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Australian race a big hit with the fans 08 Mar 2004

(L to R): Mark Webber (AUS) Jaguar; Christian Klien (AUT) Jaguar; Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari.
Australian Grand Prix, Race Day, Rd 1, Albert Park, Australia, 7 March 2004 David Coulthard (GBR) McLaren signs autographs for the fans.
Australian Grand Prix, Race Day, Rd 1, Albert Park, Australia, 7 March 2004 A Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren fan with painted face.
Australian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Rd 1, Albert Park, Australia, 6 March 2004 Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Ferrari signs autographs for the fans.
Australian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Rd 1, Albert Park, Australia, 6 March 2004 Foster's Girl.
Australian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Rd 1, Albert Park, Australia, 6 March 2004

GPDA prize winners get to meet the drivers

Three lucky motorsport fans had a money-can’t-buy experience at the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday when they were given a guided tour of the Formula One paddock after winning a new Grand Prix Drivers’ Association competition.

Gerard Morford-Waite from Tasmania, Peter Murphy from New South Wales and Simone Hayes from Melbourne, each with a guest, spent an hour in the paddock, during which they went behind-the-scenes in the McLaren and Jaguar pit garages.

They also had photo opportunities with the four GPDA directors, six-time world champion Michael Schumacher, local hero Mark Webber, McLaren’s David Coulthard and Renault’s Jarno Trulli, as well as Williams star Juan Pablo Montoya.

“It was the best thing I have ever done,” said Peter Murphy. “Absolutely fascinating,” said Gerard Morford-Waite. “Unbelievable,” said Simone Hayes, before adding: “that Webber’s a bit of a spunk, isn’t he?”

The competition was the first of its kind to be organised by the GPDA. To enter it, the fans were invited to purchase Mark Webber helmet pins in aid of cancer and brain disorder charity Brainwave Australia, with Webber then picking the winners out of a hat after qualifying.

“I’m delighted that the guys seemed to enjoy themselves,” said Webber. “The fans are very important to us drivers and I hope that this is the first of several such competitions during the course of the year.”

The Australian Grand Prix has always been a major hit with race fans, and the 2004 event was no exception, with well over 350,000 people enjoying the opening round of the new season.

On Thursday 51,400 spectators flocked into Albert Park. The Friday figure of 81,500 was 500 up on 2003, prompting organiser Ron Walker to say that the race had "a fantastic buzz - and we've got the two big days to go."

On Saturday the crowd figure reached 106,500, climbing to 121,500 on raceday, giving an impressive four-day total of 360,900.