A1GP - TAUPO, NEW ZEALAND: SPRINT & FEATURE RACES
A1 Team Canada secured its first ever Sprint race victory in this morning's action-packed race held around the streets of Durban in glorious sunshine, while Switzerland regained the title lead as France failed to score any points and New Zealand picked up one point for setting the fastest lap.
Eighteen-year-old rookie Robert Wickens, the youngest ever pole-sitter in A1GP, got a good start and despite being hit from behind by New Zealand's Jonny Reid at turn one and losing his five second lead due to a safety car period towards the end of the thrilling 15-lap race, Wickens managed to keep Great Britain and Switzerland behind him to take Canada's maiden Sprint race victory and the first win of his A1GP career.
GBR's Oliver Jarvis, who was wheel-to-wheel with Jonny Reid in Black Beauty as the pack tussled for position going into turn one, managed to gain two places and hold second position, despite sustaining damage to the distinctive red, white and blue car. Reid was forced to pit for repairs and was finally classified 21st.
Canada and GBR were joined on the podium by Switzerland's Neel Jani in third position. The 24-year-old Swiss star started the race fifth and made up two places to score crucial championship points for his nation and regain the title lead from New Zealand.
China's Congfu Cheng was on superb form, racing from 10th on the grid to finish fourth. Fifth place was taken by the Netherlands' Jeroen Bleekemolen who was taken out of the race as it approached its final lap by Germany's Michael Ammermüller.
After a safety card period for Bruno Junqueira, who hit the wall on lap nine after bouncing over the kerbs on the chicane and damaging the bodywork of the Brazilian car, the action restarted with just two laps remaining. The pressure was on and with Germany close behind the Netherlands, Ammermüller pushed to overtake, running into the back of the Dutch car taking them both out of the race and bringing it to a premature conclusion. German driver Michael Ammermüller was later excluded from the race for this manoeuvre.
A1 Team Australia's John Martin, who was hospitalised overnight with a suspected stomach bug, brought his car home in an impressive seventh position while Portugal's Filipe Albuquerque crossed the line eighth on his A1GP race debut with Mexico and Malaysia taking ninth and tenth. All the teams moved up a place as a result of Germany's exclusion.
France's Loic Duval, who arrived in South Africa on Saturday morning from a prior commitment in Japan, finished the incident-packed race 12th behind USA's Jonathan Summerton in 11th. Host nation South Africa's Adrian Zaugg, who started from 20th on the grid, worked his way through the field to cross the line in 14th position behind Pakistan's Adam Khan. Again, each team moved up one place as a result of the German exclusion, giving the USA an additional point in its championship campaign.
India started the Sprint race from the back of the grid and will start the Feature race from the same position, as the team chose to replace regular race driver Narain Karthikeyan, who injured his wrist in free practice on Friday, with rookie Parthiva Sureshwaren.
The 22 nations are now preparing for the main event of the weekend in Durban, a 70-minute Feature race with two compulsory pit stops, which starts at 15:00 this afternoon.
Robert Wickens, who is clearly enjoying racing around the streets of Durban, was delighted to give Canada its first Sprint race victory:
'It's a great experience. I knew that we had a very good chance at winning the race because we were quick in qualifying and we had a really solid race car through practice so I was basically going into the start with my whole goal just to make it into the first corner, and that was slightly hairy. I broke and I think either Jonny thought I was going to break later or maybe he over shot it, I don't know. I'm not going to jump to any conclusions but I saw him coming really quick behind me so I actually let off the break to try and give him more space, but we still made contact and damaged my car a little bit as well. I love the circuit, I've always really enjoyed street circuits my entire life and this ones no different. It's a really fast street circuit and it's probably one of the coolest street circuits I've ever raced on.'
GBR's Oliver Jarvis, who raced from fourth on the grid to finish second despite damage sustained at the start, is also a big fan of street circuits:
'It's great to come back to South Africa, they have done a fantastic job. I've had some good results on street tracks so I was looking forward to coming here. I got a great start and managed to break extremely late around the outside, I actually thought I was going to get the lead but unfortunately New Zealand tagged Robbie Wickens of Canada, which just pushed him out wide which compromised me a little bit. Then as I tried to go around the outside of the corner, New Zealand again drove into the side of me and damaged the car quite a bit. I managed to get into second but from then on I was really struggling so was never quick enough to challenge for the lead but was happy to finish on the podium. The car will be fixed and we will try to make a few changes assuming that it was the set up and not the damage that we are struggling with and hopefully we can have a repeat performance.
'I think it's great that A1GP has included street tracks in the calendar. It offers something very different as a driver. It's very technical, it's a particularly fast street track but there's just no room for error. It takes a lot of courage but also a lot of finesse to be quick round here and it's fantastic that we have returned here once again.'
This afternoon's Feature race pole-sitter Switzerland's Neel Jani, who now leads the championship by six points from New Zealand, said:
'Well I started fifth so I knew it would be already tight and at the first corner it was. Then I was quicker than Jarvis (GBR) but he was making so many mistakes I thought I'd better keep my gap and see what he does, in case he got too nervous so I could challenge him. So I guess I just went for the points because I knew the other two (New Zealand and France) were out of the points, so I've got that championship lead back now. I think we have a quick car so we should be able to fight for the win this afternoon.'
Sprint Race results
POS DRIVER A1 TEAM LAPS TIME1 Robert WICKENS CANADA 11 15:28.2
2 Oliver JARVIS GREAT BRITAIN 11 15:29.1
3 Neel JANI SWITZERLAND 11 15:29.9
4 Congfu CHENG CHINA 11 15:30.4
5 Jeroen BLEEKEMOLEN NETHERLANDS 11 15:31.6
6 John MARTIN AUSTRALIA 11 15:33.5
7 Filipe ALBUQUERQUE PORTUGAL 11 15:34.6
8 David GARZA MEXICO 11 15:36.5
9 Fairuz FAUZY MALAYSIA 11 15:37.1
10 Jonathan SUMMERTON USA 11 15:38.4
11 Loic DUVAL FRANCE 11 15:39.2
12 Adam KHAN PAKISTAN 11 15:39.8
13 Adrian ZAUGG SOUTH AFRICA 11 15:40.2
14 Edoardo PISCOPO ITALY 11 15:40.9
15 Adam CARROLL IRELAND 11 15:41.3
16 Satrio HERMANTO INDONESIA 11 15:42.7
17 Parthiva SURESHWAREN INDIA 11 15:43.5
18 Josef KRAL CZECH REPUBLIC 11 15:52.3
19 Khalil BESCHIR LEBANON 11 15:58.4
20 Jonny REID NEW ZEALAND 11 16:14.3
21 Bruno JUNQUEIRA BRAZIL 8 11:54.0
22 Michael AMMERMÜLLER GERMANY 0 0
Fastest lap: A1 Team New Zealand's Jonny Reid set the fastest lap (1m18.629s) of the Sprint race on lap three.
FEATURE RACETitle leader A1 Team Switzerland dominated the action in Durban this afternoon to win the incident-packed Feature race, as the tricky turn one claimed numerous victims throughout the 48-lap race. Today's results move the Swiss team 10 points ahead of France in the championship standings while New Zealand now lies third, having scored a meagre two points after enduring a frustrating weekend in South Africa.
Superb work by the French team in the pits helped Loic Duval on his way to securing second place behind Switzerland, an incredible feat considering the Frenchman only arrived at the track from Japan on Saturday morning and qualified eighth. Portuguese rookie Filipe Albuquerque wowed the crowds by racing to third position from ninth on the grid, taking an impressive first podium on his A1GP debut.
With just nine laps remaining, Canada's Robert Wickens, who was on great form and running in second for much of the race, spun out at turn one and was hit by GBR's Oliver Jarvis as he rounded the tight hairpin and could not avoid the Canadian car. The incident brought out the safety car and no sooner had the race restarted than it was all over due to am ambitious move from local hero Adrian Zaugg.
The South African driver, who started 15th, had climbed to seventh when he made a determined dive down the inside at turn one and hit the unlucky Jeroen Bleekemolen in the Dutch car, causing a major pile up involving five cars. Bleekemolen was out of the race, which continued for a short period under the safety car, but still classified in fourth position when the race was brought to a premature end by a red flag.
It was the third time during the Feature race that a multi-car incident at turn one led to a safety car period when the field squeezed through the tight hairpin eager to take advantage of one of the few overtaking spots on the narrow street circuit.
Malaysia's Fairuz Fauzy had a superb afternoon, making his way through the field to finish fifth, having started from 12th on the grid. China's Congfu Cheng was also on impressive form, racing from 11th to sixth and collecting a bonus point for setting the fastest lap.
Khalil Beschir was heartbroken as the Lebanese driver was on course to score his nation's first ever championship point when the race was red-flagged with just one lap remaining.
Feature race winner and championship leader Switzerland's Neel Jani, who has been suffering with a stomach bug and dehydration, was grateful for the safety car periods:
'I had a lot of stomach pain and cramps and obviously many runs to the toilet, so this morning I felt really bad. I got two litres of fluids by drip and that was a little bit better afterwards but still the cramps and everything was still going on, so the race was really tough and in the end I really had problems to concentrate. I really felt how dehydrated I was and the concentration was really getting tough in the end so I was happy with all the safety cars. My mechanics did a superb job. They got the car ready and the pit stops were good, so I have to thank the team that they gave me again the car and I just had to drive it.'
France's Loic Duval, who will not be able to compete in the remaining three rounds of the A1GP season due to prior commitments, was very happy with second in the Feature race today and thought it was one of the best races of his A1GP career:
'The team did a great job. We overtook everybody. I mean on the track we were faster than them and fortunately for us Canada spun - I was pretty lucky actually because I almost crashed into him. It was just a great race, maybe the best of A1GP for me. It's like a victory for us so now I feel really happy. I want to thank all my team because it's the last race for me. I want to wish them the best for the rest of the season.'
Portuguese newcomer Filipe Albuquerque was pleased to finish on the podium at his first A1GP event:
'I was pushing all the time and it was easy to make mistakes because the tyres were getting worse. I did some mistakes also, but it happens to everyone and it's not easy to push for over 40 laps without making a mistake. I'm happy with a third place, I built up to fifth so I was already very happy because I came up from ninth after the first corner and the speed was good. Not enough like Switzerland or France but enough to be P3.'
Switzerland leaves Durban on 118 points ahead of France on 108 and New Zealand on 98, as the thrilling nation versus nation series heads to Mexico City for round eight of the 10-event championship on 14-16 March 2008.
Feature Race results
POS DRIVER A1 TEAM LAPS TIME1 Neel JANI SWITZERLAND 41 01:55.330
2 Loic DUVAL FRANCE 41 01:56.381
3 Filipe ALBUQUERQUE PORTUGAL 41 01:57.264
4 Jeroen BLEEKEMOLEN NETHERLANDS 41 01:58.708
5 Fairuz FAUZY MALAYSIA 41 01:59.879
6 Congfu CHENG CHINA 41 02:00.314
7 Adrian ZAUGG SOUTH AFRICA 41 02:00.970
8 Edoardo PISCOPO ITALY 41 02:01.892
9 Bruno JUNQUEIRA BRAZIL 41 02:14.854
10 Jonny REID NEW ZEALAND 41 02:15.550
11 Oliver JARVIS GREAT BRITAIN 40 03:20.739
12 Robert WICKENS CANADA 39 58:16.230
13 Khalil BESCHIR LEBANON 39 01:55.694
14 John MARTIN AUSTRALIA 39 02:33.307
15 Adam CARROLL IRELAND 35 02:32.070
16 Josef KRAL CZECH REPUBLIC 33 02:03.530
17 Parthiva SURESHWAREN INDIA 29 47:19.860
18 Jonathan SUMMERTON USA 25 41:11.057
19 David GARZA MEXICO 18 31:50.475
20 Michael AMMERMÜLLER GERMANY 3 06:09.229
21 Satrio HERMANTO INDONESIA 3 06:13.039
22 Adam KHAN PAKISTAN 3 06:14.096
2007/08 A1GP World Cup of Motorsport points standings.
POS A1 TEAM POINTS1 Switzerland 118
2 France 108
3 New Zealand 98
4 South Africa 83
5 Germany 77
6 Great Britain 70
7 Netherlands 69
8 Canada 52
9 Ireland 50
10 China 43
11 Brazil 40
12 India 28
13 Mexico 22
14 Australia 20
15 Portugal 19
16 USA 13
17 Czech Republic 10
18 Malaysia 10
19 Italy 7
20 Pakistan 1
Fastest lap: A1 Team China set the fastest lap in the Feature race, lapping the Durban street circuit in 1m.18.744s with a speed of 146.3 kph on lap 35 of the 48 lap race.
Next race: A1GP Mexico City, Mexico, 14-16 March 2008.
Reporting by A1GP.com
All pictures A1GP.com.
Rob Wickens (Team Canada) was superb in the Sprint Race.
Despite a few handling problems Ollie Jarvis (Team GBR) took an assured second.
Neel Jani (Team Switzerland) completed the Sprint Race podium.
Congfu Cheng kept the Team China car out of trouble to finish fourth...
...as did fifth-placed Jeroen Bleekemolen (Team Netherlands).
John Martin took sixth for Team Australia.
A promising debut for Team Portugal's Filipe Albuquerque.
Eighth for Team Mexico and David Garza.
Michael Ammermüller (Team Germany) was excluded for pushing Bleekemolen off the track.
The first corner incident that wrecked Team new Zealand's chances.
Parthiva Sureshwaren (Team India) was a late substitute for the injured Narain Karthikeyan.
Neel Jani, Rob Wickens and Oliver Jarvis on the Sprint Race podium.
Neel Jani (Team Switzerland) was a confident Feature Race winner.
Excellent pit work from Team France saw Loic take second.
Filipe Albuquerque (Team Portugal) was an excellent third.
Fourth for Jeroen Bleekemolen (Team Netherlands).
Fairuz Fauzy gave Team Malaysia a boost with fifth.
Team China and Congfu Cheng were sixth.
Despite causing an accident at the first corner that resulted in a red flag Adrian Zaugg (Team South Africa) took seventh.
Eighth for Edoardo Piscopo (Team Italy).
Ninth was Bruno Junqueira (Team Brazil).
Tenth for Jonny Reid (Team New Zealand).
One of several first corner incidents.
Neel Jani and Loic Duval congratulate each other.
Filipe Albuquerque, Neel Jani and Loic Duval celebrate.
The obligatory grid girl picture.