Swiss, Dutch delight in A1GP SA

23 February 2009

Jeroen Bleekemolen of the Netherlands and Neel Jani of Switzerland secured victories in the sprint and feature races of the South African A1GP at Kyalami on Sunday. Unfortunately for the home fans, luck was not with Adrian Zaugg and Team South Africa.

Bleekemolen, with a sharp start, jumped into the lead by the first corner of the Sprint, with Switzerland’s Jani on his tail after he too enjoyed a good start. Portugal’s Felipe Albuquerque dropped a place, while Narain Karthikeyan moved up to fourth from fifth at the start.

India, however, surrendered her place quickly when Monaco’s Clivio Piccione exerted some pressure and made a clean pass. Shortly after that, championship leader Ireland, with Adam Carroll at the wheel, also overtook India.

Mandatory pit stop

After a mandatory pit stop Zaugg was next after India in the standings in the South African car, “Vulindela”, followed by New Zealand, Malaysia, and France.

Portugal’s Albuquerque was pushing hard and on lap nine recorded the fastest lap of the race with a time of one minute 29.072 seconds.

Bleekemolen went on to victory as the Netherlands scored its first win in 45 races. Previously, it had won the South African A1GP in Durban in the first season of competition.

Portugal’s Albuquerque, in second, and Switzerland’s Jani joined the Dutch driver on the podium, with Ireland’s Carroll passing Monaco’s Piccione on the last lap to take fourth place.

‘It all just went amazingly’

“It all just went amazingly,” Bleekemolen said after his win. “It was a very hard race for me though, because in the beginning I could feel there was some kind of pull with the fuel pick up. It didn’t cost me any time but I could just feel it coming.

“And then after the pit stop the car just stopped and I feared the race would be over, but it started working again,” Bleekemolen said. “I lost about one-and-a-half or two seconds, but luckily we were still able to win.

“In the beginning we were really quick, I don’t know why we were so much faster, but everything worked. The car worked really well until the problem came, but then it still was exciting for me.”

‘I’m really happy’

Portugal’s Albuquerque said: “The team did a very good job and I managed to pass Switzerland. I’m really happy with the fastest lap and second place.”

In the main race, Neel Jani raced to victory. It was his ninth win, which lifted him equal with Germany’s Nico Hulkenberg for the most wins by a driver in the history of A1GP racing.

Despite starting from fifth on the grid, the Swiss ace comfortably knifed through the field to take a convincing victory by 13 seconds over second placed Felipe Guimaraes, the 17-year-old Brazilian. Clivio Piccione, who had earned Monaco its first ever pole position, completed the podium finishers.

Jani enjoyed an incredible start to the Feature race, rocketing from fifth to second by the first corner. Ireland’s Adam Carroll, meanwhile, made contact with Fairuz Fauzy of Malaysia and ended up in the gravel and out of the race.

Second contact

As the race took shape, Malaysia and New Zealand, with Earl Bamber at the wheel, battled it out for third place. Fauzy was once again involved in some contact and this time Bamber was sent spinning off the track.

Fauzy paid the price when he needed to pit with a suspected slow puncture. By the time he returned to the track, he was in sixteenth position. A few laps later, he made a mandatory stop and changed all four tyres.

Fast work by Team Switzerland enabled Jani to leap-frog Piccione and take the lead. Team Australia, however, suffered some misfortune. John Martin had entered the pits in third, but Martin stalled when another car crossed in front of him. The result was that he dropped from third to fifteenth in the standings.

South Africa’s Adrian Zaugg had been going well, rising six places from 15th to ninth, but on lap 17 his race was done due to gearbox problems and he coasted quietly into the pits.

Daniel Morad of Lebanon passed Germany’s Michael Ammermuller to take over seventh position. The top three, in order, were Switzerland, Monaco, and Brazil.

Up to second

Brazil’s Guimaraes then began to haul in Monaco’s Piccione. When Monaco made a mistake on lap 24, he pounced and took over second place.

By the time the cars started coming in for a second round of pit stops, Jani had Switzerland in a 10-second lead and another clean stop saw him exit pit lane with a comfortable advantage.

Malaysia, realising that Fauzy was out of the running to score a point by finishing in the top 10, sent him out to try to record the fastest lap, for which he could earn a point. Utilising PowerBoost, he clocked one minute 28.306 to claim the point on offer.

Jani took the chequered flag for Switzerland, ahead of a delighted Guimares, who recorded Brazil’s best result of the season and become the youngest ever A1GP medal winner. Clivio Piccione finished third, getting Monaco’s its first ever podium place in its debut season.

Switzerland’s win and Ireland’s failure to finish the race lifted the Swiss to the top of the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport standings.

‘A replay start from Taupo’

Afterwards, Jani commented: “It was a little bit of a replay start from Taupo, from fifth to second. I was a bit worried starting from fifth, because I knew the first two turns would be very close and you could get knocked off easily, so my strategy was to just try the outside and it really worked and was a fantastic start.

“I then tried to follow Clivio (Piccione) and I struggled a bit. But then we had a great pit stop and I had good pace. I think Monaco had a bit of bad luck in the pit stop so that helped us too. But after it I could really keep up my pace.”

Brazil’s Felipe Guimares said: “I am so happy as it’s the first time I have been on the podium. Yesterday I had the big crash in qualifying and I didn’t think that today I would finish on the podium! But I had a great start then during the race the car was good.

“It was a bit worrying at the end because the engine was losing power, but we managed to keep going to the finish thankfully. I was pushing hard but not taking any risks and we brought it home in second. I really wanted to do a good job today and I have.”

Strange noises

A1 Team South Africa’s Zaugg, who endured a difficult home event, said: “The first laps were not bad at all and we were able to actually get past France as well. But already from lap six onwards I started to hear strange noises in the engine, especially in second gear. And I also then started to feel like a drop in power accelerating in second gear. But I just carried on.

“I informed the team but they just told me to carry on. And that’s what I did and eventually I started to get misfires. Eventually on the breaking and changing down to second gear, the engine just went off. I kept rolling and the engine went back on and eventually I tried to continue, but it carried on misfiring, so in the end I just had to give it up.”

Taking about racing in front of his home crowds, Zaugg continued: “That really boosted me, especially this morning when I saw the people there and after the drivers’ parade – all the people cheering for me. So I feel really sorry for all of them.

“They all came here to see us race and do well and unfortunately we couldn’t finish the race. But I want to just say thanks to all the supporters. We have had a really difficult season so far. But I think we really improved with lots of things this weekend and I hope we can carry on positive from here.”

SPRINT RACE RESULTS

1. Jeroen Bleekemolen (Netherlands)
2. Filipe Albuquerque (Portugal)
3. Neel Jani (Switzerland)
4. Adam Carroll (Ireland)
5. Clivio Piccione (Monaco)
6. Narain Karthikayen (India)
7. Adrian Zaugg (South Africa)
8. Earl Bamber (New Zealand)
9. Fairuz Fauzy (Malaysia)
10. Nicolas Prost (France)
11. Edoardo Piscopo (Italy)
12. John Martin (Australia)
13. Ho Pin Tung (China)
14. Michael Ammermuller (Germany)
15. Felipe Guimaraes (Brazil)
16. Salvador Duran (Mexico)
17. Marco Andretti (USA)
18. Zahir Ali (Indonesia)
19. Danny Watts (Great Britain)
20. Daniel Morad (Lebanon)

FEATURE RACE RESULTS

1. Neel Jani (Switzerland)
2. Felipe Guimaraes (Brazil)
3. Clivio Piccione (Monaco)
4. Jeroen Bleekemolen (Netherlands)
5. Filipe Albuquerque (Portugal)
6. Daniel Morad (Lebanon)
7. Danny Watts (Great Britain)
8. Marco Andretti (USA)
9. Zahir Ali (Indonesia)
10. Edoardo Piscopo (Italy)
11. Michael Ammermuller (Germany)
12. Narain Karthikayen (India)
13. John Martin (Australia)
14. Ho Pin Tung (China)
15. Fairuz Fauzy (Malaysia)
16. Adrian Zaugg (South Africa)
17. Earl Bamber (New Zealand)
18. Nicolas Prost (France)
19. Salvador Duran (Mexico)
20. Adam Carroll (Ireland)

POINTS STANDINGS

1. Switzerland 73
2. Ireland 70
3. Portugal 64
4. Netherlands 56
5. France 41
6. New Zealand 36
7. Malaysia 32
8. Australia 30
9. Monaco 23
10. Great Britain 20
11 USA 19
12 South Africa 19

SAinfo reporter and A1GP.com