Kyalami: Series qualifying report

Monaco and Netherlands take pole positions in South Africa Gauteng, South Africa -- The Netherlands and Monaco were the toast of Kyalami today as their respective drivers, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Clivio Piccione, claimed the coveted pole position...

Monaco and Netherlands take pole positions in South Africa

Gauteng, South Africa -- The Netherlands and Monaco were the toast of Kyalami today as their respective drivers, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Clivio Piccione, claimed the coveted pole position spots for the Sprint and Feature races of round Five of the 2008/09 A1GP World Cup of Motorsport season, Go-GP.Org A1GP Gauteng, South Africa. While it was pole number four for the Dutch driver it was the first ever for Monaco.

It proved to be an exciting qualifying afternoon at the 2.65-mile Kyalami circuit, which is 2000 metres above sea level. Both grids look very different thanks to the return of the PowerBoost qualifying rule, where teams got to choose when to engage an extra 60 brake horse power for the entirety of one of their four runs, and a big crash to Brazil's Felipe Guimaraes in the final of the four qualifying segments. This accident caught the majority of the field out and prevented them from completing their final runs when the red flag was out.

A1 Team Portugal first took provisional pole position having gone fastest in the first segment of the day, however by the time the second Sprint qualifying segment had ended, Bleekemolen had made use of his PowerBoost lap to record a 1m 27.717 lap, 0.355s ahead of Albuquerque.

Reigning champion Switzerland will start the race third, with Neel Jani behind the wheel again showing good pace, recording a lap 0.436s adrift of Bleekemolen.

After a great start to the weekend, Lebanon had a disappointing time in qualifying. Morad looked to be on a good lap during the second segment while utilising his only PowerBoost of the session, but the car had a misfire and lost power ruining his final lap, also putting him out of Feature qualifying.

Monaco was also in good form, setting the fourth quickest time.

The stage was set for an epic Feature race qualifying, with many teams having not utilised their PowerBoost presses yet. In the first segment, Australia's John Martin set the fastest time with a 1m 28.439s lap.

But the second qualifying segment came to an end a minute and a half early after Brazil's crash, with only five cars having chosen to go out setting a time prior to the accident.

Monaco, choosing to go early, had already recorded a time of 1m 27.269s before the red flag came out and therefore claimed the team's first ever pole position in its debut season and at its ninth attempt.

Malaysia's Fairuz Fauzy came back from a difficult day after losing all of today's practice time due to an engine change earlier in the day. After also choosing to go out early, Fauzy's time of 1m 27.405s puts him alongside Monaco on the front row.

New Zealand's Earl Bamber will start third on his return to the team, having sat out his home race last month in Taupo.

A1 Team Germany made its season debut this weekend and will start the races in 11th and 15th with Michael Ammermuller back in the cockpit. Local South African driver Adrian Zaugg will start 8th and sixteenth.

A1 Team Mexico was excluded from Feature race qualifying for failing to stop at the weighing bay. The team will drop to the back of the grid from thirteenth.

Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro's 2008 Formula 1 World Championship runner-up, Felipe Massa, also enjoyed his first visit to an A1GP event today, joining A1 Team Brazil for qualifying. Massa watched the sessions from the pit wall with team principal, and two-time F1 World Champion, Emerson Fittipaldi, before getting the opportunity to drive a hot lap of Kyalami in the A1GP Ferrari 599 safety car.

After qualifying Massa commented: "It's really interesting visiting A1GP and I've enjoyed seeing the quality of the new car. The championship has a nice style. It's quite competitive, so I'm happy to be here getting this first experience of watching A1GP. It's an intelligent format to have countries against countries and a good idea."

The drivers who had secured the top spots on the grid were even happier.

Sprint pole-sitter Jereon Bleekemolen commented: "I didn't have a great lap, but it was still enough. It was good that we took at least one pole position.

"It's always tricky with pit stops because anything can go wrong. I mean it's the same for anyone so I think the guys are doing a great job so far, and they are getting very fast. Normally you shouldn't be worried, but as a driver you want to do the job and finish the race in front so hopefully everything goes right."

Portugal's Filipe Albuquerque said: "I am really pleased with the pace because we were really on it. We were just slightly off pole position in the Sprint but I am not so happy in the Feature because we are seventh - that's not what I want as we're also behind Ireland and Switzerland. It's always hard to overtake with experienced drivers, so it's going to be hard for sure. But I will push so hard for it because I really need to start to get ahead of them if I want to continue to fight for the championship."

Clivio Piccione was delighted to claim Monaco's first pole position for tomorrow's Feature race: "I think the whole thing for me was to be on form for the Feature race. We had a bit of a struggle at the beginning of the season but I think we found most of the problems, and now we're back on the pace. I'm looking forward to the rest of the season -- especially tomorrow.

"Monaco is such a small country and we have a huge heritage in motorsport and it's great to have our Prince behind such a project. He has been following me since the beginning of my career and I'm very proud to have him on our side. The pressure is on. I mean, it's a long race with two pit stops, so there are two major stages where it's going to be tricky. It's going to be pretty hot if it doesn't rain tomorrow. It will be a tough race because I think it will be quite hard on the tyres but we'll do our best and we'll keep pushing."

Malaysia's Fauzy, who will line-up on the front row in tomorrow's Feature race, commented: "We had a problem in Taupo with the engine; so we had a brand new engine fitted yesterday for the first rookie session but there was a problem so there was another last minute change today. We missed the practice session this morning so we were not sure which set up to use for the qualifying, and so just got the best information to put it together. I must say thank you to the team and Ferrari. They worked very hard to get the car ready for qualifying."

The day began with two additional practice sessions aimed at giving the teams more time after slight delays in fitting additional parts to the cars to enable them to contend with Kyalami's high altitude. Daniel Morad kept up Lebanon's astounding pace this weekend in the first additional rookie session, with A1 Team China went fastest in the second session with Ho-Pin Tung.

A1 Team Netherlands became the team to beat going into qualifying topping the times in the final free practice session.

-credit: a1gp

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Series A1GP
Drivers Felipe Massa , Clivio Piccione , Fairuz Fauzy , Jeroen Bleekemolen , Neel Jani , Ho-Pin Tung , Adrian Zaugg , Filipe Albuquerque , John Martin , Earl Bamber , Michael Ammermüller