Pole sitter A1 Team Switerzland's Neel Jani took his second consecutive Sepang Sprint race victory this morning at the third round of the 2007/08 A1GP World Cup of Motorsport season in Malaysia. He dominated from start to finish to cross the line almost four seconds ahead of second-placed A1 Team France driver Loic Duval. The pair were joined on the podium by Germany's Michael Ammermüller, who put in a superb performance to secure a top-three finish in his maiden A1GP race.
As the ten-lap Sprint race got underway in hot and humid weather conditions (air 29 degrees C, humidity 78 per cent), Jani stormed off the grid to take the lead as Great Britain's Oliver Jarvis made contact with France into turn one. The British car sustained damage to the front wing and fell back to sixth place, letting Canada, Germany and Brazil through into third, fourth and fifth position respectively.
By the end of lap two, Switzerland had romped into the distance and pulled out a two-second lead from France. The excitement continued just behind the leading pair as German new boy Ammermüller piled the pressure onto third-placed Canadian driver, Robert Wickens, also making his A1GP race debut.
On lap four New Zealand's Jonny Reid stole sixth position from the damaged GBR car coming out of turn 14 onto the main straight and two laps later the Netherlands' Jeroen Bleekemolen snatched eighth place from Ireland's Adam Carroll, as Jani extended his lead over France to a commanding 3.5 seconds.
The Swiss ace went on to take victory by almost four seconds from second-placed France while Germany's Ammermüller, who had made several attempts to pass Wickens in the closing stages of the race, finally made it stick with an ambitious move past the Canadian. They touched during the manoeuvre on the last lap, to take third place, demoting Canada to fourth.
Brazil's Sergio Jimenez enjoyed a strong race to cross the line fifth and record his best finish in an A1GP race while New Zealand, GBR and the Netherlands finished in sixth, seventh and eighth position respectively.
Irish rookie Adam Carroll, who qualified 13th, made the most of a great start to bring the emerald green car home in ninth place while Malaysia's Alex Yoong thrilled his home crowd by carving his way through the pack from 19th on the grid, enjoying a thrilling battle with India's Narain Karthikeyan in the opening laps to eventually cross the line in 11th position.
On form Jani was delighted with his team's win and is hoping for a repeat performance in this afternoon's Feature race:
'The car was perfect so I have to thank the team and I hope we get another car like that for the second race. I braked a little bit too late going into the first corner and went wide, I was very lucky that I didn't touch with Loic there, but after it was ok - I had a gap and I thought ok, this I can manage now. Sepang is a great track, it's got quick and slow corners and I like the flow, it's a little bit like Spa. I like these flowing tracks, it's definitely one of my favourites.'
Duval, who finished second in the French car, commented:
'I took a good start and we were side-by-side, Neel braked really late and I tried to come in to overtake him but unfortunately I think it was actually Canada who crashed into me and I lost the rear. It was quite scary for the first corner and then after it was ok. I was not so far off the pace compared to Neel so we can be confident for the second race this afternoon.'
On his last lap tussle with Canada, German rookie Ammermüller said:
'I think it was quite fair, it was racing. It's the last lap and everybody wants to be in a position if he is behind and not first. We tried to push a lot and I tried to overtake him on the main straight, but it's quite difficult because you have very good gip on the inside for braking and I tried on the outside but it didn't work. Then on the next corner I was on the inside and I just went as much to the inside as I could and I overtook him. I had a little bit of contact with him but I think it was just normal race overtaking I would say.'
After a review of the race, officials demoted Germany to 16th place due to causing an avoidable collision in the Sprint race, Canadian rookie Robert Wickens has scored the team's first podium finish since Brno last season and notched up a valuable 10 points for his country, moving Canada into 12th place in the championship