Having proved a class apart in the sprint event, Niko Hulkenberg was again barely troubled on the way to victory in the A1 Grand Prix feature race at Taupo, a win that gives Germany an unprecedented lead in the championship standings.

An engrossing, if not especially exciting, race that was made up of meticulous drives down the field, Hulkenberg got the jump at the start and, save for an early tussle with second place Loic Duval, was consistently quicker than any other driver throughout the race.

He led home Duval, the debuting Frenchman holding off home favourite Jonny Reid for the duration of the 50 laps in a thrilling tussle that captivated the sell-out crowd, even if the eventual result would not mirror the spectators hopes.

Indeed, Duval put in a masterful display of defensive driving from lap nine onwards when he managed to hold off Reid in a pit-stop head-to-head, a tense stop that allowed France to get out marginally in front and ultimately keep arguably the faster New Zealand behind on the tight Taupo circuit.

To prove the point, the battle for second place stretched back to sixth too, but there was no opportunity for Switzerland, Netherlands or Great Britain to pass one another, the only move coming during the pit stop window when Sebastien Buemi vaulted Jeroen Bleekemolen, the youngster having stayed out significantly longer than any of his nearest rivals.

Robbie Kerr had looked racy early on, battling with the fast-starting Alan van der Merwe over the first couple of laps to prove overtaking was possible. For van der Merwe though, that fast start proved to be too fast, with stewards deeming it false and giving him a drive-through penalty to end his hopes of points.

Indeed, little more than two seconds separated France, New Zealand, Switzerland, Netherlands and Great Britain for the majority of the race, the occasional feigned move and flirtation with the 'Powerboost' button the closest any would get to actually executing any sort of pass.

As it happens, Kerr would not get to the chequered flag when the British car slowed dramatically on lap 40 with a suspected gearbox problem, a failure that means the team go away empty-handed from a meeting for the first time, remarkably, since last season's Estoril round in October 2005.

Britain's demise lifted James Hinchcliffe into his second sixth place finish of the day, the Canadian enduring a lonely race, catching the group ahead of him in the latter stages but never getting close enough to make a difference.

He in turn was nine seconds up on perhaps the most endearing story of the day, that of Narain Karthikeyan finishing seventh and scoring India's first ever points in A1 GP, the former F1 driver keeping himself out of trouble to claim popular result and get the nation off the mark. Interestingly, he also scored the second fastest lap of the race, being the only driver other than Hulkenberg to dip below the 1min 15sec mark all day.

The final points paying positions were claimed by Italy, who ran sixth ahead of Great Britain early on but dropped back dramatically following a tardy pit stop, China, Ho-Pin Tung scoring his first points in the series, and Ryan Hunter-Reay, who marked his debut for USA with a single point for tenth.

The tussle for the final point had also proved to a highlight of the race, with Hunter-Reay, Ireland's Richard Lyons and later Alex Yoong battling away over the latter stages. Initially, Lyons held the position having fought his way back up the order from an off on the first lap, only to again suffer from yet more mechanical gremlins, this time a misfire, to soon slip back behind Hunter-Reay and then Yoong.

To compound the issue, Lyons' car finally cried enough on lap 45 when his suspension failed, spinning him off the circuit and ending a promising, but wholly unfulfilling, weekend.

Up at the front though, Hulkenberg was the clear winner, easing off in the final laps to bring the gap to Duval down to a still comprehensive 20 seconds margin.

His victory moves him 19 points clear over France, who managed their best combined result of the season in the hands of their 'number two driver' Duval, while New Zealand have now moved up to third place as they continue their patch of form.

Great Britain slip to fourth in the standings after a torrid weekend, something that was mirrored by both Mexico and Malaysia, who come away from Taupo pointless too. Italy and Switzerland hold onto joint seventh, while Canada and Netherlands round out the top ten.

The next round of the series will see A1 GP skip north to the Eastern Creek circuit, just outside Sydney, Australia, a race that last year was dominated by France. With Germany looking tough to beat in terms of both speed and consistency, France will need a similar result this year if there is any hope of retaining their crown...

 

Comments

Loading Comments...