Robbie Kerr gave the partisan home supporters something to cheer about in opening practice for this weekend's 2007/08 A1GP finale at Brands Hatch, by keeping all 21 of his rivals at bay to record the quickest lap time.

The 28-year-old - bidding to secure third position in the nations' standings for his country - thoroughly stamped his authority on proceedings from the word 'go' despite changeable weather conditions and a charge from New Zealand new boy Chris van der Drift in the two earlier rookie sessions.

Though he may have spent some of the hour-long session confined to his pit garage whilst his team worked on improving the car's balance, Kerr ultimately wound up more than two tenths of a second clear of nearest challenger CongFu Cheng, who covered more than twice as many laps of the Kent track as his British rival.

"We went out early on and the car was reasonable at the start," the High Wycombe-born ace explained afterwards, "but there were a few issues initially, so despite going quickest we decided not to waste time and laps trying to solve the issues, but come in and take time to go through everything properly.

"We took our time and unfortunately a few teams went faster, but they were drivers who knew the circuit well. We got the car back together and went out there again, setting the fastest lap.

"We're fairly confident, but there is definitely room for improvement and more time to come - we just have to keep working at it and make sure everything is 100 per cent for qualifying, as that is key in A1GP. If you're not there at the top end of the first flying lap, it can be an uphill struggle."

"It was a positive start but we cannot be complacent," concurred team principal Katie Clements. "The competition is so tight, and you only have to look at the first practice results to see just how competitive this weekend will be.

"I'm very happy with the way we have started, but there is a long way to go yet, so we are now working hard ahead of qualifying."

Cheng is one of the drivers Kerr referred to as knowing the circuit well, from his days in Formula Renault UK and British F3, and the young Chinese star put that experience to good use by lapping second-quickest, ahead of the World Cup of Motorsport's newest race-winner from last time out in Shanghai, Jonathan Summerton in the Stars and Stripes 'We The People' car.

Champions-elect Switzerland were fourth courtesy of Neel Jani - the former Champ Car and GP2 Series front-runner just over four tenths shy of the leading pace and ahead of Ireland's Adam Carroll and Indian Narain Karthikeyan in fifth and sixth places respectively.

Jonny Reid - the only man who can deny Switzerland the crown - was back in eighth behind the Netherlands' Jeroen Bleekemolen. The highly promising Filipe Albuquerque in the Portuguese entry and Frenchman Franck Montagny - who has never driven at Brands Hatch before - completed the top ten.

"After it didn't totally work out initially, we made some good progress later on," reflected Jani, who needs just four points from this weekend to secure the laurels regardless of what his Kiwi rival does. "The car was a little bit nervous all the time, but I am sure we will get that fixed by Sunday."

"We are happy with the results of the first day," added Swiss team principal Max Welti. "Neel didn't push it, like he had planned. He focussed on the set-up of the car instead.

"Here, we can't take any risks and therefore we have set other priorities for once. For us, Brands Hatch is not about race wins, but about winning the title. Neel has impressed me with his calm and collected way and his professional approach in developing the car. I am positive."

 

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