Inaugural A1GP series champions France set the early pace in practice ahead of the season-opener at Zandvoort this weekend, seeing off the challenges of Mexico and reigning title-holders Germany as the damp conditions witnessed a number of drivers come unstuck.

Loic Duval snatched the top spot away right at the end of the session, though the 25-year-old's best effort was a full 16 seconds shy of last year's marker laid down by South Africa's Adrian Zaugg in the dry.

Salvador Duran wound up second-quickest, just over five tenths of a second adrift of the pace-setter after heading proceedings for the majority of the session. It was an impressive showing indeed from the young World Series by Renault star, as he had not so much as sat in the Mexican car throughout pre-season testing and his last A1GP outing was at his home event in Mexico City back in March.

Christian Vietoris was third-fastest for Germany, with Zaugg fourth and Team Ireland's Ralph Firman a strong fifth and the last driver to get within a second of Duval.

Home hero Jeroen Bleekemolen, Swiss ace Neel Jani, Italian representative Enrico Toccacelo, Erik Janis of the Czech Republic and Great Britain's Oliver Jarvis rounded out the leading contenders.

Elsewhere, meanwhile, there were dramas for Portugal's Joao Urbano, who crashed out just 20 minutes into the session when he slid into the tyre barriers at a hairpin. Though he was unable to get going again, the damage to the car was fortunately only minor and should be able to be rectified in time for qualifying.

New Zealand's Jonny Reid, Janis, American newcomer Buddy Rice and Bleekemolen were also in the wars in the tricky conditions.



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