A1 Team New Zealand may have left Eastern Creek last weekend still in command of the A1GP title proceedings, but the squad is painfully aware it could have been better still but for a calamitous error in the feature race.

The Kiwis entered the Australian meeting on the back of home success in Taupo and two points clear of Switzerland and France in the championship standings, and Jonny Reid's strong second place from fourth on the grid in the opening sprint outing kept them well on-course. On slick tyres poorly-suited to the sudden downpour and wet track, the 24-year-old fish-tailed his way through the rain and pulled off a superb pass on Neel Jani in the Swiss entry on lap nine.

"It was a good battle with Neel," he acknowledged afterwards, "and once I got in front I gradually pulled away and started concentrating on Lo?c [Duval - Team France], but he was doing a good job in tricky conditions and I didn't want to take any risks and compromise the championship."

Better yet promised to follow in the longer feature race later on - with Reid set to begin from pole position - but an ill-timed stall on the formation lap around to the grid left Black Beauty to be transported back to the pits on the back of a flatbed truck, and to take the start from the pit-lane rather than the top spot. From there the former double New Zealand Formula Ford Festival winner fought back valiantly to snatch two vital points for ninth place, narrowly retaining New Zealand's advantage in the nations' standings by dint of having scored three wins to France's one.

"We can't believe it,' he reflected afterwards, relieved and frustrated in equal measure. "We tried to lose [the championship lead] and we still have it, so I'm very pleased.

"[We were] on a high after qualifying on pole, another high after the sprint race podium and then this massive low as the field streaks off 200 metres in front of you.

"On the formation lap I tried to do a standing start on track but I stalled it; that was my fault. I told the marshals to get me to the brow of the hill but they had to stop pushing me because they were too tired. It was frustrating to be hauled onto the back of a truck at the brow of a hill when I hadn't had the opportunity to re-start it. A bit more of a push and we would have been alright.

"All-in-all I'm very, very pleased to have gained a couple of points in such variable conditions after finding myself struggling in the deep end, and now I'm looking forward. The championship goes on, and it's going to be very tough. It's anyone's game yet, and we're just going to go to Durban and try and extend that lead."

The World Cup of Motorsport will head to South Africa on 23-24 February, with the leading five contenders for glory - New Zealand, France, Switzerland, South Africa and Germany - blanketed by just 19 points in the title race and 128 remaining up for grabs.

"We're a little bit down," admitted A1 Team NZL manager John Sears, "but we're pleased and relieved that a weekend that could have ended badly for us as a team hasn't had any major repercussions.

"Essentially it's an opportunity lost to extend the championship lead, but we'll still be heading to Durban in a pace-setting position."



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