A1GP - EASTERN CREEK, AUSTRALIA: SPRINT & FEATURE RACES
A1 Team France has taken the title lead in the thrilling 2007/08 A1GP World Cup of Motorsport season, having dominated this morning's wet Sprint race at Sydney's Eastern Creek from start to finish to take its first win in 37 races.
Loic Duval pulled out a comfortable lead at the start of the 14-lap race and was never threatened by the remaining 21-car pack, continuing to pull away from Switzerland and New Zealand as the rain got heavier. Duval finally crossed the line in first place, nine seconds ahead of Jonny Reid in Black Beauty, who masterfully snatched second position from Neel Jani on lap nine. The Swiss driver spun off later in the race and lost valuable championship points.
The win is 25-year-old Frenchman Duval's first victory in A1GP and ends season one champion France's race win drought. The team has not occupied the top step of the podium since Alexandre Premat won the Mexico Feature race in 2006.
France and New Zealand were joined on the podium by 18-year-old Canadian rookie Robert Wickens, who put in an incredible performance in the wet to race from 15th on the grid to a finish in a superb third place and pick up ten valuable championship points for his nation.
Germany's Michael Ammermüller crossed the line fourth having started from seventh on the grid, closely followed by USA's Jonathan Summerton in fifth, the team's best finish so far this season.
Host nation A1 Team Australia's John Martin gave his home fans something to cheer about, pushing hard throughout the race and improving three places from the start to cross the line in sixth position, ahead of South Africa's Adrian Zaugg and Brazil's Sergio Jimenez in seventh and eighth places respectively.
The Netherlands' Jeroen Bleekemolen finished the incident-packed race ninth while Switzerland's Neel Jani, who was running in second for much of the race, fell back to tenth after he ran wide with two laps to go.
Great Britain's Robbie Kerr, whose race engineer had struggled from his hospital bed to stand on the pit wall with his broken leg in a plaster cast, got a great start from eighth on the grid but lost time when the team decided to pit for wet tyres on lap eight, ultimately crossing the line a disappointing 16th.
The 22 nations are now preparing for the main event of the weekend at Eastern Creek, a thrilling 70-minute Feature race with two compulsory pit stops, which starts at 15:00 this afternoon.
France's Loic Duval, who took his first ever A1GP win in what he says will be his last event for the team this year, reflected on what the result means to him and the team:
'It feels great. We've been running behind for a long time so it's really good for us to win this race and the team did a great job. It was perfect and we needed it. It was important for us to win a race and this may be my last race in A1GP so I'm really happy to leave the series with a victory. It was really hard in the rain but because of our pace in the dry conditions I had a really good gap so we were not really worried about the other guys. We were just trying to stay on the track and not take any risks.'
New Zealand's Jonny Reid, who raced to a solid second place from fourth on the grid, and is starting this afternoon's Feature race from pole, said:
'We had to fight for it a little bit. It was a good battle with Neel and once I got in front I gradually pulled away and started concentrating on Loic, but he was doing a good job in tricky conditions and I didn't want to take any risks and compromise the championship. Pole for the Feature race is a good position to start from but as we've seen before a million times it's tricky. We've got a lot of competition out there and everyone's in the hunt. We can really do a good job but it's going to be interesting to see what the weather does.'
Eighteen-year-old Canada's Robert Wickens, who put in an amazing performance to race from 15th to third, commented on the wet conditions:
'It was a great drive. We were struggling a little bit with the pace in the dry and we were just running in 13th or 14th. I think I had more trust in the car early on in the race and I actually made the majority of my passes when it was at the intermediate stage. A lot of drivers were staying on the dry line and I was one of the first ones to go on the wet line. If it rains in the Feature race we can just hope for the best and try to score some more points.'
Sprint race results
POS DRIVER A1 TEAM LAPS TIME1 Loic DUVAL FRANCE 14 20:18.536
2 Jonny REID NEW ZEALAND 14 20:27.734
3 Robert WICKENS CANADA 14 20:29.552
4 Michael AMMERMÜLLER GERMANY 14 20:30.465
5 Jonathan SUMMERTON USA 14 20:31.140
6 John MARTIN AUSTRALIA 14 20:32.746
7 Adrian ZAUGG SOUTH AFRICA 14 20:33.059
8 Sergio JIMENEZ BRAZIL 14 20:48.796
9 Jeroen BLEEKEMOLEN NETHERLANDS 14 20:52.007
10 Neel JANI SWITZERLAND 14 20:52.342
11 Narain KARTHIKEYAN INDIA 14 21:03.278
12 Joao URBANO PORTUGAL 14 21:04.667
13 Edoardo PISCOPO ITALY 14 21:04.732
14 Congfu CHENG CHINA 14 21:07.959
15 Adam CARROLL IRELAND 14 21:08.836
16 Robbie KERR GREAT BRITAIN 14 21:15.251
17 David GARZA MEXICO 14 21:21.382
18 Tomas ENGE CZECH REPUBLIC 14 21:21.569
19 Chris ALAJAJIAN LEBANON 14 21:23.565
20 Fairuz FAUZY MALAYSIA 14 21:39.416
21 Satrio HERMANTO INDONESIA 14 21:41.178
22 Adam KHAN PAKISTAN 1 01:33.270
Fastest lap: A1 Team France's Loic Duval set the fastest lap (1m19.350s) of the Sprint race on lap two.
FEATURE RACEA1 Team South Africa secured its second A1GP race win of the season in this afternoon's action-packed Feature race at Sydney's Eastern Creek Raceway, closing the gap to third-placed Switzerland in the championship standings. The weekend brought the championship battle even closer together with leaders New Zealand and France both heading to the next race in Durban, South Africa on 96 points.
Adrian Zaugg drove a sensational race in treacherous conditions as the heavy rain continued to pour down, to cross the line almost 20 seconds ahead of Switzerland's Neel Jani in second. The result is a huge boost for the South African team as it gears up for its home event in three weeks time.
Great Britain's Robbie Kerr, who briefly fell back a place after making a good start from third on the grid alongside China in fourth, took the third and final podium position after a strong race in difficult conditions.
The on-track action began before the lights went out to signal the start of the 42-lap race with pole-sitter New Zealand's Jonny Reid grinding to a halt just after leaving the pits to form up on the grid. The marshals were not able to push start the stalled car uphill and as a result Black Beauty started from pit lane. Moments later Sprint race winner Loic Duval stalled the French car on the formation lap and was forced to start the race from the back of the grid, potentially putting both title rivals out of contention.
Brazil's Sergio Jimenez was on brilliant form this afternoon, racing from ninth on the grid to a solid fourth place, the nation's second best result of the season. The Brazilian team, who now lie ninth in the championship standings, was joined at Eastern Creek by 2002 FIFA World Cup winning Brazilian midfielder Juninho, who is currently playing for Sydney FC.
Having started from the back of the grid due to a clutch problem that caused him to stall, France's Loic Duval made steady progress and by lap 16 he had caught USA's Jonathan Summerton and Canada's Robert Wickens and the trio commenced a three-way fight for sixth place. In an ambitious move four laps later, Duval snuck down the inside of the American car, forcing Summerton to run off the track and ultimately ending his race.
The French team, still hampered by its clutch problem, received a drive through penalty for causing the avoidable collision and Duval's race was finally over when he failed to get the car going after his second compulsory pit stop on lap 31.
Home nation Australia's John Martin wowed the crowds as his impressive form continued, carving his way through the field from 14th to bring Jackaroo home in a superb fifth place, the nation's best ever result on home soil.
Germany's Michael Ammermüller just managed to fend off the Netherlands's Jeroen Bleekemolen across the line, the pair taking seventh and eighth place respectively. New Zealand's Jonny Reid, who started from pit lane and China's Congfu Cheng, who was hit with a drive through penalty for making a false start, took the final two point-scoring positions.
Just outside the points was India's Narain Karthikeyan who crossed the line in 11th position, closely followed by Pakistan's Adam Khan in 12th, who drove a solid race to secure the team's best result of the season.
Feature race winner South Africa's Adrian Zaugg praised his team's good tactical call in difficult conditions before the first round of pit stops:
'I have to thank Humphrey my engineer and the whole team for that call. I could see I was able to go at a better pace than at least Robbie and Neel, so I thought we had a good chance. We stayed out and put in some good laps and then pitted and got out ahead. It was very very hard in these conditions. Each time I was trying to get a move or to pass someone but when you come so close the visibility gets so bad you can't see anything. It was just safer to wait until we got a chance for some clear laps and that's all we did. The track conditions stayed pretty consistent but there was maybe a little less rain right at the end.'
Commenting on winning the Sydney Feature race ahead of his nation's home event in three weeks time, Zaugg said:
'The win gives you lots of confidence but each time it's a new race and a new day and I always give it my best, but definitely we have a great motivation coming to Durban.'
Second-placed Switzerland's Neel Jani, who benefited from his title rivals New Zealand and France starting from the back of the grid, said:
'I had a bad take off but the second part of my start was good. As the cars were rolling down I had to have my foot on the brake as I didn't want to have the same mistake I had at the last race when I was penalised for making a false start. It was still enough to be P1 into the first lap and I could just keep that position with more or less the same pace as the guys behind me. Then we came in on the first lap possible for the first pit stop. South Africa stayed out which was the better call but I think their pace certainly was pretty quick and it would have been hard to keep them behind us.'
GBR's Robbie Kerr, who endured a difficult weekend last time out in New Zealand, raced to a solid third place and was pleased to notch up some more championship points for the team:
'After the disappointment of Taupo where we didn't score any points, GBR had to get a good result and the podium is a nice way to do it. Unfortunately it wasn't two places higher, I'm sure I would have a bigger smile on my face if it was! The initial take off was good, but unfortunately as I ran over the start finish line where New Zealand would have been, the rear wheels just span up a little bit and we just lost traction from that point on. I just had to slow the car to regain traction and then try to accelerate again and by that point Brazil and South Africa had gone past. We had to get a good result here and it wasn't worth taking a big risk.'
New Zealand and France both leave Sydney with 96 championship points, but the Kiwis hold the title lead due to number of race wins. Switzerland lies just three points behind in third place ahead of South Africa in fourth on 76 points, as the series heads to Durban, South Africa for round seven on 22-24 February 2008.
Feature race results
POS DRIVER A1 TEAM LAPS TIME1 Adrian ZAUGG SOUTH AFRICA 42 1:12:00.930
2 Neel JANI SWITZERLAND 42 1:12:20.490
3 Robbie KERR GREAT BRITAIN 42 1:12:26.124
4 Sergio JIMENEZ BRAZIL 42 1:12:43.700
5 John MARTIN AUSTRALIA 42 1:13:09.577
6 Robert WICKENS CANADA 42 1:13:11.251
7 Michael AMMERMÜLLER GERMANY 42 1:13:17.229
8 Jeroen BLEEKEMOLEN NETHERLANDS 42 1:13:18.085
9 Jonny REID NEW ZEALAND 42 1:13:23.377
10 Congfu CHENG CHINA 42 1:13:34.843
11 Narain KARTHIKEYAN INDIA 42 1:13:36.344
12 Adam KHAN PAKISTAN 42 1:13:40.426
13 Adam CARROLL IRELAND 41 1:12:15.720
14 Edoardo PISCOPO ITALY 41 1:12:18.089
15 Tomas ENGE CZECH REPUBLIC 41 1:12:48.379
16 Joao URBANO PORTUGAL 41 1:12:48.520
17 Fairuz FAUZY MALAYSIA 41 1:13:07.685
18 David GARZA MEXICO 41 1:13:08.663
19 Chris ALAJAJIAN LEBANON 40 1:12:41.811
20 Satrio HERMANTO INDONESIA 39 1:12:32.846
21 Loic DUVAL FRANCE 31 0:54:11.592
22 Jonathan SUMMERTON USA 20 0:35:12.546
All pictures A1GP.com.
Loic Duval (Team France) was unstoppable in the Sprint Race.
Jonny Reid took second for Team New Zealand.
Rob Wickens (Team Canada) was the star of the race with a brilliant climb through the field.
Michael Ammermüller was fourth for Team Germany.
Fifth for Team USA and Jonathan Summerton.
John Martin pleased the home fans with sixth for Team Australia.
Adam Carroll had a race to forget for Team Ireland.
An inexplicable late stop to switch to wets cost Team Great Britain fourth place.
Chris Alajajian (Team Lebanon) shows some front end damage.
Jonny Reid, Loic Duval and Rob Wickens on the podium.
Adrian Zaugg (Team South Africa) put in a faultless drive to win the Feature Race.
Neel Jani was pleased to finish second for Team Switzerland.
Third for Robbie Kerr (Team Great Britain) made up for the Sprint Race error.
An excellent fourth for Sergio Jimenez (Team Brazil).
Another good drive from John Martin saw Team Australia in fifth.
6th for Rob Wickens (Team Canada).
Michael Ammermüller could only manage 7th for Team Germany.
Jeroen Bleekemolen (Team Netherlands) was 8th.
The Team New Zealand pit crew saw their car come home ninth after starting from the back of the grid.
Congfu Cheng (Team China) rounded out the top ten.
Narain Karthikeyan (Team India) was involved, for several laps, in a close battle with...
...Adam Khan (Team Pakistan).
Thomas Enge (Team Czech Republic) was off the pace in the wet.
Joao Urbano (Team Portugal).
Neel Jani, Adrian Zaugg and Robbie Kerr celebrate.
A real brolly dolly.