Team France clocked the fastest lap of the day as the A1 Grand Prix series resumed after its Christmas break, Loic Duval besting his 21 rivals on the opening day at Taupo in New Zealand.

For the first time, all 22 drivers took to the track with biofuel powering their cars, an historic moment for the three-year old series, but it made little difference to the running order at the end of the day, with former champion France at the head of the list. Despite not taking part in the morning's rookie session - which was topped by Canada's Robert Wickens - 25-year old Duval lapped the slightly-revised 3.5km circuit in 1min 15.545secs as glorious sunshine welcomed the series back into action.

"It was a good session for us, especially without the rookie session this morning," Duval said, "We worked with the data from last year and the car was great. I feel really good here, but it means nothing to be on the 'front row' on Friday. It happened many times last year and I didn't get pole position, so that is my target for tomorrow."

Ireland's Adam Carroll, who was the quickest man on track in the first 25-minute rookie practice, set the second fastest time of the day, while championship leader Neel Jani finished third for Switzerland, just over a tenth of a second off his former GP2 rival.

Defending champion Germany looked strong all day, with 18-year old Christian Vietoris setting the fourth fastest time, putting himself ahead of Team USA's Jonathan Summerton and Great Britain's Robbie Kerr. Rookie pacesetter Wickens eventually wound up seventh, ahead of home hero Jonny Reid. Despite being only eighth quickest, however, the 24-year old Kiwi remains optimistic.

"It was a very tough session," Reid admitted, "Everyone was very very tight in the times, but we've got some areas where we can improve. The track conditions were changing a lot and, obviously, we didn't get as close as we would have liked. But there's still plenty of time over these early days.

"There's not too much to change overnight. We had a small problem which we will improve but, if we actually look at all my sector times, I'm sure we're very close to France. We just need to capitalise on one small area and hopefully we will be there."

Australia's new lead driver John Martin was an impressive second fastest in both rookie sessions, but eventually ended the day in twelfth place behind Holland's Jeroen Bleekemolen, South Africa's Adrian Zaugg and Italy's Edoardo Piscopo.

The times were just under a second slower than last year, largely due to Turn 12 being a much tighter corner for 2008, the change designed to increase overtaking opportunities come race day on Sunday.



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