Neel Jani fastest in New Zealand
Round four of the 2008/09 A1GP World Cup of Motorsport season got underway at New Zealand’s Taupo Motorsport Park today with reigning champion A1 Team Switzerland setting the early pace. Alexandre Imperatori started the day as the quickest rookie, while main driver Neel Jani ended the day quickest overall.
Teams use two sets of tires carried over from the previous A1GP race in the rookie session, however, with Switzerland’s first lap exit from Sepang’s Feature, the team had a new set of Michelins available to him this morning, which he used to good effect.
“This was certainly a good start to the weekend for the team and I hope it continues this way,” said Imperatori. “It is a very technical circuit and certainly very easy to make mistakes. There are lots of corners where you can make mistakes, but my car was fantastic and the new tires helped as well.”
France’s Nicolas Prost was second quickest, 0.186 seconds adrift of Switzerland, with Lebanon’s Daniel Morad third quickest, particularly impressive thanks to the fact his engineers had worked through the night to replace the engine on his car.
Local favorite A1 Team New Zealand’s Chris van der Drift had his first taste of the Taupo circuit, finishing fourth quickest in the rookie session.
There were numerous spins as the rookie drivers got to grips with the tight and dusty track, with incidents from Malaysia’s Aaron Lim, Ireland’s Niall Quinn, India’s Parthiva Sureshwaren, Portugal’s Antonio Felix da Costa and Monaco’s Hubertus Bahlsen.
In the afternoon practice it was Switzerland once again at the top, this time with Neel Jani behind the wheel to record a lap time of 1m 15.971s.
“It was definitely a good start to the weekend with Alex being quickest this morning and then me as well this afternoon,” said Jani. “I did have a gearbox problem after that so could only do 14 laps, which was about 25-minutes of the session so we lost at least half an hour. This was not the best for us but what we did was still enough to keep us on top and we are really happy about that.”
This was despite Jani being rushed into hospital last week with suspected meningitis, which ruined his training regime and left him feeling drained. He arrived out in Taupo several days later than normal after getting the all-clear to race.
“I do have more color today,” Jani continued, “so it looks as thought the warm weather is helping me as we don’t have minus degrees like at home. I am feeling better every day and had no issues with driving today so I am very positive.”
In another action-packed session, several drivers had incidents in the hot and dusty conditions including Mexico‘s Salvador Duran, Great Britain’s Dan Clarke, Netherland’s Robert Doornbos, China’s Congfu Cheng, New Zealand’s Chris van der Drift, Australia’s John Martin, Malaysia’s Fairuz Fauzy, India’s Narain Karthikeyan and South Africa’s Adrian Zaugg.
Daniel Morad ended the day second quickest with a 1m 16.106s, after spending the first half of the afternoon session at the top of the timesheets. In the final minutes Australia’s John Martin jumped up to third with New Zealand being pushed down to sixth overall.
Jani also confirmed the local hype that this year’s race is set to be the quickest ever in New Zealand saying: “The biggest difference between the old cars and the new ones is rear stability. With the old one you were fighting and sliding more and now you can concentrate on taking extra speed into the corner. I think we will be a lot quicker here this year than last year.”
Chris van der Drift, who has only ever competed on home soil once before, said: “It was a good start for me as it has been a couple of months since I have been in the car. I had to get back in the groove and blow the cobwebs out. We are certainly going in the right direction. I did spin going into turn 12, but I was just finding my limits. The track is quite dirty off line, but it will get much quicker over the weekend as more cars go round.
“This is actually only my second official race here in New Zealand so it is good to be here especially in the A1GP races. I have lots of family here supporting me so that is an extra bonus.”
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