The weather may have remained dull, but that couldn't wipe the smile off Adrian Zaugg's face as he steered South Africa to a commanding sprint race victory in the opening round of the 2007/08 A1GP campaign at Zandvoort - just as he had done almost exactly twelve months previously.

The Arden GP2 refugee leapt into the lead from pole as the lights went out to signal that the third season of the hotly-fought nation vs nation series was go, with Loic Duval and Salvador Duran maintaining position for France and Mexico respectively behind and local hero Jeroen Bleekemolen up one spot into fourth at the expense of Switzerland's Neel Jani. Further down the order there was considerably less joy for Team Australia, as Ian Dyk had failed to get away from the grid on the formation lap and was consequently forced to start from the pit-lane.

In an effortless show of superiority, by lap three Zaugg had already established a 2.5-second lead, while a lap later Bleekemolen would pass Duran into the first corner to send the partisan supporters into states of delirium. Further back, there were similarly successful moves from Great Britain's Oliver Jarvis on Jonny Reid in the New Zealand entry, and Malaysia's Alex Yoong on Chinese star Congfu Cheng.

As Bleekemolen continued to apply the pressure on Duval ahead of him, Zaugg was able to make good his escape, and halfway through the twelve-lap encounter he had opened up a gaping 5.3-second advantage over his pursuers.

The race would finish the same way, with Zaugg taking the chequered flag more than 7.5 seconds to the good ahead of Duval, shadowed all the way home by Bleekemolen who in claiming third marked his maiden rostrum finish on home soil.

Duran wound up fourth, barely a tenth of a second adrift of the bright orange Dutch machine and having overcome an early scare when the Mexican was put under investigation for having allegedly crossed the pit-lane exit white line while leaving the pits to join the grid. Jani took fifth and Christian Vietoris sixth for reigning champions Germany, chased all the way to the line by a racy-looking Jarvis. Ralph Firman - another driver to fall prey to the hard-charging Englishman - Reid and Narain Karthikeyan completed the top ten.

Lebanon's Chris Alajajian also produced a memorable performance on his A1GP debut, finishing in 14th place having started 18th on the grid and enjoying a mid-race tussle with the Czech Republic and China, the trio of cars at one point getting side-by-side.

"We prepared a really good car for today in the dry and yesterday in the wet conditions," enthused the jubilant race-winner afterwards. "We have shown we can be competitive in both the wet and the dry, so it's looking good.

"After two or three laps I looked in my rear mirrors and I couldn't see anyone anymore so from then I never had to go to the maximum, but it was very hard not to lose my rhythm. I hope to do it again in the feature race. When you look at the times we should be the ones to beat in that race so we have every chance."

Duval was similarly pleased with the result, as France bids to re-establish its credentials as a title challenger following a disappointing 2006/07 campaign in which it finished a distant fourth in the nations' standings. The 25-year-old had a fairly uneventful race to pick up twelve championship points for his country, and insisted he had not felt under any great pressure despite the constant attentions of Bleekemolen in his rear-view mirrors.

"The first two or three laps (Zaugg and I) were on the same level," the former F3 Euroseries ace stated, "but then the car became a bit difficult to drive - we had more oversteer so I couldn't follow him. I had to concentrate on keeping second position, which wasn't too difficult because I had some boosts to pass and he (Bleekemolen) didn't. It was a great race, but we have to work a lot on the car for the feature race and make some changes."

The home hero was equally delighted at securing both his and the Netherlands' debut A1GP podium on home turf, and despite having to start six places further down the grid in the feature race following an indifferent qualifying, he remained optimistic of making it a double cause for celebration.

"It's great," the erstwhile DTM and FIA GT star grinned. "Yesterday we really messed up the qualifying for the feature race so I'm pleased to take the podium in this one so it's in the bag, and then in the next one I hope we can also find a way back to the front.

"I think it looks good because the car was fantastic. We had a quick car and in the feature race things will be different; the tyres go off more so you can overtake a bit easier. I'm looking forward to it!

"With A1GP anything is possible, but we have to be realistic. It's not going to be easy to drive our way back to the front, but there are two pit-stops this year and the guys are good at it so I'm feeling quite confident. If we can run in clear air without any traffic, we should be able to do it."

 

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