Resuming their usual podium position, A1 Team France won today’s Feature race after starting from seventh on the grid. Battling up from ninth, A1 Team Great Britain took second place followed by Stephen Simpson who drove his way to South Africa’s first podium finish.
Race winner Nicolas Lappierre said: ‘I was really disappointed with the first race, but the team was behind me, and told me we could still win. The second race was crazy, it was just fantastic. I had a great start and a good strategy. When we saw the safety car come out the team made the perfect call for a pit stop. I had a good fight with Robbie and Stephen, and Robbie stayed with me and I had to push really hard. The track is really slippery when you went offline, and you had to pick where to overtake really carefully. This was a difficult race, I started seventh and there was a lot of overtaking to do. The track is really nice, there is a long back straight and the chance of overtaking.’
As the cars left the grid it was Switzerland and Italy side by side into the first corner and in the scrum that ensued behind them, Great Britain and the Czech Republic collided. One of the best starts was made by A1 Team Indonesia with the car slotting into third place from sixth on the grid.
As the cars started lap two, it was USA and South Africa side by side and A1 Team GBR recovering from the earlier mishap to hunt down Indonesia for third spot. Sadly A1 Team Ireland had not been able to rectify the gearbox problem that robbed them of a Sprint race podium and rapidly dropped from fourth on the grid to twenty-third at the end of lap one and eventually into retirement at the end of lap seven.
The pit stops started early with the first teams in at the end of lap one. A1 Team Brazil who was trying to recover from starting at the back of the grid was among them but it was not to be as their slow stop lasted for 51.8 seconds.
On lap three Indonesia came under attack from France and as they went into turn one on lap four the red, white and blue car was ahead and into fourth. The A1 Team Malaysia’s car was an early retirement from eight place and again A1 Recovery was called into lift the car away from the track.
On lap six Indonesia’s good run came to an end when the car spun as it came round a right-hand corner and hit the wall head on, bringing out the first safety car of the weekend. A1 Teams Great Britain and France who were at that point lying third and fourth took the opportunity to pit but Switzerland and Italy stayed out and this eventually compromised their races as when they did pit a lap later they ended up at the back of the field. In scenes reminiscent of Eastern Creek, it was A1 Team Lebanon, despite starting the race from the pit lane who ended up leading. However this was short lived as when the pace car pulled in at the end of lap eight, A1 Team Great Britain was in the lead by turn one. The Lebanese car made life a little more difficult for France who was not able to pass until lap nine and very soon afterwards Lebanon spun and let the rest of the drivers by with no problem.
Jos Verstappen who had battled hard in the Sprint race was again wheel to wheel racing in the Feature race, this time with A1 Team USA who he managed to get by on lap 12 to move up into fourth spot. At this point in the Feature race, A1 Team Great Britain was leading by a healthy 3.6 seconds from France but it was clear by the lap times being set by Nicolas Lapierre that it wouldn’t be long before Robbie Kerr would have his wing mirrors full of another red, white and blue car.
India was in the thick of the action and was trailing Mexico and Australia who were battling hard, in fact the battle was so intense that on lap 15 the youngest driver in the race was able to overtake both the Mexican and Australian cars although by lap 17 they were by again. The progress of France saw the gap down to 0.4 seconds by the end of lap 19 and it was obvious by the amount of times that the British car was locking up that its lead was far from secure and eventually on lap 24, there was the familiar sight of the French car leading an A1GP race.
The revelation of the race was A1 Team China with the car not only in a points scoring position but in the top six by lap 19. Despite coming under increasing pressure from A1 Team Canada, one of the less experienced drivers on the field was able to not only hold onto his position but finish the race in fifth.
Pakistan and Austria were heavily involved in their own battle for seventh place and this was finally decided when they touched on lap 27 and Pakistan spun into retirement. On the same lap, A1 Team USA retired from ninth with what was an electronic fault when newcomer to the Series Philip Giebler pulled his car off the track. The action went on right to the flag as when A1 Team Netherlands crossed the start/finish line in ninth, the front wing of the car was clearly broken.
It was another exciting race for the A1 Grand Prix series and it wasn’t just the fans that enjoyed the action. A1 Team Great Britain’s Robbie Kerr spoke of his excitement. ‘Unfortunately the tyres gave a bit in the feature race, and so France was able to get past. It was very exciting though. The car is getting better all the time and the results show it. The team made a great call to pit, but the second set of tyres weren’t as good as the first and couldn’t really last the race.’ Commenting on the possibility of the first race win for A1 Team Great Britain, Robbie said ‘We are getting faster and I’m confident that we can keep up, we just have to make the tyres last longer. We are working for a win, and we’ll keep pushing, we’ve showed we have the pace. Give us another chance and we’ll take it.’
Speaking about his first time on the podium at A1 Grand Prix, Stephen Simpson said ‘Words can’t describe how I’m feeling to come from twelfth to third. The team did a great job. It’s great to be able to keep up with the front of the field. When Nicolas came up behind me, I knew I was going to be able to him a run for his money. The last few races have been quite difficult, and A1GP is so close and it’s getting closer all the time. This is just great for everyone at home, and in the build up for our home race in Durban on the 29 January.
‘There is a bit of pressure now to do well, the last few races didn’t really go according to plan. My goal here was to score points, so this is a brilliant result for the team, and the hard work paid off. Our pace in the first race was good, and we only made a few changes before the feature race, it really was a team effort,’ he continued.
A number of teams were given drive through penalties and these seriously compromised their races. For Italy and Germany it was due to false starts, for Switzerland a pit crew infringement during the tyre stop and the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Lebanon for speeding in the pit lane.
A1 Grand Prix