A1 Team Switzerland’s Neel Jani has converted pole position to a win in the Sprint race at the Astro A1GP Sepang, Malaysia. The Swiss driver led from start to finish to win by over a second from Germany’s Nico Hülkenberg and New Zealand’s Jonny Reid. A1 Team Malaysia’s Alex Yoong was a popular fourth position in his home race, with Great Britain and France completing the top six.

Jani’s victory makes amends for his last lap defeat by France’s Alexandre Premat in last season’s Sepang race. There were no such problems for the Swiss this year however as he pulled away cleanly from the start and steadily extended his advantage over the 10-lap race. Second on the grid Jonny Reid pulled level with Jani going into the first corner, but with the Swiss held his line to stay in front.

Hülkenberg however used the battle in front to his advantage, driving round the outside of Reid into second position. There was light contact between the New Zealand and German cars and Reid’s machine sustained suspension damage, which affected the car’s handling in the later stages of the race. Reid was distinctly unimpressed by Hülkenberg’s actions – a repeat of their clash into the first corner at Brno, which led to both their retirements. With the German and New Zealand teams run by the same outfit, Super Nova Racing, the atmosphere in the post-race conference was frosty; 

“I am not smiling as I was run into in the first corner by my team-mate,” said Reid, “I am not happy about that. We will have to sit down and talk about it again as it is the second time it has happened. We are lucky that we both didn’t go off. He was right onto my rear tyre and I think for the remainder of the race the rear suspension was a bit damaged. I am a bit annoyed about it but third place is still third place and it is still good points and we have just got to get down and fine tune the car a bit more and get it right for the main race. We will change things for the next race as I was not too happy with the car as we didn’t quite have the pace of the other cars and I was pushing quite hard too and working hard to keep up. We have a lot of work to do and we will see what happens in the main race.” 

Hülkenberg added, “My start was pretty good and then into the first corner. I just know what happened in the first corner from my view, so I want to watch the TV footage to see what happened. I can’t really tell you about this. I am confident but as we saw Neel is really quick on a long distance too, but I think it is a long race and everything can happen.” 

With a clear track ahead and Hülkenberg and Reid ensconced in their own battle, Jani built on his lead to become the sixth different winner in seven races. “That was clean and constant and I was not trying to push too hard and it worked out,” Jani commented. ”I hope to do more, but Beijing was not really a race weekend as I guess it could have worked a lot better, but now at the first real race weekend to be back like that is fantastic. 

There were clashes off the start further down the field too with Italy, Brazil and Czech Republic picking up damage and returning to the pits. The left-rear suspension of the Italian car was smashed in the impact and driver Enrico Toccacelo fought to bring the car to the garage as the steering slewed it off to the side. While the Brazilian team made repairs and sent Raphael Matos out again, the right-rear suspension and right wing of Tomas Enge’s Czech car was too badly damaged and Enge retired in the pits. With the gearbox undamaged, Enge fully expected to be back on the pace for the Feature race. Indonesia’s Ananda Mikola also came into the pits and straight into the garage with suspension damage. 

The wide, flowing Sepang track provided many overtaking opportunities for the closely matched competition, with South Africa and Australia enjoying a race-long battle for 12th position. After three laps Australian Ryan Briscoe squeezed ahead, but Adrian Zaugg pushed him hard throughout the remaining laps. Singapore and India similarly raced side-by-side over the race with Christian Murchison almost running into the back of Armaan Ebrahim as he outbraked himself on lap seven. Murchison’s sustained pressure eventually paid off on the penultimate lap when he pushed through into 15th position. 

Switzerland will now start the Feature race on pole, ahead of Germany and New Zealand. The 35 lap race is due to kick off at 15.00 local time.

Sprint race results
  A1 Team Driver   Time No. Laps Gap first
1 Switzerland Neel Jani 19:06.289 10 1
2 Germany Nico Hülkenberg 19:07.492 10 +1.203
3 New Zealand Jonny Reid 19:09.890 10 +3.601
4 Malaysia Alex Yoong 19:18.115 10 +11.826
5 Great Britain Robbie Kerr 19:19.147 10 +12.858
6 France Nicolas Lapierre 19:20.020 10 +13.731
7 Netherlands Jeroen Bleekemolen 19:22.386 10 +16.097
8 Canada Sean McIntosh 19:23.647 10 +17.358
9 USA Philip Giebler 19:24.581 10 +18.292
10 China Congfu Cheng 19:27.496 10 +21.207
11 Mexico Salvador Duran 19:28.861 10 +22.572
12 Australia Ryan Briscoe 19:29.917 10 +23.628
13 South Africa Adrian Zaugg 19:30.975 10 +24.686
14 Ireland Michael Devaney 19:31.722 10 +25.433
15 Singapore Christian Murchison 19:39.805 10 +33.516
16 India Armaan Ebrahim 19:41.473 10 +35.184
17 Lebanon Khalil Beschir 19:51.507 10 +45.218
18 Pakistan Nur Ali 20:41.862 10 +1:35.573
19 Brazil Raphael Matos 20:45.706 10 +1:39.417
20 Indonesia Ananda Mikola  9  9 9
21 Czech Republic Tomas Enge 9  9 9
22 Italy Enrico Toccacelo 9  9 9
Fastest lap: New Zealand (Jonny Reid) 1:53.343 (176.0kph), lap two


A1 Team Germany’s rising star Nico Hülkenberg has fulfilled his early weekend promise with a dominant victory in the Astro A1GP Sepang, Malaysia Feature race. The 19-year-old German talent finished more than 42 seconds ahead of A1 Team Great Britain’s Robbie Kerr and defending champions France in a race shortened by heavy rain.
The heavens opened half an hour before the start of the race, forcing a start behind the safety car as standing water remained on the track. Hülkenberg however proved himself to be as adept in wet conditions as he is in the dry as he pulled off a bold overtaking manoeuvre on polesitter Neel Jani at Turn Four to seize the lead. Seeing Jani was slow out of Turn Three, Hülkenberg ran onto the kerb to squeeze past the Swiss on the inside and take the lead. Willi Weber’s star protégé then stormed away from the field to pull out a three second lead by the end of the first lap. He was never challenged from that point on; his only drama coming on lap 18 when he stalled during a pit stop. With a 19 second lead however, Hülkenberg’s position was never in jeopardy and he returned to track in front.

“It wasn’t too bad at the start as it was not so wet any more, but when we went out for the installation lap at 14.20 when the pit lane opened. That was incredible - I have never seen so much water in my life and I spun off on the straight as there was just no chance to drive the car as it was aquaplaning all the time. That was a bit crazy. When we started the race it was quite wet but the car was okay to handle. I like the wet and have no problems with it. When I overtook Neel it was out of Turn Four I think he had a little bit of problems with traction, a little bit of wheelspin, I was a bit smooth on the throttle in second gear and then I had better traction and could pass him. I stalled the car as I was just not smooth enough with my clutch and then the engine stalled. My mechanics had a very good reaction time and pushed me and I started the car by clutch.”

Robbie Kerr demonstrated complete confidence and car control to move from fifth on the grid to second at the flag fall. Kerr caught Malaysia’s Alex Yoong off the start and fought hard to find a way past. On lap 10 the Briton took a long line through Turn 13, which gave him the inside line going into the pit straight and using all available road and grip, Kerr forced his way through into fourth. With Yoong out of the way Kerr then set his sights on third-placed New Zealander Jonny Reid. Racing wheel-to-wheel down the pit straight, Kerr again took the inside line into Turn One, but Reid was not to be pushed out easily and kept his nerve, his line and his position. Undeterred, Kerr challenged again on the following turn and, with good traction and grip, made the move stick to move into third.

“It was absolutely soaking in the first few laps and it was particularly bad back in fifth position where you couldn’t see too much because of the amount of spray. The first few laps were getting used to the track for learning where all the puddles were and such like and then through the race just being able to pull up on Malaysia quite easily and then playing with them a little bit to get Alex to move where I needed him to be to make the overtaking move. Nicolas Lapierre was a little bit close to me behind at that point in time, but I then managed to pull clear in the middle part of the race and was really quick, catching Jonny quite quickly. He braked very early the first time I got alongside him, came into the last corner and I went down the inside of him. I was quite surprised how early he did brake but from then from that point I was just directly behind him and pushing him hard to make a couple of mistakes and then squeezing through.”

Kerr pushed to close the gap to second-placed Jani and eventually found his chance on lap 20 when Jani spun at Turn 14 and lost time while Kerr was making a routine pit stop. Kerr exited the pit lane just seconds before Jani powered down the straight to snatch second. “The team did an excellent pit stop and the team came on the radio telling me to push, push because we had a chance of second position and that was what I did keep consistent lap times, quicker than Neel, and it worked and I squeezed ahead. We had a problem with the car, throughout the race, getting worse and worse towards the end when France was catching up, but I was happy to be in second position and it is great to come back into the series after a break and looking forward to Indonesia.”

Kerr is confident the team will be on the pace at the next round in Sentul, Indonesia, “We are going to push for the win in Indonesia. I am sure the car will be better than it was last year. The competition is going to be harder and I am sure we are going to be on that top step some time soon.”

Third-placed France moved steadily through the field as the track dried, going ahead of Malaysia on lap 12. There was brief contact between the two as Lapierre took an aggressive inside line through a turn, but no damage was sustained and the Frenchman eventually made the move stick round the back of the circuit. He moved ahead of Canada into fourth on lap 22 and took advantage of a mistake in Turn Two by Neel Jani the following lap to move into the final podium slot.

“The most important thing was the second race. I think at the end Neel was a bit straining with his tyres. My tyres were fine and I was just pushing and coming back like a second a lap and then I went past him. It was okay but the main problem was we lost a lot of time at the beginning of the race because we were sixth and could not see anything and were stuck behind Malaysia and we lost 20 or 30 seconds there. Then we came back and I think we had a good pace but we need to start on the front if we want to win a race. We have struggled a bit this year with the new tyres but Indonesia is a track where we qualified second last year, I know the track and Nico will not have the rookie session any more so there are plenty of things which will help us.”

Home nation A1 Team Malaysia seemingly had a race of two halves, as Yoong dropped down the field before the pit stop. With a new set of tyres, a rejuvenated Yoong then scythed through to close to the tail of a five-way battle for seventh with South Africa, Ireland, Singapore, Netherlands and USA by lap 19. Yoong and South Africa’s Adrian Zaugg had light contact at the entrance to Turn Two as Yoong squeezed through, but both emerged unscathed. Yoong made careful use of the PowerBoost to close down on Ireland down the pit straight and take Michael Devaney on the entrance to the first corner.

Again Yoong used his PowerBoost to go ahead of Singapore’s Christian Murchison and then Netherlands’ Jeroen Bleekemolen, within striking distance of seventh-placed Phil Giebler in the USA car. Giebler however moved ahead of Jonny Reid into sixth, leaving Yoong to ease in front of the New Zealander into seventh. Yoong put his second half performance down to changing the tyre pressures on the second set of rubber, “It was so bad at the start,” commented Yoong. “I just had people passing me so we dropped the tyre pressures for the second set and the car was transformed and I could really attack. It’s really been a race of what ifs, but that’s Motorsport.”

Ireland and Singapore battled for the final points scoring position until the end of the race, with Devaney coming out on top to secure the Irish team’s first points of the season. Brazil were however excluded from the final results after Stewards deemed the team had taken its mandatory pit stop outside the allocated pit stop window. Germany’s win puts the team back at the head of the teams’ championship, six points ahead of Great Britain, who are the only nation to have scored in all four Feature races this season. Malaysia move up to third in the standings, while Mexico drop to fourth.

Feature race results

  A1 Team Driver Time Gap first
1 Germany Nico Hülkenberg  
2 Great Britain Robbie Kerr +42.849
3 France Nicolas Lapierre +46.621
4 Switzerland Neel Jani +1.02.321
5 Canada Sean McIntosh +1.07.609
6 USA Phil Giebler +1.08.592
7 Malaysia Alex Yoong +1.13.059
8 New Zealand Jonny Reid +1.21.332
9 Netherlands Jeroen Bleekemolen +1.33.415
10 Ireland Michael Devaney +1.36.491
11 Singapore Christian Murchison +1.38.295
12 South Africa Adrian Zaugg +1.46.268
13 Italy Enrico Toccacelo +1.46.472
14 Czech Republic Tomas Enge +1.47.778
15 Indonesia Ananda Mikola +1.56.765
16 China Congfu Cheng +2.01.301
17 Australia Ryan Briscoe +2.19.799
18 India Armaan Ebrahim 1 lap
19 Lebanon Khalil Beschir 1 lap
20 Pakistan Nur Ali 2 laps
21 Mexico Salvador Duran 11 laps 17 laps
DISQ Brazil Raphael Matos    

The bonus point for the fastest race lap went to A1 Team New Zealand who recorded a time of 1.53.343 on lap 2 of the Sprint race, with a speed of 176.0kph.

2005/06 A1GP World Cup of Motorsport standings:

1 Germany 37
2 Great Britain 31
3 Malaysia 24
4 Mexico 24
5 France 24
6 Canada 22
7 Italy 19
8 Netherlands 17
9 Switzerland 17
10 Czech Republic 16
11 Australia 16
12 USA 15
13 New Zealand 15
14 South Africa 13
15 China 8
16 Brazil 5
17 Singapore 3
18 Ireland 1
19 Indonesia 1
Reporting by A1GP.com
Neel Jani and Team Switzerland took the Sprint Race honours.
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Nico Hülkenberg finished second for Team Germany.
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Jonny Reid (Team New Zealand) completed the podium.
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Alex Yoong gave the Malaysian fans something to cheer with fourth place.
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Jeroen Bleekemolen (Team Netherlands) finished seventh.
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It's crowded into the first corner...
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...and it's no easier at the second.
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Phil Giebler in the Team USA car.
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Armaan Ebrahim (Team India)
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One of the grid girls.
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Neel Jani and Nico Hülkenberg exchange congratulations.
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Nico Hülkenberg, Neel Jani and Jonny Reid on the Sprint podium.
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A delighted Neel Jani.
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Nico Hülkenberg (Team Germany) was simply head and shoulders above the others in the wet conditions.
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The Team Great Britain crew change tyres on runner-up Robbie Kerr.
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Nicolas Lapierre and Team France had a much more competitive outing in the Feature Race.
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Sean McIntosh had a good run to fifth with Team Canada.
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Alex Yoong (Team Malaysia) struggled in the slippery conditions.
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Jonny Reid (Team Canada).
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An idea of the Feature Race conditions.
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Salvador Duran (Team Mexico) tries a different approach.
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Congfu Cheng (Team China) slipped rapidly down the field.
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Salvador Duran (Team Mexico) gets it wrong again.
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Robbie Kerr (Team Great Britain) lines up the Team Malaysia car for a pass.
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Nico Hülkenberg jumping for joy.
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Robbie, Kerr, Nico Hülkenberg and Nicolas Lapierre share the Feature Race podium.
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