A1GP: Rounds 11 & 12 – Algarve, Portugal – 12 April

Sprint race

Valentino Liuzzi tried his best to convert pole into a race lead, but he was matched down the start/finish straight into turn 1 by Robert Doornbos, and while the Italian tried to squeeze out the Team Netherlands car it was Doornbos who held the inside line going into the turn, and Liuzzi was demoted to second.

Behind them, Team Lebanon was getting into the wars: first with Team New Zealand (that tried an ill-advised lunge and got punted off the circuit as a reward) and then with Team Germany. Andre Lotterer was trying to get around the outside of Daniel Morad, but the Lebanese car was damaged from its clash with the Kiwi black beauty and was unable to steer into the hairpin – running straight into the German car as a result. Neither driver could have done anything to avoid it, but both were out.

There was a yellow flag for the clean up, after which racing got underway and it was quickly up to the mandatory pit stop. Doornbos came in first and had a reasonable if not spectacular stop; Team Ireland put in their usual stellar effort to get Adam Carrol out ahead of Liuzzi to claim second, and Liuzzi was also displaced by the home favourites, Filipe Albuquerque in the Team Portugal car.

There was a scary pit moment during he stops when team Brazil exited its pit box only to find a Team China crew member running out in front of him with a tyre. The rear wing of the Brazil car clipped he tyres and sent it flying into the pit lane, forcing a China crew member to have to run out in front of the exiting traffic to retrieve it.

Team Switzerland\’s strategy was to stay out as long as possible to make up places after starting from the back of the grid. Once they had finally pitted, they had succeeded in putting Neel Jani into a points-scoring position in 8th. But it turned out that they had got their sums wrong and waited too long – and had pitted outside the pit stop window. They got a time penalty that dropped them all the way back to 15th, and with Team Ireland in 2nd place it meant that Switzerland lost the series lead and trailed by 6pts going into the feature race.

The sprint race ended early and abruptly with a red flag: with three laps to go till the chequered, Team Brazil ploughed into the side of Team South Africa at speed, doing extensive damage to both cars and sending bodywork flying. It looked as though Adrian Zaugg – who had been in the pits for repairs and had lost several laps – had moved well over to allow Felipe Guimaraes through, but the Brazilian\’s brakes had failed going into the corner leaving Guimaraes a passenger as he ploughed into the side of Zaugg. The Team Brazil car was so badly damaged that it was unable to make the feature race start.

With the earlier yellow flags and now this extensive clean-up required, there was no chance of getting the race started in the time allowed for the spring race\’s running, and so the marshalls threw the red and declared the result – Doornbos leading Carroll and Albuquerque onto the podium.

Pos  Driver              Team           Time
 1.  Robert Doornbos     Netherlands    19\'33.501s
 2.  Adam Carroll        Ireland         +  3.635s
 3.  Filipe Albuquerque  Portugal        +  5.728s
 4.  Vitantonio Liuzzi   Italy           +  9.087s
 5.  Clivio Piccione     Monaco          + 10.048s
 6.  Narain Karthikeyan  India           + 12.596s
 7.  Felipe Guimaraes    Brazil          + 13.297s
 8.  Fairuz Fauzy        Malaysia        + 18.014s
 9.  Salvador Duran      Mexico          + 20.545s
10.  John Martin         Australia       + 22.683s
11.  Dan Clarke          Great Britain   + 23.080s
12.  Marco Andretti      USA             + 23.154s
13.  Nicolas Prost       France          + 24.175s
14.  Zahir Ali           Indonesia       + 39.400s
15.  Neel Jani           Switzerland     + 44.296s
16.  Ho-Pin Tung         China           + 50.655s

Not classified/retirements:

     Driver              Team            Laps
     Adrian Zaugg        South Africa    9
     Daniel Morad        Lebanon         1
     Andre Lotterer      Germany         0
     Earl Bamber         New Zealand     0

Feature race

The feature race in Portugal proved to be the most exciting and incident-packed race of A1GP\’s entire season to date. And it started even before the lights went out for the race.

On the formation lap, Robert Doornbos – the pole sitter and hot favourite for a double victory today – suddenly slowed and pulled to the side of the road, hurriedly jumping out. An electrical fire had triggered the on-board extinguisher: there was no chance of Team Netherlands taking the start.

That left Team Ireland in de facto pole position, and he got off to a flying start, holding off Team Switzerland into the first turn. But word soon came down that it had been simply too good to be true: Adam Carroll was handed a drive thru penalty that was going to send him to the back of the pack, a devastating blow in his battle with Neel Jani for the series championship. Jani now inherited the lead.

There were battles, overtaking moves and incidents all through the field however, with everyone pushing their cars right to the limit. Inevitably that meant a few accidents: Lebanon\’s Daniel Morad was an early retirement after out braking himself and banging wheels, getting a puncture that dove him into the gravel for his troubles on lap 2. Dan Clarke had an impressive spin on lap 8 and managed to leave the Team GB car pointing in the right direction and able to continue.

The incidents would get worse from there – and come to the aid of Adam Carroll by bringing out the safety car on lap 15 for a heavy crash between Team South Africa and Team New Zealand. The two had been dicing for several laps, Earl Bamber sometimes just inches from the back of Adrian Zaugg\’s car, and in the end it was too close for comfort. Bamber ran too close and mistimed his braking, running into the back of the Team SA car and launching himself up at a forty five degree angle before both cars came to rest in the gravel.

The safety car compacted the field again and gave Carroll a fighting chance to do some damage limitation and get some points – already, Ireland were running in 10th place that would give them 1pt.

At the restart, Felipe Albuquerque sent the home crowd into a frenzy by staging a brilliant overtaking move on Neel Jani for the lead, sweeping round the outside of turn 1. But racing was quickly on pause again, because behind them there had been a three-car incident: Marco Andretti (who had been proving surprisingly racy today, finally finding form pace in the Team USA A1GP car) slid wide into turn 8, giving valentino Liuzzi a chance to get past. Andretti shut the door hard and Liuzzi had no where to go but into him; he was spun right and into the completely innocent car of Monaco\’s Clivio Piccione and all three were wiped out. This meant that Carroll was now running up in 7th.

At the next restart on lap 22, Albuquerque led the field to the green flag but mistimed his run slightly – he went too early and was in danger of overtaking the safety car as it came into the pits, which would have meant a penalty. he slowed abruptly before resuming his restart pace, and the move startled the field behind him. Adam Carroll found himself behind a very slow Team Australia car, and ended up overtaking him before passing the restart line: sure enough the stewards spotted it and handed him his second drive-thru penalty of the day. It looked like all that impressive recovery work was for nought.

But Ireland protested, pointing out that Carroll had HAD to overtake to avoid a crash; at the very least the situation was uncertain and shouldn\’t be decided by a drive-thru before the circumstances were clear. The stewards agreed, deferring any penalty until after the race and clearing Carroll to run to the finish.

And by now, thanks to a super second pit stop by Team Ireland, Carroll had leaped up into third place just behind Neel Jani (who had leapfrogged Albuquerque in the pits to retake the lead.) And before long, Carroll had overtaking a fading Albuquerque for second, meaning that the two series title rivals were now fighting it out on track for the race win too. Carroll had the pace but Jani was nonetheless easily able to keep him behind all the way to the chequered flag.

It had been a thrilling, breathless race, which saw only half of the twenty car field make it to the end of the race. Team Australia suffered a technical problem on lap 39 and retired in the pits, while Narain Karthikeyan – who had just lost fourth place after a pitched battle with Malaysia\’s Fairuz Fauzy – spun the Team india car a lap later and was unable to resume.

Of course, the result was only provisional, with the stewards to determine whether Carroll should keep his second place or serve a virtual post-race drive-thru penalty. They opted for the latter, hitting Team Ireland with a 25 second penalty that dropped him down to 5th place.

Pos  Driver              Team           Time
 1.  Neel Jani           Switzerland    1:10\'45.011s
 2.  Filipe Albuquerque  Portugal        +    6.786s
 3.  Fairuz Fauzy        Malaysia        +    9.705s
 4.  Salvador Duran      Mexico          +   16.332s
 5.  Adam Carroll        Ireland         +   25.411s *
 6.  Nicolas Prost       France          +   27.322s
 7.  Dan Clarke          Great Britain   +   29.880s
 8.  Ho-Pin Tung         China           +   34.586s
 9.  Andre Lotterer      Germany         +   43.970s
10.  Zahir Ali           Indonesia       + 1\'13.993s

* 25 second penalty


     Driver              Team            Laps
     Narain Karthikeyan  India           39
     John Martin         Australia       38
     Vitantonio Liuzzi   Italy           18
     Marco Andretti      USA             18
     Clivio Piccione     Monaco          18
     Adrian Zaugg        South Africa    15
     Earl Bamber         New Zealand     15
     Daniel Morad        Lebanon          1
     Felipe Guimaraes    Brazil           0
     Robert Doornbos     Netherlands      0

Championship standings

1   Switzerland     88
2   Ireland         86
3   Portugal        82
4   Netherlands     66
5   France          46
6   Malaysia        43
7   New Zealand     36
8   Australia       30
9   Monaco          27
10  Great Britain   24
11  USA             19
12  South Africa    19
13  Brazil          18
14  Italy           15
15  India           11
16  Mexico           8
17  Lebanon          8
18  China            7
19  Korea            4
20  Indonesia        3
21  Germany          2

Switzerland maintain the series lead after Ireland drop down to 5th place in the feature race as a result of their penalty. But with only two points in it and two weekends of races to go, it\’s still anyone\’s title.


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