A1GP: Rounds 3 and 4 – Chengdu, China – 9 November

A1GP’s new “Powered by Ferrari era” got underway properly after the slightly shambolic affair at Zandvoort in October, with two solid races and two somewhat surprising but thoroughly deserving victors.

Sprint race

Adam Carroll got off to a perfect start from pole position, holding off Robert Doornbos as the two of them scampered off into an untroubled lead for the sprint race.

“I just tried to keep my head down and not make any mistakes,” Carroll said. “But it’s going to be a pretty long race this afternoon.”

“It feels good to be on the podium,” Doornbos said. “Obviously it’s the best first impression you can make. We started strong – we missed pole by just 0.006s – and in the race it was the same. I’m very happy with second.”

Behind them, Switzerland’s Neel Jani found himself slightly hindered by the Team Netherlands car and ended up with Team GB’s Danny Watts managing to get past him on the outside line of turn 1. Efforts to fight back proved unsuccessful, and Watts managed to draw out a comfortable lead for much of the race before suddenly dropping some time in the closing laps allowing Jani to come back hard and make it a tough fight for the final podium position. However, Watts – despite being new to the series – was able to hold the position till the chequered flag, meaning that two of the three drivers on the podium were competing in their first ever A1GP weekend.

“It’s a great result, and a great reward for all the hard work that all the boys have put in throughout the week,” Watts said. “Third is good points for us, but we’ll have to see how we go this afternoon.”

Adrian Zaugg took fifth after holding off a very fiery Felipe Albuquerque in a blisteringly fast Team Portugal car in sixth.

Brazil encountered early mechanical problems that saw them slow and briefly stop on track, threatening a safety car, before they were able to get back to the pits and effect a repair. China were disappointed in their home race after an early self-inflicted spin saw them fighting to recover from the very back of the running order: Ho-Pin Tung could only battle back to 17th by the end.

Pos  Driver            Team           Time
 1.  Adam Carroll      Ireland        22:58.470
 2.  Robert Doornbos   Netherlands    +   2.037
 3.  Danny Watts       Great Britain  +  14.361
 4.  Neel Jani         Switzerland    +  14.619
 5.  Adrian Zaugg      South Africa   +  20.108
 6.  F.Albuquerque     Portugal       +  20.475
 7.  C.van der Drift   New Zealand    +  27.224
 8.  Nicolas Prost     France         +  27.923
 9.  Clivio Piccione   Monaco         +  30.378
10.  N.Karthikeyan     India          +  32.268
11.  John Martin       Australia      +  33.198
12.  Daniel Morad      Lebanon        +  34.293
13.  Fairuz Fauzy      Malaysia       +  34.655
14.  Edoardo Piscopo   Italy          +  36.541
15.  Marco Andretti    USA            +  38.102
16.  David Garza       Mexico         +  42.511
17.  Ho-Pin Tung       China          +  49.611
18.  Satrio Hermanto   Indonesia      +1:04.128
19.  Jin-Woo Hwang     Korea          +1:06.171
20.  Felipe Guimaraes  Brazil         +  4 Laps

Feature race

Danny Watts made a strong start from pole position, while behind it was Portugal that got off to a strong start and overtook sprint race winner Adam Carroll going into the first turn, and Neel Jani fought to keep back Monaco’s Clivio Piccione for fourth place.

There was a brief safety car period as a result of Robert Doornbos stalling on the grid and needing to be taken to the pits to get refired. He rejoined but was a lap down and out of contention, but proved his strong form by putting in the fastest lap of the race just to make his point.

While Watts drove without a single mistake throughout, he was let down by his pit stops: the first one saw Portugal’s Filipe Albuquerque overtake him with a later, quicker stop to claim the lead; and during the later pit stops he lost second place to Ireland.

Malaysia’s Fairuz Fauzy pulled off a text book overtaking move on Australia’s John Martin after a length scrap between the two: finally, Fauzy timed his push to pass to perfection down the pit straight and shot past Martin into the first turn.

A couple of laps later, Nicholas Prost tried something similar, but was too far back and only managed to get the French car past the Aussie just before the turn, causing him to brake too late and overshoot the corner slightly. As a result he slid onto the dirty side of the track and spun on debris left from a polystyrene sign that had been blown apart during an early contre-temps between Mexico and Lebanon. Prost stalled and ended up retiring, a serious blow for the French team that had come into the Chinese event in the joint lead of the championship.

Prost’s retirement brought out a late safety car that closed up the field for a final dash to the end, but despite some tough battles the points-paying positions were unaffected through to the chequered flag, with Portugal emphatically the best car and team in the feature race followed by the consistently excellent Adam Carroll in second, then Watts and Jani.

“It’s a great reward for all the hard work the boys have put in over the week,” said Watts. “We never thought we’d go away with two podiums after arriving with the car still in bits. The podiums have to go to the mechanics because they have worked so hard, there’s been a huge effort from everyone on the team and I’m so glad that we’re going away from the weekend with a big haul of points.

“It’s been a privilege and an honour to drive for Great Britain. I’ve had a great weekend, I had to keep it clean and tidy and I hope that I have contributed.”

Marco Andretti scored his first A1GP points for the USA team by finishing eighth.

Pos Driver                 Team                      Gap
 1. Filipe Albuquerque     Portugal          1:11:23.179
 2. Adam Carroll           Ireland                +0.571
 3. Danny Watts            Great Britain          +4.802
 4. Neel Jani              Switzerland            +7.157
 5. Fairuz Fauzy           Malaysia              +13.302
 6. John Martin            Australia             +15.544
 7. Clivio Piccione        Monaco                +16.236
 8. Marco Andretti         USA                   +16.690
 9. Adrian Zaugg           South Africa          +18.030
10. Narain Karthikeyan     India                 +18.759
11. Chris van der Drift    New Zealand           +19.675
12. Ho-Pin Tung            China                 +20.126
13. Daniel Morad           Lebanon               +22.580
14. Satrio Hermanto        Indonesia             +31.285
15. David Garza            Mexico                 +1 lap
16. Robert Doornbos        Netherlands            +1 lap
17. Jin-Woo Hwang          Korea                  +1 lap
Retirements
18. Nicolas Prost          France                
19. Edoardo Piscopo        Italy                 
20. Felipe Guimaraes       Brazil                
Fastest lap, Doornbos 1:15.212 on lap 33

Championship standings

France drop back as a result of Prost’s spin in the feature race and Fauzy’s strong move on Martin to take a valuable 5pts after striking out in the sprint race, to put Malaysia at the top of the standings.

France are now joint second with Team Ireland, bouncing back from a no-scoring weekend at Zandvoort. While New Zealand did poorly this weekend compared with the opening event, they still hold joint 4th place along with the Netherlands, while Portugal, Switzerland and Great Britain are closing up after good weekends in Chengdu.

GB’s 8th is particularly impressive as they didn’t appear at all in Zandvoort. At the end of the season, teams will ‘drop’ their worst weekend result which in Team GB’s case means the weekend they missed due to the ate delivery of the new chassis, and may close up the championship overall.

Standings after rounds 3 and 4:

Pos Team            Pts
1   Malaysia        28
2   Ireland         23
3   France          23
4   New Zealand     20
5   Netherlands     20
6   Portugal        18
7   Switzerland     17
8   Great Britain   16
9   Australia       13
10  South Africa     9
11  Monaco           9
12  USA              6
13  Korea            4
14  Lebanon          3
15  Italy            2
16  China            2
17  India            1
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