MATT HALLIDAY (Team New Zealand) and ALEXANDRE PREMAT (Team France) were the fastest drivers in the two A1GP practice sessions on Friday at Parque Fundidora in Monterrey, Mexico.

Mist, with intermittent rain, made the session a trial for the drivers, including the six with prior experience on the street circuit.

TOMAS ENGE of the Czech Republic team said: "Even light rain can make it very slippery and, especially off-line, it is like driving on ice."

Halliday topped the charts for most of the first hour-long practice session on Friday morning, which lasted nearly 90 minutes due to three red flags, including HAYANARI SHIMODA (Team Japan) being towed in after driving into the Turn Six tyre barrier. The Japanese car was the only car, of 21, which sustained any damage, and Shimoda missed the afternoon session due to repairs to the heavy damage on the left front corner.

Halliday said the Monterrey circuit was tricky, but never really bad. He characterised parts of the wet session as 'exciting'.

Team Portugal skipped the morning session, but ALVARO PARENTE was third fastest in the afternoon session, which also had 21 drivers.

Halliday swapped the lead in the morning with TIMO SCHEIDER (Team Germany), but held onto the fastest lap with a time of 1m 38:067s, which held all day. Halliday led much of the afternoon session, but finished in second position behind Premat.

Despite the rain and absolutely no orientation or acclimation time, Premat pulled off the fastest time Friday afternoon. He arrived at the track Friday morning, straight from a flight from Paul Ricard in France, where he had been running a GP2 test. Premat suited up and went out in the mist and was second fastest with a time of 1m 38.300s. In the afternoon, neither Halliday or Premat could match their morning times. Premat drove 14 laps, spun, stalled on a high kerb, and caused a red flag. And he still was fastest Friday afternoon, in the shortened session which had several red flags. There were spins and off-course excursions, but no real problems.

Halliday's team is one of eight which has nominated only one driver for the weekend. Team New Zealand had wanted 2003 IndyCar Series champion SCOTT DIXON to race, but Dixon's IRL team owner, CHIP GANASSI, declined to give permission.

RALPH FIRMAN (Team Ireland) suffered mechanical problems in the first session, with a faulty new master cylinder causing brake problems, and no regular race engineer due to late arrival. This had him in P18 for the first session. Firman's time improved in the second session and he finished eighth.

Tonight, Zytek, which supplies the spec engines for the series, asked the team to install a new engine. No night out on the town Friday for the Irish team.

The A1GP Series races on some new, modern circuits. One difference encountered this weekend is that the pit-lane is bound by a wall, which means crews going over the wall to service the car, a la Champ Car or NASCAR. On some of the F1 tracks that A1 races at, there is no wall - the garages open right onto the pit-lane, giving easier access to the car and driver.

The teams are allowed seven sets of Cooper tyres each race weekend. Usually they take five sets of slicks and two sets of wets. There are no intermediate tyres in this series. In conditions such as Friday's heavy mist with a very wet track, teams can opt for three sets of wets and four sets of slicks. The tyres are collected after each race and destroyed.

A1GP Series is a spec series with a spec tyre, so scrutineering isn't really an issue. There has only been one instance of a car not passing technical inspection, with Team Brazil once having a floor which was worn down - and that's the extent of non-compliance.

I stand corrected on how old BOBBY RAHAL's father was when he emigrated from Lebanon. I said he came as a young man. Actually, Rahal Sr was very young - Bobby's grandmother was pregnant with Sr at the time!

Young GRAHAM RAHAL, Bobby's son, had his first ever outing in an A1 car Friday morning, with no prior experience. Graham's test last week in Misano was in a F3000 car. Despite racing professionally for the past two years, the 17-year old has never raced in the rain until now.

In the morning session, early on he ran as high as seventh overall, but he spent much of that session with his dad, talking about the track and rain racing. Graham was twelfth in the morning and 19th in the afternoon, using that session to learn the track. The team is impressed at how mature Graham is, despite his youth. Father Rahal said that his son is more cool and collected as a young driver than he was at that age.

Graham Rahal has RICK GORNE as his manager, and the current plan is for him to run the full Atlantic season with Mi-Jack Conquest Racing, sponsored by Gehl. In the next 'off season', Graham will run the full second year of A1GP with Team Lebanon. The 2007 season should see him running in Europe, perhaps in Formula Renault.

Team Lebanon comes from one of the smallest of the 25 countries in the series - four million people in 6462 square miles/10,400 square kms. It is the first-ever Arab team in an international single-seater series.

Also having no rain experience was DAVID MARTINEZ (Team Mexico). He found racing on his 'home' track more difficult than anticipated. He was P17 in the morning and P16 in the afternoon.

"I was quick on the first sector, but couldn't find the speed in the second and third sectors," he said, "When it gets a bit dryer, I will feel more confident."

At almost every track the series runs at least one driver or team will have prior experience. The one exception was the recent street race at Durban in South Africa. It drew a large, wildly enthusiastic crowd.

MAX PAPIS of Italy is cruising around under the radar in the A1GP paddock this weekend. Despite his height, Papis went largely unnoticed... perhaps due to lots of scurrying around with folks bundled up in rain gear. If things work out, Papis will race for Team Italy at the next race at Laguna Seca. Papis has run at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in both open-wheelers and sedans. He won the 2001 CART race in his first outing at the famed northern California circuit, and also ran it again the following year. Last year, Papis won the Laguna round of the SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge series, as a factory driver for Team Cadillac.



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