Sepang: Saturday qualifying report

SWITZERLAND STEALS POLE FROM NEW ZEALAND AND GERMANY IN SEPANG Sepang - A1 Team Switzerland's Neel Jani has sealed pole position for this weekend's Astro A1GP Sepang, Malaysia race, 0.291secs from New Zealand's Jonny Reid. Nineteen-year-old...

SWITZERLAND STEALS POLE FROM NEW ZEALAND AND GERMANY IN SEPANG

Sepang - A1 Team Switzerland's Neel Jani has sealed pole position for this weekend's Astro A1GP Sepang, Malaysia race, 0.291secs from New Zealand's Jonny Reid. Nineteen-year-old German hotshot Nico Hulkenberg could not match his scorching Friday practice pace and had to settle for the third spot on the grid following the four 15 minute Qualifying sessions.

Jani used his experience of the 5.5km Sepang track to set the fastest time in two of the Qualifying sessions to secure the Swiss team's first pole position of the season and his second consecutive A1GP pole at Sepang. Jani now looks to convert the front-row spot into a win after he narrowly missed out on victory last season from A1 Team France, "This was more or less my first Qualifying of the year because of what happened in Beijing, so to get pole position is very nice. Actually we have an all new team. My engineer, mechanics, everything is new since last year and that is very satisfying to just come and be at the front. I like this circuit every much as last year I was on pole."

Jani sat out the final Qualifying session after it was red-flagged and restarted when Lebanon's Khalil Beschir stopped on track due to a technical problem. "We saw that the temperature was going up when we got to Qualifying four, " Jani explained, "I had two very good laps already so I didn't think there was any sense to go out again, also the sky looked very dark and we even thought it might rain. I was just worried if Jonny went out again as he was very close to me, but he didn't so I was happy about that."

Jonny Reid's strong performance in the second Qualifying session denied Hulkenberg a front row grid position. Third fastest in Qualifying one, the New Zealander went fastest in the following session to edge ahead of the German and opted to conserve tyres in the remaining two segments, recording only the 11th quickest time in the third session and sitting out the fourth entirely. "It is going very well and I am very happy with qualifying," the Kiwi commented. "A car spun in front of us in Qualifying session one and lost us quite a bit of time, but other than that everything went smoothly and I am looking forward to the race tomorrow."

Reid now looks for a clean start after his last front row slot in Brno ended in a clash between himself and Hulkenberg, but admits it will not be easy with the fast-paced German on the row behind, "I think it is difficult because you are seeing Nico on it straight out of the gate and I have been at home training but sitting on my couch watching A1GP rather than taking part in the event at Beijing. For me it was difficult initially but we can certainly get it right for Qualifying."

There was excitement before the start of the first session as the skies opened and rain fell just 15 seconds before the green flag. Drivers queued to get out of the pit lane before the track became too slippery, but with the majority of the field on the track, traffic became a major problem. On his opening flying lap Hulkenberg caught A1 Team Ireland and dived down the inside of a left hander to try and squeeze ahead, the German touching the right-rear of the Irish car and pitching him into a spin. Hulkenberg went onto record the second fastest lap of the session behind Jani, but Ireland's Michael Devaney returned to the pits to sit out the rest of the 15-minute segment.

"We were both on a quick lap so after the first corner he was really far on the outside and I thought that he wanted to let me past, but then at the end he didn't and then we crashed," explained Hulkenberg. "It was just a very slight hit and nothing was damaged. In Qualifying three I think I was pushing too hard and made a little mistake and I think I lost a little bit of time there. It is getting tough for the drivers, for the cars, for the engines for the tyres and everything and we will just have to see what happens."

A1 Team Malaysia was one of only two teams who waited to come out in the first session to try and take advantage of the clear track. The circuit had however become slippery and Yoong could only manage the seventh fastest time. Fast laps in the third and fourth sessions did not improve the position and he starts on the fourth row of the grid behind the Netherlands. "There was still a little bit of dampness when I went out. We took the gamble that it wouldn't rain so we saved our new tyres for the third and fourth sessions. It didn't rain but it got really, really hot and really, really slippery and the first two sessions were definitely the quicker ones. So that caught us out a little bit and I think we would have definitely been higher up if we had gone with the other way, but you can't predict these things as the weather changes so much. The guys on the first two rows are very quick and it is going to be hard to beat them tomorrow. We have certainly got some time to find in the car."

A1 Team Great Britain's Robbie Kerr, driving for the first time since Brno, lines up fourth on the grid. Australia starts 17th after Ryan Briscoe ran wide in the third session into a gravel trap and ripped off his front wing and damaged his front-rear suspension.

The 20-minute Sprint race will start on Sunday 26 November at 11.00 local time. The results of the Sprint race will determine the grid for the 70-minute Feature race, which will begin at 15.00 local time.

-credit: a1gp

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Series A1GP
Drivers Robbie Kerr , Neel Jani , Khalil Beschir , Michael Devaney , Jonny Reid , Nico Hulkenberg