A1GP » 22 February 2009
Jani feature win equals record and puts Swiss back on top
Neel Jani joined Nico Hülkenberg atop the list of most prolific A1GP race-winners by storming to his ninth victory in the World Cup of Motorsport in Kyalami's feature outing today, in so doing vaulting defending champions Switzerland to the head of the title standings once again as disaster struck erstwhile leaders Ireland.
A textbook getaway from Clivio Piccione saw Monaco assume the early lead in South Africa ahead of a fast-starting Jani – from fifth on the grid – and teenage New Zealand star Earl Bamber. Malaysia's Fairuz Fauzy – who had unceremoniously turfed Adam Carroll off the track and crashing into retirement on the opening tour as the pair duelled over fourth – John Martin for Australia and Brazilian ace Felipe Guimarães all followed in close attendance behind.
Fauzy's next victim was Bamber, who he similarly tipped out of contention on lap three when the former GP2 runner left his braking too late, allowing Martin to nip past both and into third place. In the ensuing mêlée behind, Nicolas Prost in the French entry and Mexico's Salvador Duran also came together, leaving both out of the action on the spot, whilst following a further spin on lap nine, Fauzy would later have to pit for repairs not once but twice.
Portugal, meanwhile, had seen their hopes of seizing the championship lead dashed when sprint race runner-up Filipe Albuquerque bogged down at the start and fell right down to the rear of the pack. There was bad news for early leader Piccione, too, who endured a tardy first pit-stop that cost him P1 to Jani, whilst third-placed Martin stalled during his own first pit visit as another car came across his bows just as he was set to leave, costing him a lap in the process.
After the pit-stops had all shaken out, Jani led from Piccione, Guimarães and the Netherlands' sprint race-winner Jeroen Bleekemolen, who had used the stops to get by Great Britain's Danny Watts. Piccione, though, was struggling to keep pace with the new race leader, and after Guimarães had tracked his prey for a number of laps, the young Brazilian finally made his move to snatch second place when the Monegasque ace succumbed to the pressure he was under and ran wide on lap 24.
There was no joy for home hero Adrian Zaugg as the South African car suffered a gearbox problem that would end his challenge on lap 17 of 40 after having worked his way up well from 15th into the top ten, but there were no such concerns for Jani, who successfully reeled off the remaining laps to take the chequered flag more than 13 seconds to the good at the close.
Guimarães held onto the runner-up position by just over a second from a determined Piccione to secure Brazil's first podium of the season to-date, as behind the duo Bleekemolen just staved off a resurgent Albuquerque for fourth, the young Portuguese star having made a breathtaking recovery from his start-line woes to claim fifth place – and with it six potentially crucial championship points for his nation.
Lebanon's Daniel Morad pipped Watts to sixth with just three laps to go following a stunning charge from a lowly 19th on the starting grid, in so doing registering his country's highest-ever finish and only second-ever points result in the series.
The USA's Marco Andretti, Indonesian ace Zahir Ali – on his series debut – and Edoardo Piscopo rounded out the top ten and final points-scorers amongst the 13 finishers, the latter having had to fend off the earnest challenge of Narain Karthikeyan in the Indian machine for a number of laps. Fauzy took the fastest lap for Malaysia by dint of the PowerBoost, at the end of an otherwise miserable race for the squad.
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