Germany's eighth race victory has broken A1GP records making Nico Hülkenberg the most successful driver in A1GP, winning more races than any individual driver and leading races for the most number of laps. The team won an action-packed Durban Feature race which saw 14 teams fail to finish as drivers battled with the challenging circuit and the hot conditions took their toll.
With such a short run down to the first turn, it was not a surprise that there was instant action as the 23 cars tried to maneuver this tight hairpin. There was contact between several cars and as the dust settled much to the disappointment of the fans their own team was among the cars stranded. Luckily the marshals were able to push A1 Team SA and Adrian Zaugg was able to make his way round to the pits. However, this was not the only car stuck there that caused the Safety Car to be deployed as the cars from Malaysia, Lebanon and the USA were also needing assistance before continuing.
As the cars lined up behind the Safety Car it was obvious who had made good and who had made bad starts. A1 Team Netherlands was a winner, slotting in behind A1 Team Germany who again led the way. However, the fastest riser was without doubt A1 Team China who went from 14th on the grid to seventh - proving that even though this is the Year of the Pig the car does not drive like one. Sadly for Ireland they were left on the grid and got away late, which proved no bad thing as they were able to avoid the accident and thread their way through the stranded cars. Italy never got that far as the car was pushed away from the grid and into instant retirement.
The Safety Car period only lasted until the end of lap two and when racing resumed it was Germany from the Netherlands, France, Switzerland and Great Britain, who had also made a great start from ninth on the grid. This order soon changed as when the safety car peeled off, it was followed into the pits by France whose race came to an early end as the car suffered a driveshaft failure. Germany instantly pulled ahead creating a five second lead on the Netherlands who were closely followed by Switzerland and Great Britain. British driver Robbie Kerr began piling the pressure on Switzerland's Neel Jani with his efforts paying off at the start of lap four, with the red, white and blue car charging past the Swiss on the main straight and into turn one, taking third place.
While the leaders started the fourth lap, a repeat of the opening lap incident saw Indonesia's Ananda Mikola try to slip through the inside of the home team pushing Adrian Zaugg's South African car into the tire wall at turn one, trapping Pakistan and Lebanon behind him. Once again all the cars made it back on the track but the damage sustained by Indonesia forced the team into retirement, pulling off the track at turn five.
The pit stop window opened on lap eight and race leader Germany was first to pit, shortly followed by the Netherlands. A smooth pit stop allowed Germany to maintain their lead but as the Netherlands pulled away from their garage they collided with Australia putting Karl Reindler out of the race, resulting in a drive through penalty for the Dutch which they took at the end of lap 11.
By the start of lap 13, all teams had taken their mandatory pit stop and Germany was leading Great Britain, New Zealand, Switzerland, Portugal, the Netherlands and the USA whose pit stop strategy had put them into the points.
After the team's best Sprint race result of the season, Ireland began the Feature race from sixth place but a poor start saw them drop down to 17th by the end of the first lap. Displaying a similar fighting spirit to that of the Irish rugby team, whose victory over the English in last night's Six Nations tournament was emblazoned across the green car, driver Richard Lyons fought his way through the field to a best place of eighth in laps 16 to 19 with a series of impressive overtaking maneuvers, clearly demonstrating how well he had taken to his first ever street race.
Malaysia's Alex Yoong on the other hand started the Feature race from the back of the grid having retired on the opening lap of the morning's Sprint race. Despite this he too fought his way through the field utilizing his experience to climb to seventh place on lap 14. His charge was set to continue until a steering wheel failure forced him into the garage where his team repaired the fault and put the yellow and black car out again but at the back of the field.
By the halfway point, Germany had built up a 19 second lead on the remaining 15 teams, partly helped by the slowing of his competitors as they lapped the back of the pack.
Lebanon's Allam Khodair pulled into the pits at the end of lap 24 with a badly swollen arm from it banging it on the radio in his car's cockpit. He was sent to the medical center for an xray.
China were on the verge of breaking into the points consistently running in eleventh place for 12 laps before pulling off at the chicane suffering from gearbox problems on lap 27. The team were hopeful of at least claiming a point for fastest lap, but in the closing stages of the race Team SA claimed this honor.
The USA, who had climbed to eighth place and battled to overtake American neighbor for 12 laps finally took its chance on lap 31. Mexico got caught behind Pakistan as the pair went to lap him and Jonathan Summerton made the most of the opportunity presented. Unfortunately their success was short lived as the American car clipped the wall at turn seven two laps later and headed into the wall at turn eight. Thankfully the driver was soon out of the car, but preliminary x-rays at the track medical center showed there was a suspected fracture of the scaphoid in his left hand and he was transferred to the local Durban Hospital for further x-rays.
The Safety Car was deployed for a second time and Germany's advantage came under threat as the field closed in on Hülkenberg's 20 second lead. The stricken USA car was quickly recovered and the racing continued with Germany regaining its lead after the lapped Pakistani car failed to allow the field through. The excitement continued as Ireland overtook Mexico into turn one and Mexico re-took their position in turn two as the pair fought for seventh place. Unfortunately for Ireland, this was to be the end of their luck as a collision between the two resulted in a puncture on the rear left tire of the Irish car putting them out of the race 10 laps from the end. It probably came as some consolation for the Irish as the Mexican car retired three laps later with electrical failure.
The battle for the final points lasted to the end of the race with the two former F1 drivers of Malaysia and India fighting for eighth place. Malaysia came out ahead as India pulled off to the side of the track at the end of lap 45 but with a strong advantage over Pakistan, Narain Karthikeyan managed to keep his two points for a ninth place finish.
A1 Team Pakistan were in buoyant mood after the race with the team having broken its duck by scoring its first ever A1GP points. From 18th on the grid Nur Ali made an excellent start to be 13th at the end of the first lap. The inexperienced driver often found himself in the middle of other cars' battles and even split the first two at the re-start after the second Safety Car period. However, perseverance paid off and when the checkered flag came out tenth was the reward for avoiding the unforgiving concrete walls.
Race winner Nico Hülkenberg said: 'Thank you to the team, the car was great - what can I say, three perfect weekends in a row. We are trying to continue with our performance, it is not easy, but we are putting in a lot of effort, and we are happy with the results. After the pit stop the Netherlands were one or two seconds behind me and then they dropped off and the team told me that I had a 15 or 16 second advantage so I just looked after my tyres, was driving easy and keeping the gap to 15 seconds.
He went on to say: 'As we came to the end of the Safety Car period I had a gap for the re-start as I knew Pakistan was not as fast as the other guys so that was quite easy. After the Safety Car I still had good tyres so I showed what we could do and it was a lot of fun at that time. This time there was no point in using the boost button because it was comfortable and relaxed at the front. I saved them at the beginning as you never know what is going to happen. I am leaving for one race but I will be back in the car in China so I will miss you guys.'
Great Britain's Robbie Kerr commented: '(This was) Definitely not an easy afternoon. We had problems in practice and qualifying so we were definitely on the back foot all weekend and to come away with second place at the end of the day was an absolutely fantastic achievement for myself and the team. I think I need to go and have a few words with Pakistan about where he is on the track at a certain point of time, as every time we came up to lap him he managed to get in the way and then Matt was right on my back end. We missed a good opportunity to try and get ahead but Nico was quick all weekend. Still it would have been a fantastic opportunity to try and get that one extra place.'
New Zealand's Matt Halliday said: 'I was a little bit rusty I guess is my excuse. It was very difficult today, when I knew France had dropped out and we were in third place I pushed hard to race Robbie but it was very difficult to pass. His car was quick enough in all the right places. I think I drove the middle part of the race a little bit off the pace. I am happy with the afternoons work, it was a shame about the start as my race was compromised off the line but we will try next time. Not sure when I shall be in the car again, but I hope to at least be in the car in Brands Hatch as I was very strong there last year. This weekend was a lot of pressure for me as I have been away a long time from A1. Hopefully it will not be another five months away before I get back in and fight Nico harder than this time.'