Neel Jani drove a perfect race to win the A1 Grand Prix sprint race in Dubai from pole position and stopped the French winning streak at ten races. However, Nicolas Lapierre stormed back in the feature race, though, taking the victory in spite of...
Neel Jani drove a perfect race to win the A1 Grand Prix sprint race in Dubai from pole position and stopped the French winning streak at ten races. However, Nicolas Lapierre stormed back in the feature race, though, taking the victory in spite of a lowly seventh-place starting position.
The first race was all Jani's though, as the 2005 GP2 pilot took off cleanly from pole position to snatch a clear lead, and then motored off into the distance, leaving behind a melee that saw Lapierre fall from second to fifth on the first lap, with the teams from Ireland (Ralph Firman), Brazil (Nelson A. Piquet) and Great Britain (Robbie Kerr) separating the two at the end of the first lap.
"I managed to get a really good start," said Jani, who ended up taking victory by a comfortable eight-second margin. "We finally got the car as we wanted today and I didn't make any mistakes. We got it all together for the sprint race and towards the end, I could enjoy a bit of a cushion I had built up over my rivals."
That first lap was to be the only lap that Team Brazil would complete, Piquet pulled off on the second lap with electrical problems, giving the A1GP organization the first opportunity to use their helicopter-based car recovery system.
While this promoted Great Britain to third place, Lapierre wasted no time in claiming that spot for his team, easily relegating Kerr back to fourth again.
And while Lapierre then moved up to stalk the Team Ireland car, hanging in the shadow of Firman's rear spoiler, Kerr overcooked it in turn seven, spinning off the track and dropping all the way back into ninth place and into the clutches of Team Malaysia and Team Netherlands.
Team France was not immune to mistakes this weekend and on the penultimate lap Lapierre spun his car, dropping to an uncharacteristic seventh place for the team.
At the front, Enrico Toccacelo (Italy) and Tomas Enge (Czech Republic) sneaked past Firman, who was suffering from gearbox woes, just before the checkered flag to claim the second and third places -- the top finish for Team Italy in the series so far.
Firman was fourth and was followed by Team Canada's Sean McIntosh and Team Indonesia's Anand Mikola, who gave the Indonesia team their best result to date.
With the feature race starting grid set based on sprint race results, Jani would start from the pole, with Lapierre well back, setting the scene for another Swiss possible victory.
Jani and Toccacelo got clean starts ahead of the pack, behind them there was a Czech-British impact, with Enge and Kerr coming together, although neither suffered permanent damage. Still, it allowed Mikola to take Team Indonesia up to third place -- though only to be passed by the recovering Kerr, and then encountering the all-out attack of Team France.
Team Indonesia indeed turned out, indirectly, to be the deciding factor in the feature race: on lap six, Mikola spun out, hitting the barriers head-on and bringing out the safety car.
Great Britain and France, in third and fourth places at that point, quickly called in their drivers, Kerr and Lapierre, to take advantage of the safety car period. However, both Switzerland and Italy failed to take the advantage and when they did pit later, they had lost the lead of the race to Great Britain and France.
"I had a great start and a good strategy," said Lapierre. "When we saw the safety car come out the team made the perfect call for a pit stop."
While the pit stop timing wasn't ideal, worse yet was to come during the stop itself, as the Swiss team was called for a pit crew infringement during the stop, forcing Jani to come in for a drive-through penalty and lose any hope of a top finish.
"I had a good strategy and waited for the second safety car to pit," Jani explained. "The potential and the speed were there, but we lost some valuable time with a drive through penalty. Unfortunately we lost it there, and I wasn't able to fight back."
After the stops, Kerr looked to be set for a first British victory with nearly a four-second lead on his French rival, but Lapierre showed that once again, Team France was the team to beat, taking half a second a lap out of Great Britain's lead.
With Kerr's mirrors all full of the French tricolore, a furious battle ensued for six laps, but with the British car's tires going off, the inevitable conclusion was Lapierre edging his cross-channel rival for the lead. And once he was ahead, there was no question of a challenge to his lead, as Kerr fell back to finish 3.7 seconds adrift the Frenchman.
"I had a good fight with Robbie (Kerr) and Stephen (Simpson)," Lapierre recounted after the podium. "Robbie stayed with me and I had to push really hard. The track is really slippery when you went offline, and you had to pick where to overtake really carefully."
"We are getting faster and I'm confident that we can keep up, we just have to make the tyres last longer," commented Kerr. "We are working for a win, and we'll keep pushing, we've showed we have the pace. Give us another chance and we'll take it."
Simpson, driving for Team South Africa, had an outstanding race, holding off Team Portugal's Alvaro Parente in the closing laps and taking the first podium position for the team. Tengyi Jiang took fourth for Team China ahead of McIntosh in the Team Canada car.
While Team France has been shown to be beatable, they are clearly the fastest at the A1GP series' halfway point, and have claimed a stunning 106 of possible 126 points to date. Jani strengthened Team Switzerland's second place in the point standings at 75, while the electrical problems stalled Team Brazil at 60 points, now 46 points behind France. Great Britain is fourth at 49.
Behind the four leaders it is a furious battle for fifth place in the points, with New Zealand (42), Portugal (39), Ireland (37), Netherlands (34) and Malaysia (33) separated by just nine points.