Lo?c Duval is adamant he could have been on pole position for both A1GP races around Taupo on Sunday, after soaring to the top spot for the feature race but missing out on the same result for the sprint when sand swept across the track shortly before the session began.

The Frenchman has been the man to beat all weekend in New Zealand, as he bids to close down the 19-point gap that separates France from pace-setters Switzerland at the top of the nations' standings. Duval had proved untouchable right throughout practice, but a few minutes before qualifying a strong wind blew a lot of sand onto the track, badly affecting grip levels.

With the majority of teams therefore uncharacteristically playing a waiting game before taking to the circuit, the 25-year-old struggled with a less-than-perfect balance and despite once again blitzing Q1, he would slip back to third in Q2 when it really counted, just shy of four tenths of a second adrift of pole-setter and home favourite Jonny Reid.

A new set-up and revised strategy would enable Duval to battle back in qualifying for the longer feature outing, though, and he duly delivered to see off Germany's Christian Vietoris by just over three hundredths of a second and seal the top spot - his maiden pole position in the nation vs nation series and France's first since Alex Pr?mat clinched P1 in Durban more than two years ago.

"It's been a good day for A1 Team France," he reflected afterwards. "We showed our speed in the morning's free sessions, and we felt pretty optimistic about qualifying. Unfortunately, the wind and the sand upset our programme; it's a bit annoying, as in normal conditions we'd have bagged pole for both races.

"Today's results, though, are good and we can tackle tomorrow's two races with a fair chance of scoring a harvest of points. Switzerland, the championship leader, will start behind us twice. This should enable us to close the gap."

Sporting director Olivier Panis echoed his driver's thoughts, and praised the team's work for reacting so quickly to allow Duval to return to the top of the timesheets in Q4.

"The sandstorm that hit the circuit just before qualifying really put the cat among the pigeons," the former grand prix winner affirmed, "and all the teams that had been competitive in free practice paid the price for this unexpected turn of events. We managed to limit the damage and set the third-quickest time for the sprint race.

"Lo?c bagged pole for the feature race after we revised the set-up and sent him out earlier in the final practice session on a cleaner track. Congratulations to the whole team, which reacted perfectly to the changing conditions. Tomorrow's aim is a couple of podium finishes, and also to close the gap to the championship leader."



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