In an ironic twist following their contretemps
in South Africa, Ireland and Malaysia were at the heart of more controversy as the A1 Grand Prix series prepared to leave Portugal, with the former receiving a post-race penalty and the latter among those to benefit.
Following a stewards' investigation that continued into the evening at the new Algarve circuit in Portimao, Ireland's Adam Carroll was adjudged to have passed Australia's John Martin under safety car conditions at the second restart. Carroll was handed a 25-second penalty for overtaking before the start-finish line, and dropped three places to fifth. The demotion sees home team Portugal elevated to second, Malaysia to the final podium place and Mexico to fourth.
The penalty capped a dramatic race for the Irish team, with Carroll having led early on once polesitter Robert Doornbos' car suffered a fire on the formation lap, but was then reckoned to have jumped the start. The resulting drive-through penalty dropped him to 15th, but also prompted a remarkable comeback drive which saw a combination of Carroll's on-track overtaking ability and some quick pit-stops get him back into third place. Passing Portugal, Carroll eventually took the chequered flag a mere 0.4secs behind title rival Switzerland, but was then hit with the second penalty.
"What happened at the restart was that everyone in front started to brake, slow and fan out," Carroll reported, "Australia pulled across suddenly, and slowed, and I did the safest thing which was to keep going. If we'd all hit the brakes, there'd have been a motorway-style accident, so there wasn't much of a choice."
The Irishman was also unhappy at having been penalised at the start of the race.
“I knew the car had rolled a little on the grid, but I definitely did not start until the lights went out," he maintained, "After we got the drive-through penalty, I just put my head down and we climbed back to second – so I am very disappointed we got a 25-second penalty. We had two good races and everyone saw how strong we are."
While Portugal was happy to move up to second spot after a strong weekend on home soil, Malaysia was delighted to accept another podium finish.
“It's not the way that we would have liked to have taken third place, but it will certainly help our championship battle," chief executive Jack Cunningham admitted, "It's a shame Fairuz [Fauzy] wasn't standing on the podium to celebrate but, more importantly, we have added to our points and crept even closer to fifth-placed France in the standings.”
Ireland's title ambitions still took a step in the right direction despite the second race penalty, as fastest laps in both the sprint and feature netted a further two points. Although Carroll added only seven points for the second race rather than 13 - and the championship battle has tightened up immensely - the team leads overall if the new dropped scores rule - introduced after the late arrival of some cars at the start of the season - is taken into account.
The official standings, however, show Ireland lying second to Switzerland, trailing by two points, with Portugal four points three points behind France, in sixth place, with the luckless Netherlands filling fourth spot.
“We aim to win this title and, if we don't, I suspect we will look back at today's outcome as being pivotal," Ireland team principal Mark Gallagher commented, "For now, though, it's history. The safety car restart was a mess, and we were penalised. The stewards have a hard job to do, so we accept their verdict - even if we find the outcome extremely frustrating.
"However, our team did a stunning job today, and Adam drove brilliantly, possibly one of the most perfect drives anyone has seen to recover from the initial drive through penalty. Roll on Brands Hatch.”