Drivers, teams, cars and tyres were tested to the limit as A1 Grand Prix practice got underway in the searing heat of Malaysia and the Sepang International Circuit today, but experience proved to be the key as two former Formula One drivers topped the two sessions.

With a track temperature of 39?C and an ambient temperature of 32?C, the day was A1GP's hottest to date, but Jos Verstappen and Ralph Firman kept their cool to head the respective sessions. On a relatively trouble-free day, when no red flags flew, most of the drivers took their time to learn their way around the highly-technical circuit, allowing those who had been there before to concentrate on finding the best set-up for their nationally-liveried Lolas.

The fastest lap time of the day was put in by Verstappen, a master of the Sepang circuit, despite last racing there in 2001 - when he went from 17th to sixth on the first lap of the race and then worked his way up to second place as heavy rain fell. A slow pit-stop and drying track eventually saw the Dutchman finish the race in seventh place, and he is eager to make amends this weekend.

"We were trying a lot of different set-ups with the car, but not a lot of things worked as the grip level was falling and the track was very slippery," he reported, "It will certainly make for a very interesting qualifying session tomorrow.'

Team Brazil recorded the day's second fastest time, despite Nelson Piquet having a run in with Team Canada driver Sean McIntosh.

"I was doing a quick lap and I think Sean had just left the pits," the Brazilian commented, "I saw him going slower in front of me and came off the throttle, which put
the car into a spin. Unfortunately I hit Sean slightly, although our car had little damage."

Another master of Sepang, Firman put in the fastest lap of practice session two, with a time of 1min 56.663secs that just failed to match Verstappen's 1min 56.342secs effort from earlier in the day.

"We had a good day today, even though it was hard and there was little grip," the former Jordan F1 pilot, who can now focus on A1GP duties for the remainder of the campaign, said, "It isn't quite as hot here as it is in Japan, where I have raced before, but it will be very difficult towards the end of the second race on Sunday. The main
difficulty will be to keep hydrated, but drivers who have a good level of fitness should be fine."

Firman had been third quickest in the opening one-hour session, with pre-race favourite France fourth, in the hands of Alex Premat, and Portugal fifth, with Alvaro Parente.

The second session saw McIntosh giving closest chase to Firman, with American veteran Bryan Herta posting his best result to date in the Team USA car. Tomas Enge took fourth for the Czech Republic, with Premat rounding out the top five as he got to grips with an unfamiliar circuit.

Switzerland's Neel Jani posted a pair of top ten times, mixing it with the likes of New Zealand's Matt Halliday, Pakistan's Adam Khan and Ananda Mikola, back in the Team Indonesia car after missing the Australian leg while winning the Asian F3 crown.

Local favourites Team Malaysia were among only three teams that are preparing to share driving duties this weekend, with both Alex Yoong and Fairuz Fauzy taking their turn in the yellow Lola. Fauzy drove in both of today's practice sessions, but didn't have too good a time of things, despite claiming eighth and ninth fastest times.

"During the first session, we had a problem with the rear suspension and, by the time, we had solved it, the session had finished," he said, "The tyres started to go away during the second session and, by the end of that session, I could not push anymore."

The Czech Republic opted to give both of its drivers - Enge and Jaroslav Janis - an outing, as did Australia, with Christian Jones and Will Davison taking a session apiece.

Austria only appeared in the first of the two sessions as, when starting the car up for the second time, the team found its 3.4-litre V8 running on only seven cylinders. Despite the A1 engineers spending the entire session in the team's garage, they were not able to rectify the problem in time for Mathias Lauda to take part in the afternoon session.

Hayanari Shimoda, meanwhile, was back in the Team Japan car just under a fortnight after his horrifying shunt at Eastern Creek, posting 15th and 14th fastest times across the two sessions.



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