Tomas Enge may have been a late addition to the Czech Republic team as the A1 Grand Prix season resumed in New Zealand, but the veteran did not let that hold him back as he set the pace on the opening day at Taupo.

Stepping in at short notice for Jarek Janis, Enge staved off the effects of jet lag following a flight from America to snatch top spot from surprise package India at the close of play.

"I should be in Daytona, preparing for the 24 Hours next weekend, but Janis is injured so I got a late call to come to New Zealand," Enge, who won the final A1GP race of 2005-06 in China, explained, "I'm very happy to step in, but I didn't expect the track to be so dirty, and you really had to push the car round the corners. I just hope I can continue like this for the weekend."

Had it not been for Enge's late charge, India would have topped a session for the first time in A1GP history, the decision to call on Narain Karthikeyan paying off immediately. The WilliamsF1 test driver was only announced as the team's new driver on the eve of the event, but Karthikeyan quickly adjusted to the A1GP car, taking third spot in the first rookie-only session behind Loic Duval and James Hinchcliffe, before moving up to second behind the Frenchman next time around. He then went on to dominate free practice until Enge's intervention.

"It's a big, big difference, but I'm happy with the way things are going," the former F3 champion noted, "I'm not getting carried away by today, there is still lots to be done on the car. The team have had some less experienced drivers so we need a lot of work to be done on the car set-up-wise."

Duval, who gets the nod to complete an entire A1GP weekend for the first time, was relegated to third spot in the first meaningful practice session, lapping just over a tenth off Enge's time - Karthikeyan was just 0.055secs adrift of the Czech - while Richard Lyons showed his increasing comfort in the Irish car by claiming fourth, ahead of current points leader Nico Hulkenberg. Like Enge, the young German is now not eligible for the rookie session, and had to rely on newcomer Christian Vietoris' input.

Despite coming into the Taupo weekend as winner of the latest A1GP rounds, host nation New Zealand struggled to make an impact on free practice. Although rookie Wade Cunningham had posted fifth and eighth places in the early sessions, the more experienced Jonny Reid could only put the car in the lower reaches of the top ten, although he wasn't too disappointed with the outcome.

"I'm not disillusioned by the results - in fact, it's quite pleasing as we have a few tricks up our sleeves," he insisted, "The track is really dirty off-line and it's a really technical circuit, so I'll be relying on the team and mechanics a lot."

Enrico Toccacelo and Jeroen Bleekemolen separated Reid from the top five, while Alan van der Merwe and Robbie Kerr completed the top ten. There is another free practice session on Saturday morning, before qualifying decides the grid for Sunday's opening sprint race.

 

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