Germany is well-and-truly back - that is the message in A1GP, after Christian Vietoris emulated the achievement of his compatriot Michael Ammerm?ller by registering his breakthrough triumph in the nation vs nation series in the Taupo feature outing.

The reigning champions endured a low-key start to their title defence in the 2007/08 campaign, with a sixth-placed finish their best result from the opening three meetings. That, though, was before Ammerm?ller suddenly hit form in Zhuhai last month, and Vietoris' similar success in New Zealand this weekend has propelled Germany up into fourth spot in the nations' standings - and right back into the hunt for overall honours.

"It was a really brilliant weekend for us," enthused the 18-year-old, who had started from the front row of the grid after finishing as runner-up in the earlier sprint. "The car was a little bit off the pace on Friday, but we improved all weekend and were on the pace for qualifying and the sprint race this morning.

"The team did two good pit-stops in the feature which put me to the front and held me there. It was really hard to keep Lo?c Duval behind me, especially on the long back straight, but we managed to hold position and I am very happy."

Indeed, occupying the second step on the podium was not Duval, but rather Robert Wickens, who converted fourth spot on the grid into both his and Canada's best result of the season. The 18-year-old series rookie had been belatedly awarded third place in Malaysia following a penalty for Ammerm?ller, but the Taupo result marked his first 'true' rostrum finish.

"We're definitely making steps in the right direction," Wickens affirmed, "from our first race in Zandvoort to where we are now. The car has improved a lot and the team finally got a decent result that we all deserve.

"We got a podium in Malaysia but I wasn't on it; this time the team got to celebrate and taste the champagne, so it was a great experience. The whole team did a great job today. There is really only one passing opportunity out on-track, and the team did an outstanding job in the pits."

Pole-sitter Duval ultimately took the chequered flag third, just over two seconds adrift of victory, but despite his double rostrum finish the Frenchman was not entirely happy with his weekend, having proved untouchable throughout practice.

"This race was there for us and we lost it," the 25-year-old rued on failing to end his nation's victory drought that stretches back almost two full years. "Sometimes it can happen. We were too slow in the pits and we lost first position; it's really hard to pass here but I did the maximum I could.

"I was trying to push him (Christian Vietoris) into making a mistake because it was really difficult to overtake, but he didn't so it was really difficult for me to try anything. That's why we did one lap more than him before the pit-stop to try to get in front, but then we lost a bit of time in the pit-stop again, so we lost two positions. There is nothing else for me to say."

Sprint race-winner and home hero Jonny Reid did an incredible job to fight his way back through the pack into fourth place, having slipped back seven places down to twelfth at the start. The Kiwi ended up just a second behind Duval after 50 laps of racing, and more significantly still his results from the weekend have vaulted New Zealand above France and Switzerland to the head of the championship standings.

Northern Irishman Adam Carroll similarly put in a superb performance to take fifth from 13th on the grid, managing to overcome an early collision that necessitated an additional pit-stop for the emerald green car. He was closely followed across the line by Brazil's Sergio Jimenez, who pulled off some impressive overtaking manoeuvres on his way to sixth place from the sixth row of the grid.

South Africa's Adrian Zaugg, the USA's Jonathan Summerton and Dutchman Jeroen Bleekemolen took seventh, eighth and ninth places respectively, whilst Mexico's David Garza drove hard from 15th on the grid to finish tenth and pick up his first point for the team on only his second competitive A1GP outing.

There was further woe, however, for former championship leaders Switzerland. Following Neel Jani's opening lap retirement from the sprint race, the 24-year-old fared little better in the feature, receiving two drive-through penalties for a false start and overtaking under yellow flags that left him a distant 14th at the chequered flag, with fastest lap the team's only small consolation from a desultory weekend.

Jani finished five seconds behind Joao Urbano, who after starting sixth had been on course to score Portugal's best result of the season as he ran third for twelve laps. A drive-through penalty for crossing the white line on entering the pit-lane, though, would torpedo his chances and leave the 20-year-old out of the points come the end of the race.

Eight of the 22 teams failed to finish the race, including China's Congfu Cheng, who spun off the track from seventh place as he like others fell victim to the dusty and slippery conditions.

The championship now remains in the Southern Hemisphere and the teams will be back on-track in two weeks' time for round six of the World Cup of Motorsport in Sydney, Australia on 1-3 February.

 

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