A1 Team New Zealand has taken its third race victory of the season winning the A1GP Shanghai, China Feature race this afternoon ahead of second placed Great Britain but it was Germany that had the most to celebrate as their third place finish gave them enough points to take the 2006/07 A1GP World Cup of Motorsport title.
As the pack weaved through turn one, South Africa made contact with India, damaging the front wing of the first and the side pod of the latter, further back, a tangle between Mexico and Australia forced Brazil wide and the three. Debris on the track caused the safety car to be deployed at the end of the first lap and as it slowed the race speed and re-grouped the field, South Africa took advantage heading into the pits to replace its damaged nose cone.
Racing quickly resumed as the safety car pulled off at the end of lap three with Great Britain's lead instantly coming under attack from an aggressive New Zealand. The USA made its move on a struggling German car for fourth and an unusual mistake from last year's race winner, Malaysia saw the bright yellow car head into the gravel losing seventh place to Italy.
Malaysia re-joined the field at the back of the pack but was offered the opportunity to improve the situation after a spin from Mexico on lap six re-deployed the safety car. With the Mexican car recovered, the safety car headed back to the pits at the end of lap eight and the race re-started with Great Britain leading a top ten of New Zealand, Germany, USA, Switzerland, India, Italy, Netherlands, Australia and Ireland.
After their podium finish in the Mexican Sprint race, hopes were high for A1 Team Australia as it headed to China and despite a poor start to the weekend, things seemed to be on the up for the team. With rookie Ian Dyk behind the wheel again, Australia had the best start off the grid, moving up from 16th to 11th by the end of the first lap. By lap five they were running back in the points in ninth place and were looking strong to continue further but unfortunately it was not to be. Gear selection problems forced a pit stop for a steering wheel change on lap16 and the car headed out again but vibrations in the rear wheel, caused by the first lap collision with Mexico ultimately led to the team's retirement.
For Ireland on the other hand, fortunes have finally changed. Running with a new chassis this weekend having swapped their regular car for one of the designated spares, fearing an underlying fault may be affecting their performance this season, the team had its best result of the season. Climbing two places on the first lap and then progressing steadily throughout the race, driver Richard Lyons put in a stunning performance that saw him defend well against attacking manoeuvres and pull off some impressive passing to ultimately finish fifth, more than doubling the team's points haul for the season.
The pit window opened while the safety car was on track and with pit stops under the safety car not allowed the teams were forced to wait an extra two laps to stop. Third placed Germany headed in first with Italy and Ireland close behind. For Germany, a strong pit stop could have gained them a place but a problem with the rear left tyre forced the car to stay in the pit lane for crucial seconds that could make all the difference.
Back on the track, Great Britain began to ease away from New Zealand seeking to build up a lead that would buy them time when they then pitted on lap 11. While the British car was in the pits, New Zealand put in its fastest lap of the race so far and began to close in on the race leaders. With Germany approaching fast as Great Britain left the pit lane, the battle for the leadership between the three began to heat up again.
New Zealand pitted at the end of lap 13 but along with Germany, were one of only two teams not to put new tyres on the car but to opt for pre-used ones instead. As they headed back on to the track, Great Britain's Robbie Kerr just maintained his lead and Jonny Reid slipped Black Beauty into an effective second place ahead of Germany.
With the gap closing between the race leaders, Great Britain came under increasing pressure to defend its lead and when the pair came up to lap tailing Pakistan, the gap was reduced further. Pakistan moved aside and the two passed on to the main straight for New Zealand to make its move into turn one. The pair entered the first corner side by side and it was not until they exited turn two that it was clear New Zealand had the advantage. Black Beauty slipped into first and Jonny Reid held the position comfortably for the rest of the race.
Towards the rear of the field, the disappointment continued for A1 Team Brazil who had skilfully managed to avoid the Mexico Australia collision on the opening lap, only to make contact with Portugal 10 laps later, sustaining damage to the front wing. Driver Vitor Meira, making his debut in A1GP this weekend, pitted for a new nose cone but suspension damage was detected and the team was forced to retire.
The USA's Jonathan Summerton held third after their pit stop and at times looked close to attacking Great Britain for second but its race came to an abrupt end on lap 24 when an unforced error saw the 'We the People' car spin from the track on turn seven and start the third safety car period of the race. With Germany up to third place, it began to challenge Great Britain as soon as the green flag dropped. Great Britain defended its position and eased away setting the top three positions which remained for the rest of the race.
Further down the field battles raged throughout the race with continuous attacks and impressive defending. The A1 Team Netherlands car, driven by rookie Renger van der Zande who was making his Feature race debut this weekend fought continuously to take fourth from a ninth place start as did Portugal's Joao Urbano, also making his A1GP racing debut this weekend who defended his position to finish 14th.
The hairpin at turn 12 proved the best place to overtake, often taking advantage of driver errors as they braked to negotiate the tight turn. A1 Team India, who started the race in seventh position was a common victim, losing places to Italy, Indonesia and France. For driver Narain Karthikeyan, the situation was worsened by damage sustained to his side pod in his opening lap collision with South Africa which had exposed his radiator and was no doubt affecting the aerodynamics. It was not until lap 27 that repairs were made during the team's second pit stop but with only 11 laps to go, India failed to regain position. But their misfortune was not to end there as rear suspension problems on the final lap caused the car to spin off at turn 15 and hit the wall. Karthikeyan was able to get out of the car unassisted and walk away.
Another victim was A1 Team China, who went wide on the hairpin on lap 27, allowing Malaysia, South Africa and Portugal to pass. Lebanon was next to make its move on the struggling home team passing on the inside at turn 14, only for China to regain its position on the next corner. 'My mistake, I tried to pass Italy from the start and unfortunately I lost quite a lot of places but overall it was quite an eventful race and we were unfortunately involved in some racing incidents. Also we were struggling with our top speed compared to a lot of other drivers so basically I was under massive pressure from the driver behind me down the straight so it was not an easy race. Overall, I'm really satisfied with the team's performance and we will just have to work harder for the next race,' said Chinese driver Congfu Cheng.
Race winner Jonny Reid said: 'We've had a great car for much of the weekend, we've been working on it pretty hard as the conditions have changed lot over the weekend, so this is a credit to all of the guys who have put in so much time and hard work. Basically we had a problem with the gear box. It was leaking quite a bit of oil and dropping on to the exhaust quite dramatically. The guys were flat stick working on the car and it was just a credit to all their hard work and it shows how strong a team we are, to get the car working under tough under circumstance.'
Talking about his winning strategy, Reid went on to say: 'Basically Robbie and Nico pitted earlier, so we knew the tyre degradation was quite high, so we knew we had to manage the tyres a little bit longer and makes sure I had strong pace and I managed to nail some good laps while Robbie was in the pits and when I came out I caught them quite quickly and then there was the safety car period and I managed to get a good exit out of the final turn and get the car up the inside. Robbie gave me just enough racing room, it was getting tight there but it's great to work with such classy drivers.'
A1 Team Great Britain failed to make it three in a row but were happy with the result ahead of their home round and the season finale at Brands Hatch, Great Britain at the end of the month. 'Two safety car periods did hurt us, we made our strategy believing their wouldn't be a safety car and adjusted the car to suit, and when we came out and caught the safety car it definitely hurt us and we had to re-use the PowerBoost and which hurt us later on in the race as well. So when we came out of the pits we knew that I had to push hard, so we pushed, we hurt the tyres a little bit so we had to back off and look after the tyres and that's when Jonny was quickest. Unfortunately that went against us. But later on in the race we showed we had the pace again and that's when the tyres came back,' Kerr said.
Commenting on the team's home race in a fortnight's time, Kerr continued: 'I'd love to go back to Brands Hatch and have the crowd behind us once again, it's the first time ever in a race I've heard the crowd over the engines and I'm looking forward to hearing that again, and hopefully with the best support again we will make it one step better and make it two wins. Id like pole and two wins at the next race!'
Third place was enough to secure the season title for A1 Team Germany although driver, Nico Hülkenberg admitted he was still a little disappointed at the result: 'I know I can't always win, it's impossible, we were struggling all weekend long from the being, and I'm sure New Zealand and GBR made a step when they were in Mexico, and I was doing eight days of testing in F3. It was hard to come back because the cars are different like day and night so I was fighting and trying everything, but in the end we didn't manage to get up to speed.
'I think we had a little problem with the rear left in the pit stop, but the pit stop was still alright. Just at the beginning of the race with the two safety car periods it was not the right time for the car, and I was just fighting and struggling and after that before the third safety car, the car was pretty good, I was doing the same lap times as New Zealand and GBR, but then after the safety car it was not so good again.'