A1 Team Canada 2006-07 A1GP Season Review -- Part Two Montreal, Canada (May 28, 2007) -- The second part of our review of the 2006-07 A1GP World Cup of Motorsport season takes in a trip to the Far East as well as the first leg of a two-stop...
A1 Team Canada 2006-07 A1GP Season Review -- Part Two
Montreal, Canada (May 28, 2007) -- The second part of our review of the 2006-07 A1GP World Cup of Motorsport season takes in a trip to the Far East as well as the first leg of a two-stop trip 'down-under' with the series making its debut in New Zealand to kick start 2007's racing action.
Round 4 -- Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia, Sunday 26th November 2006
The Malaysian race marked the first time in the 2006-07 season that the A1GP series had returned to a track previously raced at, the Sepang International Circuit having hosted a round of the inaugural A1GP season a year earlier. The home crowd came out to support ex-Minardi F1 racer, Alex Yoong, with the popular driver looking to repeat his Round 2 podium sweep for A1 Team Malaysia -- Yoong the owner of three A1GP victories in total.
The 5.54km track, home of the Malaysian Grand Prix, might have been a known quantity but as ever, the changeable weather played its part in shaping events for the teams and drivers. Canada called upon Sean McIntosh to assume race duties for the event, the 21-year-old A1GP winner experienced at the Malaysian circuit having competed there 12 months before. Taking over from Toronto's James Hinchcliffe, McIntosh was quickly back up to speed in an A1GP car having completed his rookie season in the European-based World Series by Renault an impressive sixth overall.
The Vancouver racer kept Canada's run of top-ten qualifying performances firmly intact posting the ninth fastest aggregate time which was later boosted to eighth following the exclusion of South Africa's best time. An eventful Sprint race saw McIntosh finish eighth at the checkered to set the team up with a fourth-row grid slot for the afternoon's Feature race. Typical for the area, a pre-race monsoon forced a delayed start with the field eventually taking to the track behind the safety car. As conditions began to improve, Sean quickly began a top-five charge and he duly celebrated a return to A1GP action with fifth at the flag and six more points to add to Hinchcliffe's haul for Canada.
Canada Driver Reflection, Sean McIntosh:
"I remember the Feature event wasn't the easiest race I'd ever competed in, thanks mainly to the track conditions caused by the rain. It was our first time all weekend running in the wet so we were venturing into the unknown a little. I kept it clean at the start as we knew it would eventually begin to dry out and we wanted to be up there at the end of the race. With the pace we had before the pit-stop we were on for a podium but the balance shifted towards the end of the race after our second set of tires and I really had to protect fifth more than I could attack for fourth. It was good to be back competing in the series and I'd forgotten just how enjoyable racing an A1GP car was!"
Round 5 -- Sentul International Circuit, Indonesia, Sunday 10th December 2006
Indonesia's Sentul International Circuit will forever hold happy memories for A1 Team Canada as the 4.12km track played host to the squad's maiden A1GP victory in February 2006. On that occasion Sean McIntosh raced from last-to-first in the Feature to score a memorable win in what was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the inaugural A1GP season. Returning to the scene of his biggest victory and buoyed by a competitive showing at the previous round in Malaysia, Sean McIntosh had high hopes for his second trip to Sentul.
Friday's practice proved to be a consistent affair with James Hinchcliffe posting the seventh fastest time in the morning's 'Rookie-Only' session before handing over the Canadian entry to McIntosh for the remainder of the weekend, Sean subsequently finishing seventh in the afternoon's outing. Another solid showing on Saturday, despite his fourth qualifying time being excluded for allegedly blocking Brazil's Tuka Rocha, saw McIntosh emulate his Malaysian qualifying form with ninth on the grid for Sunday's Sprint.
A sense of deja-vu set in with Sean taking eighth once again in the Sprint race before monsoon rains greeted the competing nations prior to the start of the afternoon's Feature race -- only this time the rain was even harder. Track conditions were again treacherous with the spray from the cars ahead severely restricting McIntosh's run in eighth. Steering clear of trouble, the Canadian eventually made a second pit-stop, this time for a set of slicks thanks to a drying track. Despite a brief spin Sean was looking good for a top-five finish when his race ended nine laps prematurely due to his left-rear tire flying off the car. McIntosh was helpless to prevent the incident with his day done frustratingly early!
Canada Driver Reflection, Sean McIntosh:
"I didn't feel any extra pressure arriving as the defending race champion. I just went there with the same attitude I always have and that's to work hard -- just because I'd won there before didn't guarantee it would happen again. Qualifying was similar to the year before and I actually made a couple of mistakes, our practice form had been much better. I had hoped for more but we ended up being a little ragged so we had our work to do come Sunday.
"Things improved a little in the Sprint race and we were focused on the Feature when it managed to rain even harder than it had done in Malaysia a couple of weeks before. I was thinking 'what do I have to do to get a completely dry Feature race' but it was the same for everyone. The car wasn't really performing in the wet conditions so we started to gamble that it would start to dry out which it did. We were probably one of the quickest cars at that point, we pitted for slicks maybe a little early but things were looking good until the wheel flew off ending our race there and then!"
Round 6 -- Taupo Motorsports Park, New Zealand, Sunday 21st January 2007
New Zealand finally saw the return of major international motorsport with the arrival of Round 6 of the 2006-07 A1GP World Cup of Motorsport in January. Jonny Reid raised the bar for Kiwi fans thanks to a sublime double race victory at the previous round in Indonesia to close the 2006 portion of the calendar. To that point, the closest any driver had come to scoring a home win was Tomas Enge's second place finish for the Czech Republic at Brno in the second round Feature race in October.
Ultimately Reid's hopes of making history at the brand-new Taupo Motorsports Park were dashed as the best he could muster at the 3.5km track was a brace of third place finishes behind France's Loic Duval, second in both races, and the dominant German Nico Hulkenberg, the rookie starting what would be a run of six straight A1GP victories. James Hinchcliffe returned to race for A1 Team Canada, the rookie back racing for the first time since Round 3 in China two months earlier.
Capturing a fourth-row grid slot with a seventh place qualifying effort, the 20-year-old Champ Car Atlantic race winner steered his way to a sixth place Sprint finish on Sunday morning to score the final point on offer. A solitary Feature turn followed with 'Hinch' comfortably in the top-eight throughout the 50-lap race. Robbie Kerr's retirement in the British car promoted Hinchcliffe to sixth with a handful of laps remaining -- a position he held to the finish.
Canada Driver Reflection, James Hinchcliffe:
"It was good to be back racing the Canadian car. It took me a little bit of time to get back up to speed with everything. The frustrating thing was that we had a really good car when we showed up but we made a bit of a mistake in qualifying with our set-up, we really should have been higher. The track was probably one of the most physical we raced at all season, it's just a really busy place to race with virtually nowhere on the track where you can catch your breath.
"For the most part the Feature had been a fairly quiet outing. We were one of the fastest cars on track towards the end and we'd caught up to the battle for fourth but it was extremely difficult to try and pass at Taupo so we held station to the flag. I was happy to come away with a pair of points finishes. It would have been nice to have been higher up the order but for my first race back in the car since China it was a decent return with solid points."