Round four of the 2008/09 A1GP World Cup of Motorsport season got underway at New Zealand’s Taupo Motorsport Park today with reigning champion A1 Team Switzerland setting the early pace. Alexandre Imperatori started the day as the quickest rookie, while main driver Neel Jani ended the day quickest overall.
Swiss rookie Imperatori set the pace this morning with a lap of 1 minute 18.091 seconds, helped in part to being able to run a new set of tyres.
Teams use two sets of tyres carried over from the previous A1GP race in the rookie session, however, with Switzerland’s first lap exit from Sepang’s Feature, the team had a new set of Michelins available to him this morning, which he used to good effect.
“This was certainly a good start to the weekend for the team and I hope it continues this way,” said Imperatori. “It is a very technical circuit and certainly very easy to make mistakes. There are lots of corners where you can make mistakes, but my car was fantastic and the new tyres helped as well.”
France’s Nicolas Prost was second quickest, 0.186 seconds adrift of Switzerland, with Lebanon’s Daniel Morad third quickest, particularly impressive thanks to the fact his engineers had worked through the night to replace the engine on his car.
Local favourite A1 Team New Zealand’s Chris van der Drift had his first taste of the Taupo circuit, finishing fourth quickest in the rookie session.
There were numerous spins as the rookie drivers got to grips with the tight and dusty track, with incidents from Malaysia’s Aaron Lim, Ireland’s Niall Quinn, India’s Parthiva Sureshwaren, Portugal’s Antonio Felix da Costa and Monaco’s Hubertus Bahlsen.
In the afternoon practice it was Switzerland once again at the top, this time with Neel Jani behind the wheel to record a lap time of 1m 15.971s.
“It was definitely a good start to the weekend with Alex being quickest this morning and then me as well this afternoon,” said Jani. “I did have a gearbox problem after that so could only do 14 laps, which was about 25-minutes of the session so we lost at least half an hour. This was not the best for us but what we did was still enough to keep us on top and we are really happy about that.”
This was despite Jani being rushed into hospital last week with suspected meningitis, which ruined his training regime and left him feeling drained. He arrived out in Taupo several days later than normal after getting the all-clear to race.
“I do have more colour today,” Jani continued, “so it looks as thought the warm weather is helping me as we don’t have minus degrees like at home. I am feeling better every day and had no issues with driving today so I am very positive.”
In another action-packed session, several drivers had incidents in the hot and dusty conditions including Mexico‘s Salvador Duran, Great Britain’s Dan Clarke, Netherland’s Robert Doornbos, China’s Congfu Cheng, New Zealand’s Chris van der Drift, Australia’s John Martin, Malaysia’s Fairuz Fauzy, India’s Narain Karthikeyan and South Africa’s Adrian Zaugg.
Daniel Morad ended the day second quickest with a 1m 16.106s, after spending the first half of the afternoon session at the top of the timesheets. In the final minutes Australia’s John Martin jumped up to third with New Zealand being pushed down to sixth overall.
Jani also confirmed the local hype that this year’s race is set to be the quickest ever in New Zealand saying: “The biggest difference between the old cars and the new ones is rear stability. With the old one you were fighting and sliding more and now you can concentrate on taking extra speed into the corner. I think we will be a lot quicker here this year than last year.”
Chris van der Drift, who has only ever competed on home soil once before, said: “It was a good start for me as it has been a couple of months since I have been in the car. I had to get back in the groove and blow the cobwebs out. We are certainly going in the right direction. I did spin going into turn 12, but I was just finding my limits. The track is quite dirty off line, but it will get much quicker over the weekend as more cars go round.
“This is actually only my second official race here in New Zealand so it is good to be here especially in the A1GP races. I have lots of family here supporting me so that is an extra bonus.”
In a change for Saturday, Power Boost is off the menu for qualifying in Taupo after being trialed in Sepang. Some teams loved it and some teams hated it. A1GP has decided after representation from various quarters to see what this weekend’s grids look like without it. The series’ organisers will review the situation before A1GP Gauteng, South Africa.
Official Practice Session 1 – Rookie drivers and developing nations only – Part 1
POS A1 TEAM DRIVER TIME GAP FIRST LAPS1 LEBANON Daniel MORAD 01:19.252 - 112 NEW ZEALAND Chris VAN DER DRIFT 01:19.312 0.06 163 SWITZERLAND Alexandre IMPERATORI 01:19.415 0.163 164 USA John R. HILDEBRAND JR. 01:19.510 0.258 115 BRAZIL Felipe GUIMARAES 01:19.602 0.35 166 FRANCE Nicolas PROST 01:19.919 0.667 147 SOUTH AFRICA Christiano MORGADO 01:20.447 1.195 178 MALAYSIA Aaron LIM 01:20.538 1.286 139 INDIA Parthiva SURESHWAREN 01:20.777 1.525 1110 PORTUGAL Antonio Felix DA COSTA 01:20.875 1.623 1411 IRELAND Niall QUINN 01:21.596 2.344 1212 MEXICO Juan Pablo GARCIA 01:21.617 2.365 1413 INDONESIA Zahir ALI 01:22.102 2.85 1614 GREAT BRITAIN James WINSLOW 01:22.501 3.249 1315 NETHERLANDS Dennis RETERA 01:22.912 3.66 1216 CHINA Adderly FONG 01:23.265 4.013 1017 MONACO Hubertus BAHLSEN 01:25.441 6.189 1018 AUSTRALIA Ashley WALSH 0
Official Practice Session 1 – Rookie drivers and developing nations only – Part 2
POS A1 TEAM DRIVER TIME GAP FIRST LAPS1 SWITZERLAND Alexandre IMPERATORI 01:18.091 - 162 FRANCE Nicolas PROST 01:18.277 0.186 173 LEBANON Daniel MORAD 01:18.335 0.244 154 NEW ZEALAND Chris VAN DER DRIFT 01:18.413 0.322 145 PORTUGAL Antonio Felix DA COSTA 01:18.570 0.479 186 MALAYSIA Aaron LIM 01:18.766 0.675 227 BRAZIL Felipe GUIMARAES 01:18.896 0.805 188 GREAT BRITAIN James WINSLOW 01:19.180 1.089 169 NETHERLANDS Dennis RETERA 01:19.213 1.122 1510 USA John R. HILDEBRAND JR. 01:19.218 1.127 1311 MEXICO Juan Pablo GARCIA 01:19.289 1.198 2212 SOUTH AFRICA Christiano MORGADO 01:19.420 1.329 1913 INDIA Parthiva SURESHWAREN 01:19.512 1.421 1714 CHINA Adderly FONG 01:20.336 2.245 1915 IRELAND Niall QUINN 01:20.421 2.33 916 INDONESIA Zahir ALI 01:20.528 2.437 2117 MONACO Hubertus BAHLSEN 01:22.745 4.654 418 AUSTRALIA Ashley WALSH 0
Official Practice session 2
POS A1 TEAM DRIVER TIME GAP FIRST LAPS1 SWITZERLAND Neel JANI 01:15.971 - 142 LEBANON Daniel MORAD 01:16.106 0.135 253 AUSTRALIA John MARTIN 01:16.294 0.323 254 MONACO Clivio PICCIONE 01:16.458 0.487 335 IRELAND Adam CARROLL 01:16.537 0.566 256 NEW ZEALAND Chris VAN DER DRIFT 01:16.561 0.59 277 PORTUGAL Filipe ALBUQUERQUE 01:16.622 0.651 348 NETHERLANDS Robert DOORNBOS 01:16.626 0.655 289 FRANCE Loic DUVAL 01:16.724 0.753 2310 SOUTH AFRICA Adrian ZAUGG 01:16.732 0.761 2911 INDIA Narain KARTHIKEYAN 01:16.836 0.865 2912 ITALY Edoardo PISCOPO 01:16.847 0.876 3413 USA Marco ANDRETTI 01:16.942 0.971 2614 MEXICO Salvador DURAN 01:17.078 1.107 3015 BRAZIL Felipe GUIMARAES 01:17.220 1.249 3216 GREAT BRITAIN Daniel CLARKE 01:17.309 1.338 2817 MALAYSIA Fairuz FAUZY 01:17.512 1.541 3618 CHINA Congfu CHENG 01:17.627 1.656 3419 INDONESIA Satrio HERMANTO 01:18.329 2.358 31