go wheel-to-wheel against some of the world's best drivers in the nascent A1 Grand Prix Championship. But the initial euphoria of driving for Team China has been replaced by anxiety over his A1 debut, which comes today at the Brands Hatch circuit in Britain. 'This is an all-star field ... I have improved by leaps and bounds over the past two months but the gap remains huge,' said Jiang. Jiang will take to the track in Brands Hatch alongside drivers from 24 other countries, including such Formula One veterans as Jos Verstappen of the Netherlands and Ireland's Ralph Firman. In fact, most of the A1 drivers, even those in the same age group as Jiang, have at least made the grade in Formula Three while the Chinese ace has had just one season in the Italian Formula Renault Championship. Formula Three is usually the stepping stone to a Formula One career and is on virtually the same horsepower level as the A1 series. In contrast, the entry-level Formula Renault mainly caters to teenage drivers who are just starting off in formula racing. It's a huge leap from the 220-horsepower Formula Renault chassis to the 550-horsepower Lola cars used by the A1 championship. The disparity manifested itself in recent A1 tests held at a couple of circuits in Europe. Team China had a disastrous debut in the first official test at Silverstone early last month, when they suffered technical problems and had to settle for last place on the overall timesheet. The second test at the Paul Richards circuit in France last week saw Jiang improve his performance, but he still recorded the slowest time. 'I was more than five seconds off the pace at Silverstone but at Paul Richards the gap fell to around three seconds,' said Jiang. 'I am happy with the improvement but, obviously, it is still not good enough.' Jiang landed the much-coveted A1 drive in May when he won a selection race at Guangdong's Zhuhai International Circuit. Although Jiang's racing credentials look less impressive than those of his western counterparts, he is the man to beat on the domestic scene. Except for Cheng Congfu, a British Formula Renault competitor who decided not to try for the A1 job because of his contractual commitment to the Mclaren Formula One team's youth development programme, the country's top drivers all gathered at Zhuhai - and none of them had made it beyond Formula Renault. 'The slow career progress is largely the result of a lack of interest in grooming young Chinese drivers,' said Jiang Miaolin, the A1 driver's father, a construction material businessman who has coughed up more than three million yuan to finance his son's motorsport endeavour. 'To get a sponsor to sit down for serious talks is much more difficult than winning races on the track.' The financial constraints did not ease even after Jiang played a starring role at the grand opening of the Shanghai International Circuit last June. The Shanghai native led a glamorous parade on the Formula One-standard track in a Maserati coupe and was touted by the domestic press as a possible future Formula One driver. Jiang attended the ceremony in between races at the 2004-05 Italian Formula Renault Championship series, which he abandoned earlier this year due to a lack of sponsors. That setback was the final straw to the already soured relationship between him and his former manager. 'So when the A1 opportunity arrived, it really rekindled the hopes inside me,' said Jiang. The A1 Team China are backed by Liu Yu, a South Africa-based ethnic-Chinese businessman who has vowed to inject up to US$60 million into the project over the next three years, which means Jiang need not worry about sponsorship deals any more. In fact, he is even entitled to a 200,000 yuan annual salary. 'It is a big relief that I don't have to worry about the money any more,' said Jiang, who will again entertain the home crowd at the Shanghai International Circuit, where the final leg of the inaugural A1 series will be held next April. 'But this could all come to nothing unless I come up with some solid results on the track.'