It was all change at the top of the timing sheets for the final practice session of the SuperPoints A1GP Taupo, New Zealand with the home team topping the table ahead of Germany and Ireland.
New Zealand moved up from eighth place in the first two official practice sessions, shaving over two seconds off yesterday’s overall fastest lap, clearly showing the effect that home crowd support can have on a team. The addition of new engineer, Gary Anderson, appears to be paying off so far for A1 Team Ireland who is now looking set to add to its one championship point scored in Malaysia, with a strong start to this weekend’s campaign.
While the likes of Ireland and India are no doubt delighted with their performance here this weekend, earlier championship leader, A1 Team Mexico and Brno race winners Malaysia have found themselves towards the bottom of the table, over one and a half seconds off the pace.
A1 Team New Zealand’s Black Beauty will be on the second row of the grid for tomorrow’s SuperPoints A1GP Taupo, New Zealand behind Germany and France. In the closing minutes of the fourth session, driver Jonny Reid confirmed his third place position on the grid, the best qualifying position for a home team at any A1GP race.
‘Although I know as a team we are disappointed not to be in pole or on the front row I am pretty pleased to be third as it was a pressure filled Qualifying with a lot of problems. In the third Qualifying segment I touched the kerb and had some oversteer, and also in the final run the starter motor wouldn’t work. All in all it didn’t run as smoothly as I would have liked and as our Qualifying has done in the past. I have a bit of work to do to win the race, but let’s see what happens. The weather could be a factor tomorrow, but I shall be pushing a hundred per cent to get back to the front and it is great to be at home racing in front of the fans,’ commented Reid.
A1 Team Germany experienced a similar first with their top Qualifying slot delivering the team’s first pole of the series. Despite leading the championship for the past two events and Nico Hülkenberg having two Feature race wins under his belt, the team’s success has come from overtaking on the track.
Commenting on his performance and the importance of pole at this technical circuit, driver Nico Hülkenberg said: ‘It was very slippery and the first two Qualifying segments were like driving on ice. There was a lot of sand which I think came from the touring cars. I was fighting the car a lot but I was fast enough. Obviously from pole position we have the best chance for the race, but there is always a lot of action on the first lap. It has been very slippery and dirty out there today, and I reckon when we go into the first corner there will be a big cloud of dirt. Overtaking will be very difficult and maybe not possible so being at the front is very important. The track looks beautiful with the hill behind it. It is very technical and very difficult and as a driver I like it.’
As constantly changing track conditions saw four teams spin off the track, the battle for Sprint race grid positions came down to the final seconds of the fourth Qualifying session. Nearly half the field put in their fastest laps in the last segment as the teams pushed for top grid positions.
Rookie driver, Loic Duval placed A1 Team France on the front row alongside European rivals Germany. The comment from the Frenchman, who is having his first taste of A1GP race action this weekend and has also given the team its best qualifying result of the current season, was: ‘It was a good fight for the pole position. I made a mistake in the final corner of the last session but despite this I shall start at the front. We were always at the top in the times and so I was not worrying about this. During the sessions we didn’t work on the car, I just worked on my driving. The track is very dirty so we will have to take care, especially in the first corner. I think overtaking opportunities will be in the first corner and then at the end of the straight, but as the track will be dirty perhaps the guy in front of me could make a mistake!
A1GP organisers have held back tickets for tomorrow’s race day to allow fans, who have been tempted by the first two days of exciting track action, to purchase passes on the gate. Paddock passes are also available to get them as close as possible to the A1 Teams. With these offering ‘behind the scenes’ glimpses and a full schedule of support races and off-track entertainment, the first SuperPoints A1GP Taupo, New Zealand is looking set to be a great success.
|Alan van de Merwe
The 20-minute Sprint race will start on at 11.00 local time on Sunday 21 December. The results of the Sprint race will determine the grid for the 70-minute Feature race, which will begin at 15.00 local time.
Nominated drivers for the Sprint race – SuperPoints A1GP Taupo, New Zealand
|Alan van der Merwe