Neel Jani and Team Switzerland got to grips with the unfamiliar Chengdu circuit better than any of their rivals, topping the timesheets on the opening day of round two of the World Cup of Motorsport.
In an incident-packed day on track, reigning champion Jani eventually set the benchmark at 1min 16.349secs, while Team France's Nicolas Prost had set the ball rolling with the best 'true' rookie time during the morning's two sessions for newcomers and developing nations.
France initially set the afternoon pace too but, after the session was re-started following a red flag to recover the Malaysian car after it became stranded on track following a spin, Switzerland went quicker and remained at the top despite two further red flags caused by local favourite Ho-Pin Tung.
“This afternoon was the first time I have ever driven on this circuit, but it's very bumpy and dirty at the moment,” Jani reported, “It's just been about finding the quickest line for us, which wasn't always the traditional ideal line as everyone seemed to be taking alternative quick routes.
“It will definitely be one of the hardest A1GP races so far because it's so easy to make mistakes on the bumps. That one qualifying lap will be something in between playing it safe and finding the limit of the car.”
Prost, making his first full appearance for the French team, hung onto second spot to the end of the day, encouraging a team that has seen so much success with predecessors Loic Duval, Alex Premat and Nicolas Lapierre.
“It went pretty well,” said the 27-year old son of four-time F1 champion Alain, "We had a small problem in the first session with the engine and a little spin, but it was good and I got a grasp of the track pretty quickly. It's good to be up there right at the beginning.
"I'm not really used to this kind of bumpy track, but I think this is the same for everyone. The track is pretty interesting and the bumps make it even more interesting so you just have to deal with it. There is a lot of pressure on me, of course, but the team understand that it's my first race so I'm just going to try to do as good as I can and see what happens.”
After making a flying start to the day, Team India's Narain Karthikeyan carried his momentum into the afternoon session, finishing just 0.125secs behind Switzerland in third spot, with South Africa's Adrian Zaugg posting a quick time towards the end of his run to move up to fourth. Another former F1 driver, Robert Doornbos, made his A1 Team Netherlands debut, finishing fifth, while Marco Andretti made a promising start to his debut for the USA in eighth, just 0.834secs adrift of Jani and sandwiching another race debutant, in the shape of Team GBR's Danny Watts, and Portugal's Filipe Albuquerque. Ireland's Adam Carroll and Malaysia's Fairuz Fauzy rounded out the top ten.