A1GP: Rounds 5 and 6 – Sepang, Malaysia – 23 November

Hard fought battles and some bad luck for some of the top A1GP drivers means that we go into the Christmas hiatus with a new team at the top of the championship standings.

Sprint race

There was drama on the formation lap for the Malaysian sprint race: a concertina effect suddenly compressed the field and in the midfield it was Team India’s Narain Karthikeyan who had to brake quickly to avoid running into the car in front: unfortunately for him, the cars immediately behind didn’t have that chance.

First Marco Andretti (USA) and then Felipe Guimaraes (Brazl) ploughed into the back of the unfortunate Karthikeyan, in Andretti’s case launching him into the air and showering debris all over the track as they came onto the start-finish straight. The start was, inevitably, aborted and delayed by half an hour while the track was cleaned up.

At the next formation lap, Danny Watts suddenly slowed up as they got under way – holding his hand up, he was stuck in first gear and had to crawl round to the pits for some emergency repairs. Although he rejoined the race later on after the team replaced the ECU, it was purely for some track experience ahead of the feature race.

When the race proper finally got under way, Neel Jani raced off from pole position and quickly dominated the race, only briefly out of the lead when he came in for the new-to-sprint-race mandatory pit stop. “It was a great race for me,” he said afterwards. “We had very good pace, a good restart, a good pit stop – it was just the perfect race. But the feature race is the main one and we start near the back for that, so we still have a lot of work to do.”

Loic Duval (France) and Earl Bamber (NZ) had a big battle for second place that Bamber appeared to win in the pits when France’s crew had difficulty with one of the wheels. But Team NZ were judged to have sent their car out right in front of Team France in the pit lane and were therefore guilty of ‘unsafe release’ – the motorsport misdemeanour of the year, it seems – and so had to hand the place back going into the penultimate lap.

Ireland’s Adam Carroll had more luck with pit stop moves, overtaking the Team Italy car of Edoardo Piscopo to take fifth place. Netherlands also passed Italy during the pit stops when Jeroen Bleekemolen stayed out two laps longer than the majority of his rivals.

Home team Malaysia pulled off a brilliant overtaking move on early on in the race, when Fairuz Fauzy slipped past both Adrian Zaugg (RSA) and David Garza (Mexico) who were running wide going into the last hairpin after getting locked in their own private battle. But Zaugg took exception to the move and a couple of turns later staged an over-ambitious lunge up the inside, which ended up with contact and punctured Fauzy’s left rear tyre necessitating an emergency extra pit stop for the local hero.

Team Korea were unable to fix their car after their qualifying breakdown and withdrew from both sprint and feature races. They released their spare parts to other teams, including those with a lot of repairs to make after the abortive first sprint start if they were going to make it onto the grid for the feature race.

Pos Driver                 Team                   Gap
 1. Neel Jani              Switzerland      22:41.567
 2. Loic Duval             France              +9.912
 3. Earl Bamber            New Zealand        +11.813
 4. Filipe Albuquerque     Portugal           +12.453
 5. Adam Carroll           Ireland            +13.205
 6. Jeroen Bleekemolen     Netherlands        +15.399
 7. Edoardo Piscopo        Italy              +19.947
 8. John Martin            Australia          +21.437
 9. Adrian Zaugg           South Africa       +27.674
10. Ho-Pin Tung            China              +29.492
11. Daniel Morad           Lebanon            +32.049
12. Clivio Piccione        Monaco             +32.406
13. Satrio Hermanto        Indonesia          +38.959
14. David Garza            Mexico             +55.055
15. Fairuz Fauzy           Malaysia            +1 lap
16. Danny Watts            Great Britain      +7 laps
Retirements
    Felipe Guimaraes       Brazil              0 laps
    Narain Karthikeyan     India               0 laps
    Marco Andretti         USA                 0 laps
Fastest lap, Jani 1:48.550 on lap 8

Feature race

Adam Carroll (Ireland) got a strong start to the feature race, but alongside him Danny Watts (GB) had a dreadful time, failing to get away cleanly and getting swamped by cars rushing past. He was lucky to hold on to 5th place going into the first turn of the race.

After a brilliant qualifying lap to take third on the grid, Daniel Morad (Lebanon) was quickly shown to be out of his league at the sharp end, and became easy prey for the likes of Filipe Albuquerque (Portugal) to pass. However he put up a more spirited fight when Danny Watts tried to pass him while recovering from his poor start, and the two ended up out-braking themselves and running off the track.

When Watts pulled back on, he was once again getting swamped and passed by a large group of cars. He ended up in the middle of a three-way going into a tight left hander, and that was never going to work: Loic Duval (France) ended up chopping Watts’ front wing off, getting a left rear puncture for his troubles that meant both ended up in the pits. While Duval’s tyre change was quickly handled, the new nose cone put Watts a lap down, and he later had more technical problems that saw him end the race six laps off the lead, overall a dreadful day for the star of Chengdu.

There was no question about the winner of the race. Carroll had stayed out three laps longer than the other front runners before his first pit stop to ensure he retained the lead, and after his second equally flawless stop he was some 11s ahead of the rest of the field. And after dispatching the Lebanon car, Albuquerque had a similarly quiet but successful time in second: even though he was 16s behind Carroll by the end, he was a huge 32s ahead of the bunch of cars in third place and down.

Fairuz Fauzy could have been a comfortable third, but a team radio mix up ended up with the local hero coming in to the pit stops before the window for the second round of mandatory pit stops was open, meaning that he had to come back in again later on. He looked set to finish out of the points entirely, but managed to pull off a great move on Team Italy’s Edoardo Piscopo on the final lap for tenth place.

Team Netherlands should also have been in that gap between Albuquerque and the rest, but he was penalised for hitting Narain Karthikeyan’s Team India car in the first corner of the race. (Bleekemolen fought back after the drive-thru and pulled off an impressive overtaking move on Team China on the final lap to claim 8th.) With Neel Jani also spinning off at turn 4 of the first lap, a safety car was called out to allow the clean up, but it was the only time the race ran under yellow and the expected rain (‘60% chance’) never looked like materialising, which resulted in the impressive leads of Carroll and Albuquerque by the race end.

All that ended up with Marco Andretti on the final step of the podium – especially impressive given the damage the car had sustained at the aborted sprint race start. He came in ahead of a close-fought Tri-Nations battle between southern hemisphere arch rivals Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.

Pos Driver              Team                    Gap

1.  Adam Carroll        Ireland         1:05:52.205
2.  Filipe Albuquerque  Portugal            +15.996
3.  Marco Andretti      USA                 +47.637
4.  John Martin         Australia           +51.679
5.  Adrian Zaugg        South Africa        +52.106
6.  Earl Bamber         New Zealand         +54.354
7.  Felipe Guimaraes    Brazil              +57.369
8.  J.Bleekemolen       Netherlands         +57.490
9.  Ho-Pin Tung         China               +59.158
10. Fairuz Fauzy        Malaysia          +1:03.888
11. Edoardo Piscopo     Italy             +1:06.145
12. Daniel Morad        Lebanon           +1:14.990
13. Satrio Hermanto     Indonesia         +1:15.761
14. Loïc Duval          France            +1:16.463
15. David Garza         Mexico            +1:30.001
16. Danny Watts         Great Britain       +6 Laps
Retirements
    Clivio Piccione     Monaco               2 laps
    N.Karthikeyan       India                0 laps
    Neel Jani           Switzerland          0 laps
Fastest lap, Carroll 1:48.563 on lap 25

Championship standings

Adam Carroll’s dominant win in the feature race (and very handy fifth in the sprint race) combined with the problems faced by Malaysia, France and other top contenders means that Team Ireland cruise into a convincing 8pt lead at the top of the A1GP championship going into the two month hiatus over Christmas and the New Year.

Portugal also had an excellent Malaysian outing, with a strong feature race that was so far ahead of the rest of the field – bar Ireland – that it’s a shame not come away with a victory. Instead they leap up from 6th place to clear second in the championship, ahead of France and New Zealand tied on 31pts, just ahead of Malaysia, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Team GB fall a place after a pointless weekend, and any hopes of them storming to the championship despite missing the opening round are gone:

Pos Team            Points
1   Ireland         43
2   Portugal        35
3   France          31
4   New Zealand     31
5   Malaysia        29
6   Switzerland     28
7   Netherlands     26
8   Australia       22
9   Great Britain   16
10  USA             16
11  South Africa    15
12  Monaco           9
13  Italy            4
14  Brazil           4
15  Korea            4
16  China            4
17  Lebanon          3
18  India            1
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