Team Great Britain showed that its form had carried over from Oliver Jarvis' win in Mexico last time out, as Robbie Kerr topped the timesheets in opening practice for the penultimate round of the season in Shanghai this weekend.

Kerr clocked a time of 1min 35.573secs to pip second-placed New Zealand by just three-hundredths of a second, while Frenchman Jean Karl Vernay took advantage of his slot in the rookie session to gain track time and set the third fastest lap of the afternoon.

"Things look good," Kerr commented, "Oliver [Turvey] did an excellent job in the car [in the rookie session] and came back with some really useful data and some knowledge of the circuit for me. I could learn from that and go out there and perform well.

"When we first went out, the car was immediately competitive and we were second quickest straight away, but we just needed to make a few more improvements throughout the session, change a couple of things, and we ended up at the end of the day going quickest."

The decision to use a shortened version of the Formula One venue this weekend has caused some controversy, with the new chicane that joins turns four and eight producing problems.

"The kerbs seem to be quite low, but they bounce the car around a lot and you need to keep it stable through there to enable you to get on the power," Kerr reported, "It's definitely a challenging part of the circuit to optimise the attack but, obviously, you've got to be in control at the same time and keep it really well balanced."

Jonny Reid returned to the New Zealand entry with compatriot Matt Halliday on Champ Car duty in Long Beach, and pushed Kerr all the way. However, both had Vernay snapping at their heels in a session that could have any one of three ways.

Fourth was grabbed by India's Narain Karthikeyan, the F1 refugee using his prior knowledge of the Shanghai circuit, while American Jonathan Summerton continued to build on his strong recent performances in fifth.

Team Germany, which could potentially win the championship this weekend, finished the second practice session in sixth place, but rookie driver Christian Vietoris, who raced for the team last time out in Mexico, topped the table in the morning session, underlining its potential.

"The car was really good as we started the session and we were able to improve it," Vietoris said: "It was good to finish on P1 and now I want to drive the race. In the first two laps, there was a lot of oversteer and understeer, but I learnt it a little bit on the PlayStation so I knew the track and was able to push."

Switzerland, the Netherlands, Malaysia and Portugal rounded out the top ten, with Sebastien Buemi, Renger van der Zande, Alex Yoong and Joao Urbano at the wheel respectively. Alan van der Merwe took over the South African entry with Adrian Zaugg making his GP2 debut in Bahrain and piloted the multi-hued machine to eleventh.

Making his debut in the series, IRL frontrunner Vitor Meira could only manage 19th spot, but the spotlight in the Brazilian camp fellow rather more on his team-mate, as Bia Figueiredo became the third female to drive an A1GP car when she completed the morning practice session. The 22-year old, who follows former outings by Katherine Legge and Jennifer Murray for Great Britain and South Africa respectively, admitted that the car was a lot different to what she had been used to.

"It was fantastic and the speed was very impressive - a big difference from South American F3," she said, "I was very confident though and, towards the end of the session, my speed was okay. It was about getting confidence and, the next opportunity I get, I'll know the car and will be able to push more. I'd love to do more A1GP. It would be great. I would be available for Brands Hatch if they asked me..."

There is still work to be done by home team China, which clocked the 17th and 15th fastest times over the two sessions.

"At the beginning of the day, in the rookie session, we had a problem with one of our tyres and we didn't have a back-up, which is why the results were not very satisfying," Cheng Congfu explained, "We changed the tyre and, when you do that, you have to adjust to the new tyre.

"But things will get more and more improved. I hope we will do better tomorrow. Today hasn't been ideal for us, but we achieved a stable performance in the last ten minutes, so hopefully we can do a lot better tomorrow. We will aim high for at least a top six position."

 

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