Damp start as new A1GP Ferrari-powered era kicks off at Zandvoort
Team Malaysia has won the first race of the 2008/09 A1GP World Cup of Motorsport season at Circuit Park Zandvoort in The Netherlands as the new era of Ferrari-powered single-seaters cars went into race action for the first time. And not only do the new generation machines signify the Maranello factory's official involvement in supplying control engines to a major international single-seater formulae for the first time, the cars have also been designed with Ferrari input, and are styled around the F1 winning F2004.
In a rain-soaked Sprint race, Fairuz Fauzy came from fourth on the grid to take the team’s first victory since Season Two, which was 27 races ago. After initially taking the lead from The Netherlands, Earl Bamber put in a great drive on his race debut for A1 Team New Zealand to take second place with Loic Duval storming through from 11th on the grid to take the final podium position for A1 Team France. Pole-sitter Jeroen Bleekemolen struggled in the extremely tricky conditions finishing fourth as the red flag came out to end the race.
In a thrilling start to the new season, the drama began before the cars even crossed the start line after doing two laps behind the Safety Car due to the atrocious conditions. On an extremely wet track, Ireland spun in the final corner with Monaco’s Clivio Piccione running into him, so putting the pair out the race before it had even started. As the new Powered by Ferrari cars came down the pit straight for the rolling start, the action behind gave the front row duo of the Netherlands and New Zealand a comfortable gap as they came across the start line for the first time.
Lebanon’s Daniel Morad ran wide in the first corner, narrowly avoiding USA’s Charlie Kimball, as both drivers made their race debut for their respective nations. A lap later, Korea’s Jin Woo Hwang collided with John Martin at the first corner while making an ambitious move down the inside of the Australia car which left both in the gravel and Korea out the race and with a fine and a drop to the back of the grid for race two for causing an avoidable accident and trying to overtake under a yellow flag.
Malaysia and Switzerland battled it out for third with Neel Jani getting ahead of Fauzy on lap four. From 16th on the grid, and having only done a few laps this weekend, China’s Ho Pin Tung was putting in a stunning drive to challenge Italy for seventh by lap five. China claimed the position taking the inside line through turn 11 and began chasing down South Africa.
Out at the front the race was really on with new-comer Bamber pushing the Netherlands for the lead. On lap seven the 18-year-old made a great move trying to go around the outside of Bleekemolen through the chicane. The Netherlands ran off the circuit while trying to defend the position but with a better run out the corner Bamber grabbed the lead. As the rain continued to fall, Malaysia were flying, re-taking third from Switzerland before passing local hero Bleekemolen for second. Fauzy then set about closing the gap to New Zealand who was still in the lead. France moved up to fourth as Loic Duval took advantage of a mistake from Switzerland.
At the start of lap nine the order at the front was now New Zealand, Malaysia, Netherlands, France, Switzerland, China, South Africa and Italy. Fauzy, whose car was working really well in the wet conditions, was right on the gearbox of Bamber and on lap nine made his move, snatching the lead through turn eleven. Meanwhile, France stole the final podium position from Netherlands.
China’s tremendous charge came to an end on lap ten when the back end got away from Ho Pin Tung and he spun coming out of the final corner, crashing out of fifth. With Brazil also crashing the red flag was brought out taking the final race classification back to the end of lap 10.
Race winner, A1 Team Malaysia’s Fairuz Fauzy said: “I am so happy to take this win. It was very difficult on the track today and made even more challenging with the lack of experience we have with this new car, but we have worked really hard as a team and now we have a fantastic win. We start from pole position for the next race as well, so I hope we can have more success, but if the weather stays like this it will be another huge challenge for everyone. I’m looking forward to it!”
A1 Team New Zealand’s Earl Bamber said: “Its pretty atrocious conditions this morning. We got a good start and then managed to get past the Netherlands. He (Bleekemolen) got on some oil which made him have a slow exit so I got down the outside into the chicane and then as he out-braked himself he ran wide and I managed to get in front. It was a good pass, but pretty close. We held the lead for quite a while but then Fairuz was just a little bit quicker and got past me on the infield. I think second is good and hopefully we can make some changes for this afternoon and see what happens with the weather.”
Third placed Loic Duval driving for A1 Team France said: “It’s very difficult to see anything but I’m really happy. We received the car yesterday, but just ran in the qualifying session so to finish on the podium today its great for us. Everything is possible for this afternoon so I am confident now. We lost a lot of laps yesterday morning, so this morning we had the chance for an extra test. We managed to work on the car and I think it’s been quite fair with the amount of laps everybody has had.”
Jeroen Bleekmolen was disappointed not to be on the podium in front of his home crowd: “When you start from pole you want to win the race, so it didn’t go to plan. The first few laps were alright but then I lost a lot of grip and people passed me on the outside, inside and everywhere so we need to find more grip and hopefully we can do better the second race. It’s really great to see the fans and even with this weather they are still here enjoying it so I hope I can give them a good result this afternoon.”
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