RACING NEWS

A1GP fifth round - Sepang, Malaysia

A1GP fifth round - Sepang, Malaysia image

Text: / Photos: | posted March 04, 2005 07:00

Eight has proved a lucky number in Malaysia for A1 Team France who won the Feature race after starting from pole position while A1 Team Switzerland again followed home in second place. However, there was a newcomer to the podium with A1 Team Czech Republic finishing in third, one place higher than their previous best.

This time France made no mistake by getting away and into an early and unchallenged lead with A1 Team GBR taking second. It was Switzerland who pressured Britain's Robbie Kerr but was not able to overtake him until lap 12 after the two of them had been racing wheel to wheel for about one third of a lap.

Alexandre Premat, who amazingly only used one of his eight PowerBoosts throughout the Feature race said: 'I used the PowerBoost button once to pass Neel Jani and after that the race was quiet. After the start I was in front and was lucky because Neel was fighting with Robbie Kerr. The car was great to drive and I decided with my engineer that it was best to do a pit stop in the middle of the race, as the car was becoming difficult to drive. The team did a great pit stop. I know Neel was pushing really hard and it was the mechanics that did a good stop and got me out about 15 seconds in front of him. Ten laps before the end I was backing off and looking at the car.'

A1 Team Switzerland's Neel Jani commented: 'I think we could have won easily. In the first race I was fighting the car but in the second race the car was fantastic and as soon as I passed Robbie I was able to catch Alex quickly, it was the opposite to the first race, we had a really good chance. But unfortunately the pit stop took about half a century! The car was so good that when I got out of the pit I was coming through the field really easily and passed about three cars on one lap. The PowerBoost button helped but with these cars you can follow quite easily the car in front and get close in the corners without losing any grip.'

Commenting on the team's first podium finish, A1 Team Czech Republic's Tomas Enge said: 'We were very unlucky in the first race, due to a bad qualifying position. At the back of the field there is more chance of an accident and that is what happened to me. I also had a gearbox problem, so the car was awful. The mechanics did a great job, and got the car ready just in time to get out of the pit lane for the second race. It was perfect, a good pit stop, although we lost a few seconds to Italy, I was able to make this time up and finish second.'

It was again an action-packed race with the first casualty being A1 Team China when their A1 race car rolled several times after contact with Portugal on lap two. Luckily Tengyi Jiang was soon out of the car that landed on its wheels and A1 Team Portugal was able to continue after visiting the pits for repairs. Soon after this it was India and Pakistan who collided with Armaan Ebrahim running into the back of the car driven by Adam Khan. India continued in the race although it was eventually excluded after receiving a push start from the marshals while Pakistan never made it back to the pits.

Battles down the field were fast and furious with Mexico and Australia driving side by side on lap eight while contesting fourteenth position. Two teams who had an awful lot of hard work to do were A1 Teams Netherlands and Brazil who both failed to get away from the grid with the other cars. Nelson Piquet Jr was particularly lucky as cars swerved around him on the grid but he soon started to make his way up the field and scored a point for his team.

Italy, USA, Canada and the Czech Republic were also doing battle and for several laps the four were only separated by 1.5 seconds. The pit stops came relatively late in the race with A1 Team France waiting until the end of lap 16. Until that point the order at the top had been France, Switzerland and Great Britain but of these three, only France managed a trouble-free pit stop. Theirs took just 40.5 seconds while for A1 Team GBR it was problems both getting the wheel off and putting the wheel nut on that kept them there for nearly two minutes. When the car lost all its drive a short while later it was all over for the British team. The Swiss stop at the end of lap 18 was 53.11 seconds.

Mexico was the last of the teams to pit and therefore its top three position as the race drew to a close was unrepresentative. At the end of lap 28, they came in from fourth and dropped down to sixteenth. The other late stopper was A1 Team Netherlands with their stop at the end of lap 26 when lying in eleventh place.

A1 Team Canada was on for a top six finish but when Sean McIntosh decided to try an overtaking manoeuvre for fifth on lap 22 that was the of the end of his race as he clipped the rear of Enrico Toccacelo's Italian car and afterwards accepted total responsibility for an error in judgement.

The local fans, the majority of whom were wearing A1 Team Malaysia t-shirts waved their flags enthusiastically every time Alex Yoong's bright yellow car passed them. For them, the last lap was particularly sweet as Alex came up behind A1 Team New Zealand and used all his experience to snatch fifth place, matching the team's highest finishing place so far.