A1 Team France claims first 2008-09 feature race victory
A1 Team France has claimed the first Feature race victory of the season in extremely wet conditions at Circuit Park Zandvoort in The Netherlands. From third on the grid Loïc Duval put in a mature drive to take France's 15th win. Sprint race winner Fairuz Fauzy finished second for Malaysia, losing time in the first pit stop due to a problem with the left-rear wheel. Earl Bamber put in an outstanding performance this weekend on his race debut for A1 Team New Zealand claiming third, his second podium finish of the day.
With the rain continuing to fall the decision was made to start the Feature behind the safety car instead of the usual grid start due to the standing water around the circuit. The race ran this way for two laps before the Safety Car pulled off an and it was Sprint race winner Fairuz Fauzy who had the best view as the pack headed into Turn 1, with those behind having almost no visibility due to the spray. Charlie Kimball got caught out in the terrible wet condition spinning the USA entry at Turn 6 but continuing on track.
After a couple of attempts, France made a move on New Zealand passing Bamber cleanly down the pit straight and tuckin in front of Black Beauty as the pair headed into the first corner on lap four.
China also had a spin at Turn 2 under pressure from Ireland, who started in 15th after failing to finish the Sprint race. A lap later, Adam Carroll lost the back end of the Ireland car and aquaplaned into the gravel ending a disappointing weekend for the team after looking promising in qualifying.
Meanwhile, local hero Jeroen Bleekemolen passed Bamber for third, much to the delight of the cheering Dutch crowds. Current A1GP champion Switzerland looked to be in trouble when Neel Jani dived into the pit lane for an unscheduled stop due to a suspected gear selection problem. Up at the front, Malaysia was building a comfortable margin in the lead, now 1.760s ahead of France, making the order Malaysia, France, Netherlands, New Zealand after lap five.
With wet weather continuing to test the drivers, lap seven brought about another incident as Italy and South Africa came together. Italy's Fabio Onidi made a mistake spinning across the kerb and Adrian Zaugg's South African car taking them both out of the race. China dropped further back down the field after being given a drive through penalty for overtaking under a yellow flag while Malaysia extended its lead over France to 2.4-seconds.
On lap eight the first pit window opened with race leader Malaysia making the first scheduled stop of the day but lost time due to a problem with the left-rear wheel. Bleekemolen also had a problem changing a wheel but eventually got back on track. Australia had a quick stop with France now leading from New Zealand and Portugal.
A1 Team Korea, making its A1GP debut this weekend, moved into the top ten, by passing Satrio Hermanto in the Indonesian car making the order now France, New Zealand, Portugal, Malaysia, USA, Lebanon, Netherlands, Australia, Monaco, Korea.
With the rain still pouring Netherlands moved up ahead of Lebanon for sixth with the pair both managing to stay on track despite getting extremely close through Turn 13.
On lap 15 France finally came in for its first pit stop and after a quick one retained the lead, as Jeroen Bleekemolen headed back into the pits for the second time, with the team looking to replace the steering wheel. He continued but had to pit later to make the change.
Korea had a minor spin on lap 17, just before Portugal crashed out after just taking the lead. Filipe Albuquerque had a big crash at the quick final turn resulting in the Safety Car being deployed for the first time in the race. As the field closed up, the order was France, Malaysia, New Zealand, Lebanon, Australia, USA, Netherlands, Monaco and China.
After a couple of laps for the debris to be cleared the Safety Car was in and the field bunched up ready for the re-start. Korea managed to get going again after its earlier spin meaning - being guaranteed a point on its debut event due to so many retirements.
With racing back underway, Netherlands was now right on the back of USA and Australia and moved ahead of USA for sixth place when Charlie Kimball slide off line at the back of the circuit. On lap 19 Lebanon were running fourth with Daniel Morad, on his debut for the team, looking to score the team's first ever point in A1GP.
As the second pit stop window approached France held a 4.587-second lead from Malaysia, New Zealand, Lebanon, Australia, Netherlands, USA, Monaco, China and Korea.
John Martin was pushing hard to catch Lebanon, which was made easier when Morad had a 360-degree spin gifting the position to Australian as he tried to get back up to speed. The Netherlands began dropping back as Jeroen Bleekemolen appeared to be having gear-shifting problems.
On lap 27 the pit window opened, with Loïc Duval now with a 6.3-second lead over Malaysia as Fauzy came in for his second stop. Australia and Lebanon both pitted with Lebanon retaking fifth. France made a great stop and Duval retained the lead heading into the final third of the race.
With the terrible conditions causing problems for a number of teams the race was turned into a timed event with nine-minutes remaining. On lap 31 Charlie Kimball put in a fantastic lap in the Andretti Green Racing run US car to record the fastest lap of the race with a 1m 47.115s on lap 30 but only a lap later he ended up in the gravel at Turn 5 making it a bitter-sweet end to the Californian's weekend.
With the order now France, Malaysia, New Zealand, Lebanon, Australia, Monaco, Netherlands the clock continued to tick down but with the weather making things really tough for all the drivers there was a huge crash on the main straight. Lebanon's Daniel Morad lost control of his car, and spun into the back of China's Ho-Pin Tung. Both cars careered at speed into the tyres at Tarzan, bringing out the Safety Car for the second time.
The seventeenth car made an appearance in the closing stages of the race as Brazil came out for the final laps due to the repairs taking so long after the Sprint race crash. As the time ran out the cars were released to take the chequered flag with A1 Team France taking its first victory since last February in Australia. Malaysia and New Zealand completed the podium with Malaysia and France joint championship leaders. A1 Teams Korea and Monaco both scored on their debut much to the delight of both teams and Daniel Morad scored the first ever points for A1 Team Lebanon despite not finishing the race.
France's Loïc Duval said: "The weekend was really difficult, we received the car yesterday morning and we were in the car for the first time during qualifying so everything was brand new and today it was a really, really tough race. It was hard with the safety car but at the end everything went well and the mechanics did a great job."
Malaysia's Fairuz Fauzy said of his two podium results: "It's been a dream start to the season for A1 Team Malaysia. We were certainly hoping to have a good performance here, and two podiums are just great. The weather conditions were treacherous today, which made it difficult for all of us, but that makes it all the more rewarding. There is something extra special when you are driving for your nation, so I'm very proud of our achievements today. It's been a real team effort and I'm delighted that we are leaving Zandvoort leading the championship."
The very final words on what has been a hard but rewarding first weekend of Season Four for A1GP World Cup of Motorsport came from Chairman, Tony Teixeira: "I have always loved the Dutch and I do so even more after this weekend. We had our dramas getting here, but I never doubted we would make it and want to say a big thank you to everyone who made this possible. The weather was dreadful, but this did not stop the fans coming to see the races in their tens of thousands with the patriotic orange clearly visible in the packed grandstands. All the teams have been working day and night to put on the show and they did us proud today."