A1 Team New Zealand took its second victory of the day in this afternoon's thrilling Feature race at Brno in the Czech Republic, moving the team into the championship lead by one point. Jonny Reid crossed the line in first place from seventh on the grid, ahead of the Netherlands' Jeroen Bleekemolen and Switzerland's Neel Jani in second and third position respectively.
Another gripping start greeted the crowds at a chilly but sunny Brno as pole-sitter Bleekemolen and the cars of South Africa and Great Britain went three abreast into the first corner, the Dutchman making it stick to hold the lead ahead of Adrian Zaugg, Robbie Kerr and China's Congfu Cheng.
New Zealand's Reid moved up a place at the start and was all over the back of fifth-placed Jani in the Swiss car while further down the pack Ireland's Adam Carroll had made an incredible start from 18th on the grid, gaining six places to 12th by the end of lap one.
By lap five Bleekemolen had edged out a 3.5 second lead over Zaugg, who was holding up the pack as the Dutch car stormed into the distance. As the first mandatory pit stop window opened on lap eight, race leader Bleekemolen was the first man in for a fresh set of tyres, closely followed by South Africa, Great Britain and New Zealand. Reid's team did an awesome job in the pits, getting 'Black Beauty' out on track ahead of Zaugg and Kerr, who had been battling for second place.
As the pit stop window closed on lap 15 the top six settled behind the Netherlands to New Zealand, Switzerland, Great Britain, closely followed by China, France and Germany. Two laps later Kerr was forced to pit with a puncture, moving China up into fourth place as the British racer rejoined in 20th.
Second-placed Reid was on blistering form, closing in on Bleekemolen to within half a second by lap 25 when the Dutch driver pitted for his second obligatory stop. With eight laps to go the Kiwi had pulled out a 32 second lead when he came in for his second stop on lap 30. Having rejoined in the top spot after fast work in the pits, Reid eked out his advantage over Bleekemolen and Jani to over six seconds by the start of the final lap.
New Zealand went on to stamp its authority on the weekend by taking another commanding victory, followed home by the Netherlands and Switzerland in second and third place with China hot on its heels in fourth. Fifth position was taken by A1 Team France as Ireland crossed the line in an incredible sixth place, having started back in 18th. Brazil finished seventh while the final three point scoring positions were taken by Germany, India and Italy.
Local hero Erik Janis finished a solid 12th in his home race, having started 17th. GBR's Kerr had a disappointing race after being forced to pit three times, eventually crossing the line in 17th behind South Africa.
Jonny Reid was delighted with his team's performance today and can't wait for round three at Sepang in Malaysia:
'We're very pleased as a team. I couldn't have asked more from the boys in the pits. The car was well balanced and I was just happy to push 110 per cent all the time and average a very quick time and that brought us up behind Netherlands and again the pit stops again were great and I was able to pull a margin with some clear air at one point in the race so I'm really pleased.'
'The car was good, I knew that and I was able to push. I was held up by the Netherlands and once I got some clear air I was able to put some good laps together and get a margin and it was big enough to jump them in the pits. The car was good everywhere and I was able to push 110 per cent. I had no problems with the car and was able to be very quick. I can't wait for Malaysia. The car's good, I'm feeling good. The warmer climates don't bother me at all so I'm looking forward to getting out there and getting into things.'
Second-placed Jeroen Bleekemolen said:
'Well because the wear on the tyres is so high here I thought he (Reid) is not going to stay out and I can make up ground on him so he can never overtake me, but then I was behind India for three laps which cost me about three to four seconds totally. He was definitely faster today but we had the pole position and we pulled away at the beginning so we could have won it if we didn't have traffic. Their car was a bit faster today than us but we had a chance. It's really difficult to overtake here. All the corners are pretty quick so when you come close to someone you can't always overtake. With India I caught them pretty quickly but then couldn't get passed and it's really difficult.'
Switzerland's Neel Jani, who was under pressure from A1 Team China but managed to hold position to cross the line third and join Reid and Bleekemolen on the podium at Brno, commented:
'At the end they were catching up massively. First I watched in the mirrors and I couldn't see any cars and the second lap I looked in the mirrors and he's all over me, so I had to be very careful not to make any mistakes at the end and luckily the race ended.'
China's Congfu Cheng, who had a difficult start to the season two weeks ago, was looking good for his first podium finish but eventually crossed the line a competitive fourth behind Jani:
'I am very happy and really thanks to the team because we had a terrible weekend in Zandvoort and to be able to come this high particularly in this race as well it's a great surprise and I'm really looking forward to the next race now. The team made a good strategy and we were quite competitive on old rubber and we knew that once we put on new tyres we would be even better. I thought if I am able to get two more laps I could put a bit more pressure onto Switzerland, but it was a great effort that they put in so congratulations to them. In China motor racing has just started, so to be able to finish that high at this level of competition is great.'
Irish rookie Adam Carroll, who had an incredible race to cross the line sixth having started 18th on the grid, said:
'It was a great race and I got a great first lap in and you know there is nothing to lose starting from 18th so you get stuck in, it's a long race. The pit stops went really well, the guys did a fantastic job and we were able to come through to sixth which was a very, very good result. There's a lot of support from back home and there's a great team atmosphere, so I'd like to thank everyone for doing a great job and giving me the opportunity to do this.'
New Zealand now leads the title challenge on 37 points, just ahead of South Africa on 36 and Great Britain on 31 as the series has a short break before heading to Sepang, Malaysia on 23-25 November 2007.