10 April 2009
High hopes for Portugal on Algarve track debut.
Portugal makes a welcome return to the A1GP schedule as the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve plays host to round six of the 2008-09 campaign this weekend, and the unfamiliar venue could provide the catalyst for the home nation to achieve further success.
Competing on home soil undoubtedly brings a fair degree of pressure, but Team Portugal's Filipe Albuquerque is relishing the opportunity to compete on the brand-new 4.69km Portimao circuit - and has the pace to back up his status as one of the favourites for this weekend's meeting.
Already a winner in the 2008-09 season, courtesy of a feature race victory at round two in China last November, the 23-year old's impressive track record has ensured his nation remains in the A1GP title fight. Currently sitting third in the standings, on 64 points, Team Portugal is just nine points adrift of leaders - and reigning world champions - Switzerland, with Ireland sandwiched between their European rivals.
Racing in Portugal is not a first for A1GP, but is something of a novelty as the series returns for just the second time in its history. Estoril played host to A1GP back in the inaugural 2005-06 season, with Team France's Alexandre Prémat dominating both the sprint and feature races as the French began their dominant run to the title. Portugal ran Alvaro Parente on that occasion, coming away with a pair of top six finishes, and the now GP2 runner is facing having his record haul of 26 'caps' for his country being overhauled by Albuquerque, who has 18 A1GP race starts to his credit.
A podium regular this season, Albuquerque - together with the passionate Portuguese fans - will be hoping for nothing less than a pair of wins to celebrate A1GP's debut at the Portimao track, but knows that, to a driver, nothing is more important than track time, not least when a circuit is brand new.
With the entire field learning all the intricacies of the 17-turn circuit behind the wheel of the 600bhp A1GP car for the first time during Friday's practice session, the challenge will be who can 'click' with the track first.
Among them, 18-year old Daniel Morad is hoping to do just that when he straps in to the Team Lebanon for the sixth time this season. Morad arrived in Portugal on the back of both his and his country's best-ever A1GP result - thanks to a strong run to sixth in round five's feature race at Kyalami - and has already tried to get a feel for the Portimao venue by walking around the circuit with his engineer and spending time in a high-tech simulator.
“The layout here's really great,” he commented, “There are a lot of fast corners and some blind turns, it's actually quite similar to Kyalami where we last raced. It's going to be a good challenge for all the drivers as nobody's raced here before. That'll make it a level playing field for everyone, which obviously presents a good opportunity if you can get up to speed quickly.
“It's a lot easier playing it on the simulator than it is running round the circuit like I did earlier! It's also good because it helps you familiarise yourself with the layout and where the elevation changes are and so on. While it's useful though, it doesn't actually help you develop a set-up for the car - it's really difficult to replicate what the real race car does and, more importantly, what it needs out there to be fast.”
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