It was a near-perfect weekend for Team Malaysia, as the A1 Grand Prix circuit wrapped up its inaugural season in Shanghai. Alex Yoong followed up his pole position with a victory in the sprint race, and then narrowly missed repeating the feature...
It was a near-perfect weekend for Team Malaysia, as the A1 Grand Prix circuit wrapped up its inaugural season in Shanghai. Alex Yoong followed up his pole position with a victory in the sprint race, and then narrowly missed repeating the feature race, as Tomas Enge took the checkered flag for the Czech Republic.
The victories were the first in the A1GP series for both Malaysia and Czech Republic.
Yoong controlled the sprint race from the beginning, taking advantage of his starting position, as France's Alexandre Premat harassed Darren Manning (Team Great Britain) for second place through the first few turns of the race.
Not only Premat's attack on the British car fail, but, unusually, the 2005-2006 champions were on the defensive. Mexico overtook them at the end of the first lap, and Ireland followed four laps later, Michael Devaney taking advantage of the boost button to move into fourth.
Premat continued to fall backwards, getting passed by Netherlands, Indonesia and Czech Republic, and barely managing to keep the Kiwi car behind him. Fortunately for France, though, the Dutch car suffered a mechanical problem and had to retire from fifth place.
At the front, though, Yoong was enjoying a solitary Sunday race, finishing nearly 10 seconds clear of Manning, not only taking the points for the victory but also locking down the first grid position for the feature race. Manning and Salvador Duran (Mexico) crossed the line in the other podium positions, respectively.
"The car was good, we knew the temperature was rising, and were worried about the condition of the tyres," Yoong summarized his race. "Fortunately after the start I was able to conserve the tyres and was still able to push at the end."
The feature race has usually featured more action than the sprint, thanks to the mandatory pit stop, and that was true today as well, although probably not in the same way that might have been expected.
Yoong still took the lead for Malaysia from the start, followed by Manning and Duran, but this time it was France making up positions early on: the French team had switched drivers between races, and Nicolas Lapierre was determined to improve the team's fortunes in the feature race.
Lapierre moved the French car from 7th to 4th on the first lap, and might have done more, but Devaney and Ananda Mikola (Indonesia) touched wheels, sending the Irish car up into the air and spinning off the track, and bringing out the safety car.
With the race under safety car control, all the teams decided to take advantage of the caution period to make their mandatory stops. Malaysia showed great teamwork on the stop, and Yoong was able to regain the lead after the stops, while Enge managed to move from 6th to 2nd with a quick stop.
The safety car pulled off after four laps, and Enge saw an opportunity on the very next lap, out braking Yoong at the end of the start-finish straight and pulling off an outside passing manouever into turn one.
The order was further shuffled when the series imposed drive-through penalties to Great Britain, Mexico and USA for false starts, dropping those teams well back from third, fourth and sixth positions, respectively.
The French team, which had seen Lapierre's early driving nullified by a long pit stop that dropped them all the way to 18th, was on the move again, as Lapierre picked off cars one by one, eventually finishing in sixth place, behind Pakistan but still ahead of Canada. Mexico, Italy and USA claimed the final points-paying positions.
At the front, though, Enge and and Yoong were in a class of their own. Yoong wasn't able to challenge Enge, but third-placed Ryan Briscoe (Team Australia) was also not able to threaten them. Matt Halliday finished fourth for New Zealand, but over 16 seconds adrift of Briscoe.
"It's great to get this result today," Enge said. " We've had lots of ups and downs in the last few races, in Laguna Seca we didn't finish either race. I hoped everything would go well, and in the end the pit stop and the restarts were all really good. I'm very proud that the Czech Republic won the last race in the first season of A1 Grand Prix."
Yoong commented on his race: "The car was really good in the first race, in the second the balance wasn't quite as good, and Tomas was doing a good job," he explained. "But we are pleased with this second place."
The second-place finish in the sprint race assured Great Britain of third place in the final A1GP points standings; the team finished with 97 points, well behind France (172 points) but closer to Switzerland's 121.
Halliday's strong weekend (8th in the sprint and 4th in the feature race) moved New Zealand from 6th to 4th in the final points, while Yoong's spectacular performance lifted Malaysia from 10th to 5th.
The first green flag of the second season of A1GP will be waved at Zandvoort in the Netherlands on 29 September.