Team Canada season review, part one

2006-07 A1 Team Canada Season Review - Part One Montreal, Canada (May 14, 2007) -- While A1 Team Canada just missed out on a top-ten finish in the 2006-07 A1GP World Cup of Motorsport, finishing 11th overall just two points shy of Mexico in...

2006-07 A1 Team Canada Season Review - Part One

Montreal, Canada (May 14, 2007) -- While A1 Team Canada just missed out on a top-ten finish in the 2006-07 A1GP World Cup of Motorsport, finishing 11th overall just two points shy of Mexico in tenth, the second season of the nation versus nation, open-wheel racing competition proved to be no-less exciting as a total of 24 nations battled across the globe from October 2006 to April 2007.

Round 1 -- Circuit Park Zandvoort, Zandvoort, Holland, Sunday 1st October 2006

The Dutch embrace motorsport probably more than any other nation on earth so it was fitting that a sell-out crowd of 75,000 packed into the Circuit Park Zandvoort to witness the opening round of the 2006-07 A1GP World Cup of Motorsport. The seaside track was heaving to the chants of the home support, the orange army embracing local boy Jeroen Bleekemolen following Jos Verstappen's sudden departure from the team just days before kick off.

James Hinchcliffe had the honour of taking the first start of the season for A1 Team Canada. The 19-year-old from Toronto wasted little time in showcasing his talents topping Friday's official practice session ahead of Indy Racing League refugee Darren Manning in the British entry. 'Hinch' backed his Friday performance up with a solid fourth row qualifying effort -- the Canadian adapting well to A1GP's unique two-lap aggregate qualifying format.

A feisty showing from the rookie saw him hold off local hero Bleekemolen for an eighth place finish in the Sprint race. James then climbed as high as fifth in the afternoon's 70-minute Feature race but a tire gamble and changing overhead conditions ended up costing the team valuable ground thanks to two early pit stop, a 13th place finish was the end result.

Canada Driver Reflection, James Hinchcliffe:

"I didn't set goals too high, I just wanted to go out there and be as competitive as I could. I learned an awful lot from the first round, some things which I'll carry with me for the rest of my career. The result, coming home 13th in the Feature, was a little disappointing but I took the positives and that carried through with results at the next round.

"It was cool to be racing against some really experienced drivers and what we saw in Zandvoort on-track, to me at least, just proves that A1GP is the best open-wheel series on the planet in terms of wheel-to-wheel racing. The atmosphere at Zandvoort was one of the coolest things I've ever experienced, people were lined-up six deep on the sand dunes and the grandstand was packed, it really shows the potential this series has!"

Round 2 -- Brno Autodrom, Brno, Czech Republic, Sunday 8th October 2006

The season kicked off with back-to-back race weekends so Canada had little time to dwell on the frustrations of Zandvoort. Heading east to the Czech Republic the following weekend, the team was hoping for a better showing in Brno and they failed to disappoint. While the Czech fans rooted for Tomas Enge, the ex-F1 and Indy Racing League racer going on to score a second place Feature finish on home soil, it was Canada and Malaysia that created the headlines on race day.

Hinchcliffe duly steered Canada to its best-ever Sprint race qualifying slot courtesy of a fifth place effort on the Saturday at the 5.41km track. While he proved to be a quick learner behind the wheel of the team's 550bhp A1GP car, James used his experience of rolling starts from his North American exploits to jump from fifth to second at the start of Sunday morning's Sprint race. He held station to score the team's first podium of the season behind race-winner and ex-F1 pilot Alex Yoong.

The Malaysian veteran lost out to the Canadian rookie at the start of the Feature race as James made the most of his front-row start. Leading the field into the first turn James only surrendered his lead to take his mandatory pit-stop at the earliest available opportunity. From there he led all the way to within five laps of the checkered when an ambitious move by the faster car of Malaysia clipped Hinchcliffe, spinning him off-track and onto the dirt. While Yoong went on to record a podium sweep, James valiantly recovered to take fifth at the flag.

Canada Driver Reflection, James Hinchcliffe:

"Brno was just a fantastic race weekend for the team. We arrived knowing that we'd had a good race car in Zandvoort but strategy and circumstance kept us away from where we probably should have been. We had a pretty good qualifying performance then the Sprint race saw us combine a bit of luck with a really fast race car. We scored a second place and that obviously put us in a good position for having a crack at the Feature win.

"I started on the front-row alongside a guy with Formula One experience which was a big deal to me. I kept Alex (Yoong) at bay for 32 laps out of the 38 so for me as a 19-year-old driver coming into a series as a rookie, learning the car, new to the Brno circuit and so on it was a great day in terms of personal growth. I was developing as a driver every time I sat in the car! I think realistically we had a second place car for the Feature. Alex's experience meant he conserved his tires more effectively than I did and he was likely to have passed me anyway, it was just a bit tragic that he made the move that he did to spin me out but overall it was still a great weekend."

Round 3 -- Jingkai Street Circuit, Beijing, China, Sunday 12th November 2006

Beijing's first ever international motorsport event turned out to be more famous for problems with the track than anything that actually happened on it. The 2008 Olympic venue was set to host a street course race but problems with the layout of the track, through the city's Economic and Technological Development Zone, would see the cars turn just a handful of laps through Friday and Saturday.

In the end Sunday's Sprint race grid was based on just 20-minutes of practice running prior to the cancellation of that session and the later qualifying outing. Canada would start from fourth thanks to a couple of fast laps early in the session from James Hinchcliffe, the Toronto-native set for his third straight A1GP outing. Following overnight track modifications, Sunday successfully hosted two races with the morning's Sprint race proving to be a static affair around the shortened circuit.

Hinchcliffe held fourth throughout the Sprint scoring three more points for Canada. James was looking good for a podium early in the Feature when the team got caught out on pit-stop strategy after two safety car periods in quick succession. Enjoying the lead of his second-successive Feature race, although this time effectively out of sequence from those countries that had already pitted, James reeled off flying lap after lap before making his stop. A last lap crash snatched a potential top-five finish from his grasp but James was classified tenth at the flag scoring the final point.

Canada Driver Reflection, James Hinchcliffe:

"The first couple of days were a little surreal to be honest. You're sitting there in your race suit waiting to go out in the car and you keep getting delayed hour after hour until track activities eventually get cancelled for the day. Everyone was in the same boat though and obviously we wanted to support the series and help out in any way that we could to make sure the track would be safe for us to drive on.

"We certainly wouldn't have predicted that after three rounds Canada would have led more laps than any other nation in the series. We led in the Feature but we were a stop behind everyone else. I had to lay down qualifying-style laps to try and get an advantage so when we stopped it wouldn't hurt our race too badly. It was a tall order but it's one of my proudest moments from the season being able to do that for almost an hour and taking fastest lap of the race by a considerable margin."

-credit: a1teamcan.com

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About this article
Series A1GP
Drivers Jos Verstappen , Tomas Enge , Darren Manning , Alex Yoong , Jeroen Bleekemolen , James Hinchcliffe