A1GP Team Switzerland ends topsy-turvy weekend in Portugal on a high
Penalty for Neel Jani in sprint race, victory in feature race
The Swiss A1GP team has had a variety of highs and lows during the World Cup of Motorsport's racing weekend at Portimao in the Portuguese Algarve region. After the practice sessions, that were more or less satisfactory, the team was dealt a first blow in qualifying for the sprint race, but then recovered with a strong performance in the subsequent feature race qualifying session. On Sunday, Jani had to make do with 15th place after an arguable penalty. After that, he showed his strength in qualifying and took the chequered flag as the race winner, ahead of Ireland's Adam Carroll.
Mishaps in qualifying for the sprint race (20th place on the grid, no valid lap time) and the race that didn't go as planned either cost the Swiss team its leading position in the points' standings of the World Cup of Motorsport. However, with four remaining races (two each at Brands Hatch on May 3rd and at Mexico City on May 24th), chances of a successful title defence remain alive. Currently, the team is four points down on leader Ireland.
After a few incidents, the 42 lap feature race at the beautiful "roller-coaster" circuit in the Algarve looked all set to become a duel between Jani and Portuguese Filipe Albuquerque. Erstwhile race leader Carroll was called in for a drive-through-penalty after a jump start, Swiss-born South-African Adrian Zaugg and New Zealand's Earl Bamber collided while in a good position, just like Vitantonio Liuzzi (Italy), Marco Andretti (USA) and Clivio Piccione (Monaco) would do later on. However, Carroll visibly closed up to Jani and eventually was only beaten by 0.4 seconds. From lap 9 onwards, Jani remained in the lead for almost all of the race. Following the second intervention of the safety-car, he was second behind Portugal from lap 19 till 28.
With his tenth race win in the World Cup of Motorsport, Neel Jani is now on top of the winners' list all on his own. "That was one of my hardest-fought victories. In the closing stages, Ireland put quite a lot of pressure on us", Jani reported after the race. "After all the trouble we encountered thus weekend, I feel that somehow, justice is being done to us with this win. The first of two safety-car interventions almost cost me the race. I lost a 15 seconds' margin over Portugal and the lead. However, in the end, it all came our way again. I can be satisfied with what we have achieved."
Jani was in eighth place, which would have brought him one point, at the time the sprint race was stopped following a collision between Brazil and South Africa. However, as the stewards of the meeting decided that the Swiss team hadn't completed its mandatory pit stop within the time frame, Jani was given a stop-and-go-penalty, which was turned into a 30 seconds' time penalty because of the red flag. This made the Swiss team drop back to 15th place. Jani, who didn't complete a lap in qualifying and had started from the back of the grid as a result, even had led the race for two laps.
Team principal Max Welti was mainly positive: "Victory in the feature race was a well-deserved reward for the efforts of the team. It was able to deal with the setbacks from qualifying on Saturday and the sprint race on Sunday well in time. For me, there was no doubt that Neel would be able to focus himself for the feature race. He has proven his class once more."
A few decisions by the stewards of the meeting provoked some discussion in hindsight. Max Welti wasn't upset, but aired his criticism: "The penalty we were given in the sprint is disputable, because the regulations aren't clear in this point. According to us, our pit stop was within the time frame. The race being red-flagged after the collision between Brazil and South Africa was disputable, too. Moreover, it is hard to understand why Ireland didn't come in for its drive-through penalty because of overtaking behind the safety-car in the feature race."