Having looked odds-on to tie up the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport honours one meeting early in Shanghai last weekend, the Swiss squad is now refusing to count its chickens as the battle for the championship goes on to the series finale at Brands Hatch at the beginning of next month.

Neel Jani comfortably outpaced the opposition to storm to a brace of pole positions in qualifying, taking the top spot by almost half a second on both occasions. He converted that into a lights-to-flag success in the shorter sprint outing, coming home almost five seconds ahead of nearest pursuer Robert Wickens (Canada) - with an extra point for fastest lap to boot - as title challengers New Zealand crashed out on the opening lap and France similarly failed to score, but the feature outing would not prove to be quite so straightforward.

A tardy getaway when the lights went out was the first indication that all was not well with the Swiss machine, and though Jani would remain in the slipstream of race leader Jonathan Summerton (USA) during the race's early stages, a loss of second gear and the subsequent disappearance of fifth would badly stymie his efforts.

Despite gamely battling on and incredibly still lying ahead of Jonny Reid in Black Beauty at two-thirds distance - meaning Switzerland remained on-course to lift the laurels - a delay in his second pit-stop when the lollipop was raised before the right rear wheel had been properly fitted to the car led to the former Champ Car star and GP ace falling back behind both Ireland and New Zealand - and saw to it that the fight for nations' glory goes on. A lowly 14h-fastest lap time to his name demonstrated just how much Jani had struggled.

"The gearbox blew my hopes", the 24-year-old rued after coming home less than seven seconds adrift of his Kiwi rival. "Without second gear - which we normally use six times per lap at this circuit - there was no way of making up for the time we lost in the pits.

"Shifting down before the hairpin, which we approach at 290 km/h, was particularly bad. The rear wheels locked up when we left out a gear."

Nevertheless, with a solid 29-point advantage over New Zealand and France now out of the running, Switzerland remain overwhelming favourites to clinch the crown on British soil in just under three weeks' time - though Max Welti is adamant that after the outfit's Chinese surprise, nothing will be taken for granted.

"We have seen once more that there are always many unexpected things in racing," the team principal admitted. "Now we will have to be patient until Brands Hatch, but Neel did a good job, even with a blunt weapon."

 

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