A1 Grand Prix's 'home' race got off to a flying start with all 24 teams taking to the track earlier than usual, but ended with a familiar sight as Team France again set the pace on a largely unfamiliar circuit.

"Every race has been significant as they have all been a first, but Dubai is especially significant as it is the home of Sheikh Maktoum and the city where we visualised the concept of A1 Grand Prix," series CEO Tony Texeira said of the weekend's significance.

The two extra test sessions saw a little bit of A1 Grand Prix history being made, as Team Great Britain's Katherine Legge became the first female driver to get behind the wheel of one of the series' cars, and the ground-breaking trend of the weekend continued when the FIA approved the use of the helicopter recovery system tested at the Dubai Autodrome yesterday.

"We are delighted that we have been given the green light to use this system, should it be needed over the weekend," Texeira continued, "Should cars go off the track between corners two and ten, they can now be removed by helicopter. It is another new innovation from A1 Grand Prix."

The more usual practice sessions were held in the afternoon, with all teams working on set-up for Saturday's qualifying, but Team France's Nicolas Lapierre coming out on top.

"During the first session, the track was very dirty but, in free practice, we worked on the car and were improving every time," the GP2 frontrunner said, "The track was getting faster too, so it was hard to see where the time was coming from, but we had another very good day. The track here is really nice, with a few good corners, but it's quite long, so I think it will be hard to get a perfect lap in qualifying."

Team Ireland's Ralph Firman was just over a tenth of a second off France's pace, but could point to several factors which could have had an effect on everyone's lap times.

"There was quite a lot of dust but, by the last lap, it was fine and the temperature was dropping too, as the sun set, which made a big difference," the former F1 pilot noted, "The track looks smooth, but there are lots of ripples in it which can throw the car off balance, but it's the same for everyone. I'm confident with the car, and hopefully I'll be doing the rest of the races now, so we will be able to make steps forward."

Team Switzerland's Neel Jani also spoke about the challenges of the Dubai Autodrome, claiming that it wasn't only the sand that made things tricky.

"There are quite a lot of corners where you can go off and, as soon as you get off the racing line, the car starts to slide," said the man who is chasing his first A1GP win after a string of podium visits in recent races.

The three fastest lap times were all recorded in the second official practice session as drivers got to grips with a track that is brand new to many. However, the second session was also red-flagged as Team Malaysia's Alex Yoong spilt oil on the track after damaging the yellow Lola's oil sump on a kerb.

At the other end of the times, the Arab world's A1 representative Team Lebanon is also viewing the Dubai race as a 'home' event, with seat-holder Tameem Auchi pointing his car's revised livery as an indicator of the interest the series has caused.

"We've been working hard to increase interest in A1 Grand Prix in the Middle East, as there is not a lot of awareness about single-seat racing in our region," he explained, "We've had a really good reception and more and more people are supporting us. We are very proud to be representing the Arab world, and have the flags of all the Arab nations on our car this weekend."

Basil Shaaban will drive for Lebanon in Saturday's qualifying session and admits that he is honoured to have been chosen.

"This is particularly special as I grew up in Abu Dhabi," he explained, "In general, it feels better to be racing here, nearer to home and in a country where people speak your own language."

 

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