A1 Team South Africa led the way today in the World Cup of Motorsport’s first-ever street race as theirs was the first of the 23 A1 race cars to take to the track. With Stephen Simpson behind the wheel, Vulindlela – the yellow, black and green car of the host nation – kicked off the A1 Grand Prix of Nations, Durban, South Africa with two action-packed practice sessions.
With heavy rain falling for most of the day, the two sessions were both declared wet from the outset and the slippery track served only to increase the challenge of the brand new street circuit, designed specifically for the A1 Grand Prix series.
A1 Team Canada’s Sean McIntosh brought out the first red flag of the day, but he was not the only driver who had difficulties with the tight street circuit. While Lebanon created the session’s second red flag period, and debris on the track the third, hair-raising moments were also felt by A1 Teams France, Australia, Austria, Ireland, Italy, USA and Switzerland which saw some of the Series’ favourites drop to the bottom of the timing sheets in the weekend’s first official practice.
With the rain continuing to fall, conditions worsened for the second session and once again, the red flag dominated. Separate incidents from Brazil and India both temporarily closed the track. Debris from a previous spin red flagged the session for the final time, with just a couple of minutes of track time left, so the organisers decided to end the session.
At the top of the timing’s sheet for the first time, A1 Team Indonesia’s Ananda Mikola recorded the day’s fastest lap time of 1.28.477.
When asked why he chose not to go out in the second session, Ananda Mikola replied, ‘The team didn’t want me to go out in the second session, I had a good first session and found good grip, so there was little point in risking the car. We wanted to keep it safe for tomorrow. The track is difficult, the level of grip is low and it is bumpy, it’s important to find the right line around here’.
As the build up to the next race continues for the A1 Grand Prix of Nations, Sentul, Indonesia, Ananda commented ‘This will be big news at home, but it will definitely mean more pressure for tomorrow!’ Asked if he hoped for rain or sun tomorrow, Ananda said ‘Rain!’
Asked how he felt at the possibility of sharing the weekend’s drive with Enrico Toccacelo, new A1 Team Italy driver Massimiliano Busnelli replied, ‘It is still possible that I will drive tomorrow. This was my first time in the car, my first test, but it went really well. I like the car, it is very nice to drive, and there is no big difference from F3000, so for me it is not so difficult. A1 Team Portugal driver, Alvaro Parente who set the second fastest time of the day said, ‘I’m really happy to be here, the circuit is nice, although it is bumpy and narrow, but I am enjoying myself. I hope tomorrow goes even better.’
Commenting on the possibility of overtaking, local star Stephen Simpson said ‘I think there may be possible overtaking opportunities at the end of the main and back straight – but I’ll let you know on Sunday evening!’
Speaking about the challenges of the track, Stephen said ‘The second corner looks quite wide as you approach it, but it is quite tight on exit and I think over the course of the weekend we will see people going off there.’ With Series’ leaders France, Switzerland and Brazil all among the teams suffering to get to grips with this new circuit, there is the likelihood of close, exciting racing qualifying and racing with all teams having equal chances.
The 3.23 kilometre long circuit was given its track licence in the morning after the FIA Safety Delegate, Charlie Whiting, carried out his final inspection following the erection of the last barriers and the closure of the roads.
Official Practice Session 1 (13.00 – 14.00)