Following New Zealand's victory, France's fine form, Germany's resurgence and Switzerland's abject weekend in Taupo, the A1GP championship has hit the halfway point of its 2007/08 season the closest it has ever been.

Jonny Reid's immensely popular success on home turf has propelled 'Black Beauty' to a narrow two-point advantage over France and erstwhile pace-setter Switzerland in the nations' standings - a remarkable turnaround given that following the sprint outing in Zhuhai, just three races ago, the Kiwis had languished some 27 points adrift of their Swiss rivals.

The situation is also in stark contrast to the series' previous two campaigns - in 2005/06 France held a commanding 36-point lead over the third-placed competitor at the midway stage of proceedings, whilst the following year Germany's margin of supremacy over its second-nearest challenger was 18 points.

"Coming out of Taupo with the title lead was way more than I expected," Reid candidly admitted following his stunning victory and strong fight back to fourth place in the later feature event. "With the points the way they were before Taupo, I thought maybe we would come out second if we had a good weekend, but we had a fantastic weekend and we're now leading. We can't ask for more than that. It's anyone's game at the moment, but we're on top and we've got to build on that."

The Swiss outfit's weekend, in comparison, could barely have been any worse, with but a solitary point garnered courtesy of Neel Jani's fastest lap in the feature race. Indeed, the nation saw its pre-meeting 19 point lead wiped out in one fell swoop, after the ex-GP2 and Champ Car ace fell victim to an opening lap skirmish in the sprint and suffered a brace of drive-through penalties and a broken front wing in the feature.

However, the manner in which he scored that point gave Jani confidence that Taupo was merely a minor blip on the team's radar, as his quickest race lap was more than 1.1 seconds faster than anyone else on the track, and even bettered last year's lap record - no mean feat considering that turn twelve had been changed to a far slower second-gear right-hander for the 2008 event.

"What a day," the 24-year-old reflected. "I scored one point that I dedicate to my team for their strong teamwork on a tough day for us. In the last stint [of the feature race] my speed was excellent. My car was perfect and thanks to my team, I scored one point for fastest lap and a track lap record.

"The title is not gone. The most important thing is that we have the pace, and hopefully we've got all our bad luck out of the way here. In fact, we have more than just the pace; we just need to get it done in qualifying and start near the front. The feature race showed how much faster we are.

"It was a disappointing weekend and it is not great giving away points like that - fairly crucial points at this stage of the season. Given our pace, though, I'm sure we will get the championship [lead] back in Australia.'

Like Switzerland, France is also on 80 points, but the inaugural series champions have yet to break their duck in the current campaign, instead proving the very model of consistency with Lo?c Duval at the wheel. It is amazing to think that the team which proved so untouchable two years ago has now not triumphed for some 36 races, stretching all the way back to Mexico in 2006.

Les bleus have, though, ended every race of 2007/08 so far solidly in the points, and in half of them up on the podium. That was the case again in Taupo as Duval twice finished third, but the 25-year-old was nevertheless frustrated at not having been able to properly capitalise on a weekend when he had proven the man to beat all the way through practice, classing it as a golden opportunity missed.

"The German team won the race but we were much faster," the former Macau F3 Grand Prix pole-sitter asserted. "All weekend we were the fastest on the track; I'm disappointed because I did my job but I just lost a bit of time in the pits.

"It was our race, it was our win but we didn't do it. It wasn't a bad weekend for us; it's just when you can win a race you must win it, rather than throw it away.

"I'm the most consistent driver here, and every weekend we're at the front. I'm confident about me and confident about the team, and we will fight on for the championship."

Christian Vietoris' feature race success for Germany, meanwhile, has rocketed the reigning champions up the order into fourth place in the title chase, just 17 points shy of the lead and irrefutably in with a shout. Two meetings ago Willi Weber's squad occupied a lowly twelfth position - 47 points down and not even in the top half of the points table - and all was seemingly lost after the controversy of Malaysia.

The message is clear: Count Germany out at your peril. With ten races to go, the battle - and the heat - is on.

A1GP 2007/08 nations' standings after round five of ten:

1. New Zealand 82 points 3 wins, 4 podiums, 10 points finishes, 1 pole position, 1 fastest lap
2. Switzerland 80 points 2 wins, 5 podiums, 8 points finishes, 3 pole positions, 4 fastest laps
3. France 80 points 0 wins, 5 podiums, 10 points finishes, 1 pole position, 0 fastest laps
4. Germany 65 points 2 wins, 3 podiums, 8 points finishes, 1 pole position, 1 fastest lap

 

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