A1 Team Germany’s Nico Hülkenberg has set the benchmark for this weekend’s Astro A1GP Sepang, Malaysia, setting the fastest times in today’s two practice sessions. The 19-year-old set a stunning lap time of 1:51.789secs on his first flying lap, over three seconds quicker than last season’s Sepang pole time. In a session interrupted by rain, Hülkenberg was over one second faster than China’s Congfu Cheng and New Zealand’s Jonny Reid.

Hülkenberg’s lack of experience of the 5.5km track clearly did not hamper his speed as he also posted the fastest time in the morning’s session to pip South Africa’s Adrian Zaugg to the top by just 0.025secs. He repeated the impressive performance in the afternoon’s one hour free practice session, clearly stating his determination to repeat his Zandvoort race win in October. “I think it was a good lap, but I have a car that is good not only for one lap but it is consistent,” Hülkenberg commented, “As a driver you have to look after your tyres for a long race, and I am looking forward to that, but practice is always something different and qualifying as well. However, today we looked pretty good. The heat is the big theme and I think it will be getting tough for the driver at the end of the races. I am looking forward to it and think we have a great car.

Speaking at the press conference after the final session, Hülkenberg looked forward to racing on the fast, flowing Sepang after the tricky, tight Beijing circuit, “This is a big difference to Beijing and another challenge. I liked Beijing a lot. I heard people who didn’t like it but I liked the walls as it was like being in a cage, man against man and I liked the track a lot as you could push. However, here there is just one line and if you go off it mistakes are easy to make.”

A1 Team China’s Congfu Cheng, sixth fastest in the morning’s session, posted the second quickest time in the second practice, but his preparations were shortened after just a handful of laps when he ran wide into a gravel trap and became stuck. Cheng’s early speed however proved key when the heavy rain fell midway through the hour and lap times dropped. New Zealand’s Jonny Reid, back in the car for the first time since Brno, had a successful day’s running, setting the fourth fastest time in the earlier practice and third in the afternoon.

Home team Malaysia also had a strong showing, with Fairuz Fauzy third in the morning’s classification, just 0.060secs slower than Hülkenberg. Team-mate Alex Yoong completed limited running before the rain fell to set the sixth quickest time, “It is a disadvantage at the moment not being in the practice session but I hope as the weekend goes on it will prove not to be a disadvantage. Certainly for today it will be a disadvantage as for those who do not do the earlier session we do not get the best out of the tyres. In Nico’s case he had a morning session and he came out and was strong, “ Yoong credited the young German on his stunning performance, “There is nothing to take away from Nico’s lap. It was really a stunning lap and I don’t think anyone could imagine beating that even if we had done the session. From driving we will find more time so I am sitting here thinking of that more than anything at the moment.”

Yoong admitted the rain had interrupted his running, “When the rain came it started on this side of the circuit so I got it in the middle of turns five and six and there was a big moment because the rain comes down here very fast, but you just have to expect it really. I think you just can’t plan for the rain as it happens so fast here and stops so quickly as well. You have just got to plan to be as flexible as you can and try to react to every change that happens.” Qualifying could be a lottery, he suggested, “I think the people may be watching the cars go round but I can assure you the team members will be watching the sky.

The action resumes tomorrow with a further free practice session and four 15 minute qualifying segments between 14.15 and 15.30 that will determine the grid for Sunday’s Sprint race. With a high chance of rain, results will be unpredictable and strategy will be even more important than ever.

Official Practice Session 1

  A1 Team Driver Time No. Laps
1 Germany Nico Hülkenberg 1:54.311 6
2 South Africa Adrian Zaugg 1:54.336 11
3 Malaysia Fairuz Fauzy 1:54.371 7
4 New Zealand Jonny Reid 1:54.471 11
5 Great Britain Oliver Jarvis 1:54.948 16
6 China Congfu Cheng 1:55.039 6
7 Czech Republic Jaroslav Janis 1:55.255 11
8 Netherlands Renger van der Zande 1:56.003 12
9 Brazil Raphael Matos 1:56.030 12
10 Singapore Christian Murchison 1:56.352 18
11 Australia Karl Reindler 1:56.701 15
12 Mexico Sergio Perez 1:56.756 13
13 Indonesia Moreno Soeprapto 1:57.182 14
14 Ireland John O'Hara 1:57.397 8
15 Italy Michele Rugolo 1:58.241 12
16 Lebanon Khalil Beschir 1:59.005 12
17 Pakistan Nur Ali 2:02.254 14

Official Practice Session 2

  A1 Team Driver Time No. Laps
1 Germany Nico Hülkenberg 1:51.789 15
2 China Congfu Cheng 1:52.986 6
3 New Zealand Jonny Reid 1:52.998 13
4 Switzerland Neel Jani 1:53.431 15
5 USA Phil Giebler 1:53.779 15
6 Malaysia Alex Yoong 1:53.884 16
7 Brazil Raphael Matos 1:53.947 17
8 Great Britain Robbie Kerr 1:54.075 19
9 South Africa Adrian Zaugg 1:54.361 14
10 France Nicolas Lapierre 1:54.373 16
11 Czech Republic Tomas Enge 1:54.426 15
12 Mexico Salvador Duran 1:54.899 19
13 Canada Sean McIntosh 1:54.923 19
14 Australia Ryan Briscoe 1:54.975 13
15 Ireland Michael Devaney 1:55.018 17
16 Netherlands Jeroen Bleekemolen 1:55.062 20
17 Indonesia Ananda Mikola 1:55.654 18
18 Singapore Christian Murchison 1:55.735 3
19 Italy Enrico Toccacelo 1:56.164 14
20 Lebanon Khalil Beschir 1:57.051 17
21 India Armaan Ebrahim 1:57.312 21
22 Pakistan Nur Ali - -

Reporting by A1GP.com
Nico Hülkenberg set the fastest time for Team Germany in both sessions.
(Picture A1GP.com)
"Frankie" Cheng was right on the pace for Team China.
(Picture A1GP.com)
Adrian Zaugg (Team South Africa) was second fastest in the first session.
(Picture A1GP.com)
Jonny Reid was quick for Team New Zealand.
(Picture A1GP.com)
Fairuz Fauzy and Team Malaysia at their home circuit .
(Picture A1GP.com)
Khalil Beschir waits in the Team Lebanon garage.
(Picture A1GP.com)
Oliver Jarvis was in the Team Great Britain car.
(Picture A1GP.com)
Jaroslav Janis ran in the first session for Team Czech Republic.
(Picture A1GP.com)
Karl Reindler (Team Australia).
(Picture A1GP.com)
Team Netherlands gave Renger van der Zande an outing.
(Picture A1GP.com)
Nicolas Lapierre and Team France were not their usual competitive force.
(Picture A1GP.com)
Nur Ali in the Team Pakistan car.
(Picture A1GP.com)
John O'Hara had a run in the Team Ireland car.
(Picture A1GP.com)