by Russell Atkins

A1 Team France sporting director Olivier Panis says he is confident the squad will be able to stave off the threat of Great Britain in this weekend's A1GP season finale at Brands Hatch - despite Robbie Kerr sealing a brace of front row grid spots for the latter.

Les bleus currently sit just twelve points ahead of GBR heading into the two races, with 30 remaining to play for. Should Kerr and Franck Montagny finish in the same positions in which they are starting - respectively first and second and eighth and sixth - Great Britain would comfortably prevail, but Panis is convinced there is more mileage left in this championship just yet.

Though former Formula 1 ace Montagny struggled on his World Cup of Motorsport debut at Shanghai three weeks ago - languishing well down the order in qualifying and scoring a scant three points on his maiden appearance in the nation vs nation series - the 30-year-old is getting closer to the pace each time he takes to the track.

"A1GP is not an easy series," 1996 Monaco Grand Prix winner Panis reflected, speaking exclusively to Crash.net Radio. "It's a different car compared to what Franck has driven before, but we're happy because he is improving step-by-step every time he gets into the car.

"In the last part of qualifying he did pretty well. He had traffic in the last sector and lost four tenths - which would have put him second or third - but I think he's doing a very good job and I'm very pleased with him.

"These things happen sometimes, but the race is quite long and I think Britain is quite close to us. We have quite high hopes and we are confident. It's going to be tough, but I trust Franck - he's a real racer. If we can finish on the podium that would be quite good."

Looking back over the season as a whole - one that saw the series one champions struggle for a while before Lo?c Duval successfully got into his stride and became a regular front-runner, finally ending France's agonising 37-race victory drought at Eastern Creek in early February - Panis has mixed emotions, but he insisted he was sure the team was now back on the right path again as it looks beyond Brands Hatch towards the 2008/09 campaign.

"It hasn't been an easy season for us," the 41-year-old acknowledged. "We've changed drivers because Lo?c Duval is racing in Japan and Nicolas Lapierre is in the Le Mans Series now. It wasn't easy to find a replacement, but we made an agreement with Franck for the end of the season and I think it's looking quite good for next year too."

 

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