California, USA - A1 Team France have been crowned World Champions, winners of the first World Cup of Motorsport after finishing second in an exciting A1 Grand Prix of Nations Sprint race at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. As the Teams head into...
California, USA - A1 Team France have been crowned World Champions, winners of the first World Cup of Motorsport after finishing second in an exciting A1 Grand Prix of Nations Sprint race at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. As the Teams head into the Feature race, the fight is now on for valuable championship points as four A1 Teams battle for third place.
The action began as soon as the pack moved off the grid with New Zealand's Matt Halliday overtaking France and then Mexico, slipping 'Black Beauty' into the top spot. Despite the heavy rain and slippery conditions, all 22 A1 cars made it through the first corner in A1 Grand Prix's first-ever wet race. The early overtaking continued with Mexico making its move on New Zealand on the uphill approach to the famous Corkscrew turn, regaining the lead lost as they left the grid but just seconds after, new driver Max Papis lost control of the Italian car bringing out the first safety car of the race.
The rain eased as the safety car pulled in at the end of lap three with Mexico now leading the pack ahead of New Zealand, France, Malaysia, Portugal and Ireland with Italy re-joining the back of the pack. As Mexico increased their lead, France's Nicolas Lapierre kept the pressure on New Zealand but battles further down the field ensued as teams fought for valuable championship points.
Third place outsiders A1 Team Malaysia came under a string of attacks, first from Portugal's Alvaro Parente - their closest rival in the points table - and then from Great Britain's Robbie Kerr and then Ireland's Ralph Firman on lap six.
As the clouds opened and the rain began to fall again, New Zealand's Matt Halliday was obviously struggling with the lack of grip. France kept up the pressure and finally on lap seven, Lapierre took the chance pushing the tricolour car past New Zealand, recovering from a major slide himself.
The slippery conditions were a common problem and A1 Team Germany was the next to go, spinning off the track but managing to get back and remain in the top 10 with only Canada's Patrick Carpentier squeezing past.
The safety car was deployed again at the end of lap eight as A1 Team Malaysia's bright yellow car was recovered from the gravel trap after a solo spin. The clock ticked on and despite the predicted 22 lap race, with 15 minutes to go only nine laps had run and it became clear that the race would be run by the clock. With the safety car still out, A1 Team Lebanon lost their point scoring position, heading into the back of A1 Team Germany on the start/finish straight.
With only 10 minutes remaining the safety car came in and racing resumed. The Netherlands' Jos Verstappen was the first to attack taking on Australia with new driver Indy Racing League and Toyota Formula One test driver, Ryan Briscoe behind the wheel. The move failed and as the two cars touched, the bright orange car spun off the track, sliding in the run-off and heading the wrong way down the track before spinning again and rejoining the race.
But that was not the last that was heard of Jos Verstappen as a second collision with Brazil's Christian Fittipaldi saw both cars leave and re-join the track twice on their way through the Corkscrew. A1 Team Switzerland, with new driver Giorgio Mondini behind the wheel, also fell victim to the Corkscrew cutting both corners, damaging his nose cone and ensuring that the only team who could unseat France finished outside of the points.
Winning his first race in A1 Grand Prix, nineteen year old Savaldor Duran said: 'I lost some gears at the start, and Team New Zealand got past and then France as well. When Italy spun and the safety car came out I managed to recover a few positions. It was difficult to get on the power and very very difficult to pass, and when I was behind New Zealand I couldn't see anything at all.'
Speaking about his prospects in the Feature race, Salvador Duran said: 'Nicolas is very experienced, he will be trying to win the next race. Having won the championship now, he has nothing to lose. I will be conscious of that. But we will be out there trying to make up a few positions in the championship.'
Speaking on behalf of new World Champions, A1 Team France, Nicolas Lapierre said: 'I feel great, it was a team job, Alex, the mechanics and engineers and Jean Paul. I might be in front of the camera now, but it really was a team effort. It will be difficult in the next race because obviously the team is excited and wants to celebrate, but we have to concentrate on the job, and I think we can win the next race.'
Finishing the race in third place, from seventh on the grid, Alvaro Parente said: 'The race was very hard. I couldn't see a lot. I had quite a few good overtaking moves and I'm really happy to be in third. It was very hard to see braking points and other cars in such wet conditions, but you just have to follow your instincts.'