Jonny Reid confessed he hadn't been sure whether his feature race qualifying effort would ultimately prove good enough to seal the top spot, after seeing off championship rival Switzerland by the narrowest of margins at Eastern Creek.

Behind the wheel of Black Beauty, the Kiwi ace had wound up fourth on the timesheets five times in succession throughout the weekend - including in qualifying for the shorter sprint outing - but he was on-form when it counted, playing the tactical game to perfection to pip Neel Jani by just twelve thousandths of a second and claim the prime starting position.

"We got held up in the first qualifying segment for the sprint race," the 24-year-old explained of New Zealand's early appearance in Q3, "so we wanted to get out and get clear air.

"It feels fantastic. We weren't sure if the time was going to stick, but the conditions changed a lot with the sun coming out and it got a bit warmer. The car feels great so I'm confident for tomorrow - we'll see how we go."

Jani's qualifying efforts, meanwhile - twice annexing the outside front row spot aboard the Swiss entry - were a triumph of determination over drama, as poor pace throughout practice had forced a complete re-build of the car in time for Saturday, the mechanics changing the steering rack and only finishing the job at 1am.

Ultimately, however, it was discovered that a bad set of tyres had been the culprit for the disappointing practice showing, and Jani came within seven hundredths of a second of depriving France's Lo?c Duval of the sprint race pole before getting even closer to the top spot in feature race qualifying.

"I am back to life," the 24-year-old joked afterwards. "I didn't lose my courage because I knew the ridiculous practice session times weren't my fault, but I was prepared to work with a difficult situation. Under these circumstances I was happy to miss both pole positions by a few thousands of a second only."

"James [Robinson - engineer] and all the mechanics did a great job," added team principal Max Welti. "The team and Neel were optimistic at all times and never gave up. Neel was especially calm and confident and showed a superb resilience."

France too is sure to provide a stern challenge to New Zealand and Switzerland, with Duval adding to his sprint race pole with fifth slot on the grid for the 70-minute feature event, but there was no such joy for fellow contender for the crown Germany. Former race-winner Michael Ammerm?ller failed to shine on his series return, languishing down in seventh and twelfth places respectively - a far cry from the front row slots the resurgent defending champions have been accustomed to in recent meetings.

"I'm very disappointed as, following my previous fifth place in free practice, I'd clearly been hoping for more," the erstwhile GP2 ace rued. "I think our biggest problem today was that we didn't make optimum use of the new tyres.

"In the first session we had no chance when a traffic jam resulted from the accident and the yellow flag. In the second things were going much better, although I still lost too much time in some of the turns. In the third outing we were on old tyres and made a mechanical change; that didn't pay off, so we reversed it again and in the fourth trial used the last new set of tyres.

"The balance of the car was simply not as good as it should have been and, what's more, I made a major driving mistake during the last session. That cost me time in as many as two consecutive corners.

"Improving on this circuit in the race will be pretty difficult. We need to put our hopes on the mistakes of other teams and, on our part, ensure that we will - as always - manage good pit-stops and of course a clever strategy with the David Sears Motorsport squad."

 

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