Portugal becomes 17th different nation to win A1GP race
Filipe Albuquerque claimed A1 Team Portugal's maiden win in the A1GP Chengdu, China Feature race to become the 17th different nation to take an A1GP victory. Portugal took the lead thanks to a slick first pit stop and held off the charge from A1 Team Ireland's Adam Carroll in the closing stages. Great Britain's Danny Watts took the final podium position after starting on pole but dropping back after his two mandatory pit stops.
From pole position, Watts made a good start to lead the pack into the first corner. Portugal also made a great start from third to challenge Ireland for second position. Ireland, starting on the dirtier side of the track, struggled to get traction, allowing Portugal to get a good run round the outside of turn one on the racing line and take the position. Starting eighth, Robert Doornbos' A1 Team Netherlands car stalled on the grid forcing the immediate deployment of the safety car before the end of the first lap, while the car was pushed back to the pits. The team got the car re-started and Doornbos made his way back out, albeit a lap down.
Great Britain led from Portugal, Ireland and Monaco as the race re-started on lap four with Watts powering across the line with a clear gap at the front. Carroll was right on the back of the Portuguese car, having a look around the outside through turn one while also defending from Monaco's Clivio Piccione in fourth.
Watts' lead was now 1.5-seconds from Portugal as the first mandatory pit stop window opened. Great Britain were first to dive into the pits with Monaco, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand and China also following suit. A lap later Ireland pitted with a quick, clean tyre change from the Irish squad getting Carroll back out on track in second, but when Albuquerque pitted on the next lap, a blisteringly quick stop from the team handed Portugal what would be the lead of the race, after the field had all pitted.
As Great Britain and Ireland made their way through traffic, Albuquerque began building up a comfortable lead when New Zealand appeared to be slowing along the pit straight with an electrical problem. Chris van der Drift eventually managed to get Black Beauty going with seemingly no further problem.
By the end of lap 14 Portugal had a 2.385-second lead from Great Britain and Switzerland were starting to hunt down Ireland for third. Albuquerque increased his lead to four seconds, leaving him in a strong position in the lead.
Portugal now led from Great Britain, Ireland, Switzerland, Australia, Malaysia, Monaco, France, USA and China.
Further down the field Lebanon's Daniel Morad was having a good battle with Italy for 14th as the second pit stop window drew closer. For the second round of mandatory pit stops it was Portugal and Great Britain who were first to come in. Ireland took advantage of the extra time out on track, pushing hard on his in lap to try and make up time on the pair in front. Portugal re-joined in the lead but Watts emerged in traffic losing vital seconds. A1 Team Ireland made another great stop and Carroll was able to take second from Watts and set his sights on a second win of the day. On new tyres, Carroll set the fastest lap of the race so far, 1m 16.003s, his pace allowing him to close the gap on Albuquerque and as the pair started lap 33 the Carroll was visibly closer, just 0.422-seconds adrift.
The order was now Portugal, Ireland, Great Britain, Switzerland, Australia, Malaysia, France, Monaco, USA and India.
After going a lap down at the start Doornbos from Rotterdam in the Netherlands, showed what might have been if he had kept his eighth grid-slot as he clocked the fastest lap of the race, a 1m 15.212s on lap 33, faster than yesterday's pole position time set by Danny Watts.
On lap 35 the battle for fifth began to heat up as Malaysia's Fairuz Fauzy challenged John Martin for position eventually passing the Australian two laps later with a great move around the outside of the first corner. On lap 38, France's Nicolas Prost tried the same manoeuvre on Martin but gave him a little too much space and spun into the gravel on the exit after getting onto the dirtier part of the track.
The safety car was deployed for a second time on lap 40 as the French car was recovered. With the pack bunched back together, all advantages were lost and when the race re-started five laps later the race was back on to the finish.
A1 Team USA's Marco Andretti was now running in eighth on his debut weekend as the cars came around for the re-start. Ireland was now in prime position to challenge for victory and as racing resumed Portugal and Ireland were both on the PowerBoost button into turn one. Ireland momentarily edged alongside, but Albuquerque held station and despite a number of exciting challenges the top eight remained the same to the finish. South Africa's Adrian Zaugg and China's Ho-Pin Tung were the only nations to move forward in the closing stages, taking 9th and 12th respectively.
Despite all Carroll's efforts, Filipe Albuquerque crossed the finish line to take the team's first ever series victory and became the 17th nation to win in A1GP. Malaysia's fifth position was enough to hold on to the championship lead, but Ireland's points haul brought them right into contention, and they now sit equal second with France on 23 points.
Race winner Albuquerque said: "The lap times were getting faster and faster. In the second stint, I was really fast, faster than anyone else. I was pulling away and had four seconds and everything was under control. But then Ireland was way too fast with the new tyres. I could not go any faster so I just had to keep the car on the track, not make any mistakes and get the win.
After a successful day in which he claimed Sprint victory and second in the Feature race, Ireland's Carroll said: "Well that's the start we really wanted at Zandvoort. I came here determined to have the best weekend we could and at least try to win a race or come away with a couple of podiums.