Dominant feature race victory for Neel Jani after third place in sprint race Now what did Neel Jani say again after qualifying on Saturday: back in New Zealand, he had shown how to start from fifth place on the grid and still win the race. And...
Dominant feature race victory for Neel Jani after third place in sprint race
Now what did Neel Jani say again after qualifying on Saturday: back in New Zealand, he had shown how to start from fifth place on the grid and still win the race. And just the same thing happened in South Africa. At Kyalami, Jani claimed his third victory of the season. Together with his third place in the sprint race, this was enough for the Swiss team to take over the leading position in the points' standings from Ireland and to extend its margin over Portugal.
The feature race at Kyalami was like a copy of the one held at Taupo on January 25th. At the start, Jani moved up from fifth into second place. Like in New Zealand, a very good pit stop allowed him to take the lead, although this time it was the first stop already. And eventually, the driver from Berne celebrated a win that could not be expected automatically and that turned out to be quite comfortable with a 13 seconds' margin over Brazil.
On Sunday, Jani scored a total of 21 points. In normal conditions, that would hardly have been enough for the Swiss team to take over the lead in the points' standings of the World Cup of Motorsport. Doing so required some luck as well. For instance, the two main rivals were already decisively beaten after a few hundred metres already: Irishman Adam Carroll landed in the gravel trap and retired, Portuguese Filipe Albuquerque dropped back to 16th place after a very poor start. He only finished in fifth place. On lap nine, the first pit stop for the team from Monaco went wrong. This allowed Jani to move up into the lead, a position he wasn't to loose until the end of the 40th and final lap.
Neel Jani remained moderate after the overwhelming success: "Especially in the second stint, the car was very good to drive. In the third stint, I didn't have to push very much, because I already had a comfortable lead. My main goal was to overtake the three drivers who had started in front of me, only because of the qualifying session being stopped early, as quickly as possible. That was a little bit tricky indeed, because the first two corners are quite narrow." The fact that it all went as planned is not in the least the result of Jani keeping his nerves in control, the opposite of Albuquerque and Carroll.
In the 14 lap sprint race, Jani overtook Albuquerque with a successful start. However, he lost second place to the Portuguese again during the mandatory pit stop. "That was not the result of the work of the mechanics", Jani reported. "The reason was Malaysian driver Fauzy, who put his car just in front of me at the pit box next to ours, so that I almost ran into him while driving off again. We lost 5.6 seconds to Portugal." Later on, Jani had to admit that he had no chance against The Netherlands and Portugal, because his second set of tyres was worse than his first one. "Therefore, I backed off a little bit and I focussed on defending my position from the drivers behind me." Why didn't Jani use one of the four power boost options during the race? "I wouldn't have been able to overtake the Portuguese, who apparently had very good tyres, anyhow, so I decided to save the engine." Because Portugal also scored one bonus point for setting the fastest race lap, it closed up to Switzerland in the points' standings after the sprint race, the Swiss having made up one point to Ireland, that had finished fourth in the sprint race.
Team principal Max Welti once more praised his driver: "Neel is always driving in a clever way. He is able to make the best out of any given situation, he pushes whenever it is necessary and he backs off when too much effort would be fruitless." Welti is no less impressed by the team: "These guys are really working together very well. Neel and our engineer James Robinson almost understand each other blindly and the mechanics, too. The same goes for our physiotherapist Helmut Fink in the physical preparation of the drivers for their task. I have a group of people that is a great joy to work with."
Jani and the Swiss team have also written statistical history in Kyalami. With his ninth victory, Jani is now at the same level as erstwhile record-holder Nico Hulkenberg from Germany. Jani is now also the driver with the most races to his name in the almost four years of the A1GP series: he has competed in 56 of the 74 races held, two more than Malaysian Alex Yoong. Moreover, Switzerland can consider itself as the most successful team ever, as the points scored on Sunday have brought its total to 412, allowing the team to overtake France (398).