A1 Team Germany has put the icing on the top of its 2006/07 season victory, winning the Brands Hatch Feature race at this afternoon's season finale ahead of Great Britain and Italy. Nico Hülkenberg took the chequered flag after a spirited battle with Sprint race winner and home team, Great Britain who kept the pressure on its German rivals throughout the race.
Commenting on what he called his best win ever, Germany's Hülkenberg said: 'After the pit stop he (Kerr) was right behind me. At the out lap I was pushing like hell. At the second corner I realised he was still behind me and I thought it is going to be a tough race because I knew he was quicker. Finally I managed to hold him up all race.'
Germany got the hop on Great Britain off the grid taking the lead into the first corner but Great Britain's Robbie Kerr was not ready to lose his position that easily. Kerr immediately came back at Hülkenberg vying to regain the place with the two racing side by side for several corners. Germany eventually gained the advantage and slipped into the lead although Great Britain maintained the pressure throughout the race.
The gap between the two never exceeded 1.5 seconds and, despite a few tense moments for the team when Kerr raised some dust going wide on corners, for most of the race Germany led by less than one second. Kerr was not to be deterred and attacked continuously, temporarily regaining the lead on lap 17, only to lose it one turn later. While his second place never came under threat, Great Britain failed to knock Germany from the top spot and missed out on runner up spot in the Championship by just one point.
Commenting on the close call when Kerry slipped by him during the race, Hülkenberg said: 'We had a bit of traffic. The four cars in front of us had not made their pit stops at this time so, they were slower that is why Robbie got so close. We had a bit of a fight, I was behind Switzerland and at the entry of turn five I was not on the outside but on the inside, had to lift in the corner, was very slow at the exit and Robbie obviously got beside me and got in front of me. But then for turn six he went a bit wide and I could catch him back.'
Great Britain's Robbie Kerr went on to say: 'Every time I got close to Nico though unfortunately I just lost a lot of down force, and you could not stay close for very long. So you just had to time it, do it in attack and then just back of and look after your tyres. The whole race being so close was just fantastic. It is so great to race against somebody who is hard as myself but is as fair. We have both ultimately got respect for each other, we did not hit each other we gave each other just enough room. We were going to push that little bit extra to try and beat the other man and unfortunately Nico got that bit ahead, and during the race we just could not make up for it.'
A1 Team Italy repeated its Sprint race performance, taking its second podium of the day and finishing the race in third. Driver Enrico Toccacelo came in for his pit stop seconds before the safety car was deployed and his comment on this and the close finish with A1 Team India was: 'I have been lucky as I came in and there wasn't a safety car. So I was lucky as I came in and after about ten seconds during the pit stop the safety car came out. I was lucky and happy for that. Today the big problem for me was that because after the safety car there was one car in front of me and blocked me. I lost time, I lost gap, I lost Robbie and Nico. The last lap Team India was really far from me but Team Mexico on the last lap completely blocked me until the last corner. So I finished the race with the Indian car too close to me.'
The timing of Italy's pit stop was the subject of a protest by A1 Team Netherlands who felt the Italian team broke A1GP rules by pitting under the safety car. The protest was considered by the A1GP stewards who rejected the protest, ruling that A1 Team Italy headed into the pits before the safety car was deployed. A1 Team Netherlands have lodged their intention to appeal the stewards' decision and have 48-hours (until 20.30 on Tuesday 1 May) to confirm this move. On confirmation, the appeal will go to the Motor Sport Association (MSA), the British ASN, who will give a final decision on the subject. Until this ruling, the results of today's Feature race remain provisional.
While the front of the grid made a clean get away, further down the field the start was not so smooth. Australia and the Czech Republic made contact, damaging the steering of the gold and green car, sending it off the track and into the wall at Paddock Hill bend. After South Africa's 25 second penalty for causing an avoidable incident in its Sprint race collision with Switzerland, the team was relegated to 15th on the grid behind Australia, embroiling them in the start line debacle. With the steering gone, Australian driver Ian Dyk had no control of the car and as it shot across the track, South Africa's Adrian Zaugg was forced into the gravel to avoid his second collision of the day. While the Czech Republic continued, the incident brought an early end to Australia and South Africa's race and the first safety car period of the day.
Australia left the track at speed, hitting the tyre wall with considerable force and while both Dyk and Zaugg walked away unharmed, substantial damage was caused to the wall. The safety car controlled the race for four laps while repair work was undertaken and as it returned to the pits at the end of lap five, Germany led, Great Britain, Italy, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ireland who had made one of the best starts off the grid.
As the pit window opened at the end of lap eight, race leaders Germany were the first to head in for their mandatory stop. It looked like Great Britain intended to make the most of its time at the front of the pack, aiming to build up a comfortable lead before taking its mandatory stop. The British team had a quick change of strategy, however, when the Brazilian car hit the wall at Stirling's and the possibility of a second safety car period became apparent. As mandatory pit stops under the safety car are not permitted under A1GP rules, the team made the decision to quickly head into the pits before the call was made. The decision appeared to pay off as the red, white and blue car of Kerr left the pit lane just behind Germany as the safety car took its position at the end of lap 10.
With the race leaders having pitted, Ireland, Portugal, Switzerland and Indonesia found themselves at the front of the pack ahead of Germany and Great Britain. For local team Ireland, this was the first time it had officially led an A1GP race but without having made its mandatory stop, it was not a situation the team could continue. Unfortunately for the Irish, they led for one lap too many as the team, quickly followed by Switzerland, headed into the pits just missing the mandatory pit stop window, resulting in both teams being excluded from the race.
The safety car peeled off at the end of lap 14 and racing resumed. New Zealand, determined to defend its second place in the championship from Great Britain, was the first to make its move passing Malaysia at Hawthorne's for 12th. As teams continued to pit, New Zealand moved further up the field, eventually overtaking Canada on lap 27, settling into eighth behind France. The finish gave New Zealand the three points needed to maintain its championship position by just one point.
Looking forward to the start of the 2007/08 season at Zandvoort in September, on behalf of the season champions Nico Hülkenberg said: 'I really enjoyed A1GP. I will forever have great memories of A1GP travelling round the world having great races. Great fights, so I really want to come back next year. On the track we are racing. It is hard racing. It was nice racing with Robbie, it was hard but it was fair. As well we always have the media events on Thursday which are pretty nice for drivers. We can get in and chat and I really like stuff like this.'