Team Portugal's Filipe Albuquerque was on superb form as the A1 Grand Prix series shipped up in Shanghai, topping the timesheets in both the official free and rookie practice sessions in Shanghai.

The penultimate round of the 2007-08 season got underway in cool and cloudy conditions, but that did not prevent Albuquerque from going fastest in both rookie sessions this morning. Portugal has chosen to make use of the Red Bull protege's rookie status by running him in the Friday morning sessions for the rest of the season, and is now hoping that his pace will carry through to free practice and qualifying. The 22-year old was 0.320secs quicker than France's rookie, Nicolas Prost.

Albuquerque, who scored an impressive podium finish on his A1GP debut in Durban seven weeks ago, was also the man to beat this afternoon, the 22-year old setting a time of 1min 35.223secs around the 4.6km Chinese circuit, improving on his mark from the morning by over a second after setting his time in the opening minutes of the session and holding on for the remainder of the hour.

"It's always good to do as many laps as possible because I'm a rookie in this car," Albuquerque commented, "I'm still learning the skills to drive it and put it all together perfectly, and the more laps I do the better I get.

"The pace of the car is getting good, especially with the new tyres, and I think we are in the running for the pole. I would prefer it for sure, but it's not going to be as easy as it looks. I'm still working on the car, but I'm not happy with the speed and I need a lot more. We will see but, definitely, we are in the hunt to get to the pole."

The Portuguese car was closely followed by New Zealand's Jonny Reid, who won the Shanghai feature race last year and has his sights firmly set on a repeat performance on Sunday. Filip Salaquarda, who represented his nation in Shanghai last year, was third quickest in the Czech car this afternoon, while the current points leader, Switzerland's Neel Jani, finished fourth fastest overall, just ahead of Germany's Michael Ammerm?ller.

Franck Montagny was impressive on his A1GP debut for France, clocking the fourth fastest time on only his second run in the French car, before ending the afternoon seventh overall behind GBR's Robbie Kerr. Montagny, who is expected to race a Champ Car in Long Beach next weekend, admitted it had been a long time since he had driven a car as 'nervous' as A1GP example and reckoned he needed a bit more time to get used to it.

Home hero Congfu Cheng, who is no longer eligible to take part in the rookie sessions, finished the day ninth fastest behind the USA's Jonathan Summerton, but the times were close all day, with just over a second separating the top twelve in the afternoon.

"It's a pity that I didn't take part in the rookie session this morning, because I would have had more laps to get used to the set-up of the car and the new tyres, and get more familiar with the circuit," Cheng admitted, "I raced here last year though, and I will be able to give more information to my team tonight and during practice tomorrow morning. The qualifying session tomorrow will be very competitive and I'm sure we will be able to improve on today."

Behind Albuquerque, Prost recorded his best performance of the season, while Alexandre Imperatori handed the Swiss car over to Jani in good shape, having been third quickest.

Daniel Morad was fourth, which bodes well for the rest of the weekend for Canada, and also drove the afternoon's free practice session, as Robert Wickens was tied up with the final day of World Series by Renault testing in Spain and would fly in for Saturday.

It wasn't all plain sailing, however, with Indonesia's Satrio Hermanto, Italy's Davide Rigon and South Africa's Wesleigh Orr all among those suffering offs as the circuit lacked grip early on.

 

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