Still without a win in the A1GP series, Loic Duval was in determined form as the latest round got underway in Australia, topping the timesheets in the second of the day's two free practice sessions at Sydney's Eastern Creek Raceway.

The 25-year old Frenchman only landed in Sydney and arrived at the track an one hour before the afternoon session began, but managed to sign-on and complete all the necessary technical briefings required to take part in the weekend. Clearly unflustered by his rushed entrance to the proceedings, Duval recorded the best time of the day on his first flying lap around the 3.93km circuit, posting a blisteringly quick 1min 18.675secs that not only slashed Team Germany's lap record by half a second, but also put the session out of reach of everyone else.

Increasingly impressive Canadian rookie Robert Wickens clocked the second fastest time of the day, and was closely followed by Great Britain's Robbie Kerr and current championship leader Jonny Reid, the Kiwi taking fourth.

Although the top four went to drivers whose only previous experience of the track cam in A1GP, local knowledge had a big say in the results, with Lebanon's Australian-domiciled Chris Alajajian on especially superb form, setting the fifth quickest lap overall, having been second fastest time in the morning hour for rookies and developing nations.

Alajajian may have recorded Lebanon's best-ever placing in the wet morning session - heading another driver, James Winslow, familiar with Eastern Creek from F3 - but was beaten to top spot by home favourite John Martin, who set the pace for Australia as the track began to dry. The 23-year-old put in a series of competitive laps in the opening hour and then went on to finish the day seventh overall - behind the Netherlands' Jeroen Bleekemolen - in front of his home crowd.

"Obviously, we won't be happy unless we're on pole tomorrow, but I think that top five would be a reasonably good result for my second meeting," Martin commented, "The car was okay today, but we still made a few changes between the sessions. We had to wait for the track to clear up a bit and then the China car spun, so I didn't really get the best lap on lap one. I came straight back to the pits and, when I went back out after that, the grip was never the same. I guess seventh isn't too bad, but I would've loved to have been a bit higher up."

Team Australia seat holder Alan Jones was equally pleased with Martin's performance.

"When we tested John at Silverstone, he showed promise, then he backed that up consistently when he did the rookie drives," the 1980 F1 world champion said, "Because of that, he has been rewarded with the lead drive and he hasn't disappointed.

"In New Zealand, he really didn't get a chance to get into his stride for one reason or another, but we knew that there was an underlying thing there. New Zealand was the first time John had experienced 'push to pass' and the first time he'd done a one-lap dash on new tyres, so there were a lot of firsts for him. We knew that, with that under his belt, he'd be good here and I think he proved that in the rookies this morning."

Duval, meanwhile, also thought that there was still room for improvement in the French car.

"It was a bit tight for me because I arrived here at 1pm, and 11am at the airport, but I am quite happy," he smiled, "My lap was not perfect but, still, it was enough to get the best lap time. This afternoon, the car was not too bad. We still have to improve a bit though, especially on my driving we have a bit to do."

Team Switzerland, the points leader when the series arrived for round five in New Zealand last month, and defending champion Germany - now with Michael Ammermuller back in harness alongside newcomer Michael Klein - both struggled at Eastern Creek, finishing the day twelfth and 14th respectively, while Team Ireland's Adam Carroll never got into his stride, filling 22nd spot on the afternoon timesheets after handing the green machine to Niall Quinn for the rookie sessions. South Africa's Adrian Zaugg was only 17th after Wesleigh Orr had run the rookie session.

 

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