South Africa took centre stage as the A1 Grand Prix season resumed on the new street circuit built especially for the series in Durban and, even though Stephen Simpson's patriotically-liveried Lola kicked off proceedings, it was the weather that eventually came out on top.

Heavy rain fell for most of the day, with both free practice sessions being declared wet from the outset and the slippery track serving only to increase the challenge. Team Canada's Sean McIntosh brought out the first red flag of the day, but he was not the only driver who had difficulties with the tight street circuit, with Lebanon, France, Australia, Ireland, Austria, Italy, the USA and Switzerland all struggling to keep themselves off the unforgiving walls, and featuring lower down the timesheets than expected as a result

"It was a strange day," Switzerland's Neel Jani admitted, "On one hand, I was happy to be driving on a new circuit but, on the other, I was really cautious. This morning, I scared myself during the first practice. I passed Indonesia's car down the inside and he then ran over my front wing. Luckily, he didn't do any major damage, but there was no need to take any risks on such a wet track."

Conditions worsened for the second session and, once again, the red flag dominated. Incidents for Brazil and India both temporarily closed the track, while debris from a previous spin finally red-flagged the session for the last time, as the organisers decided to end the session a few minutes ahead of schedule.

At the top of the timesheets for the first time, Indonesia's Ananda Mikola benefited from a clear lap in session one to record a 1min 28.477secs fastest lap, but barely ventured out in the afternoon.

"The team didn't want me to go out in the second session - I had had a good first session and found good grip, so there was little point in risking the car," the reigning Asian F3 champion explained, "We wanted to keep it safe for tomorrow.

Surprisingly, Mikola admitted that he would prefer the rain to continue through qualifying on Saturday.

"The track is difficult, the level of grip is low and it is bumpy, so it's important to find the right line around here," he revealed, no doubt sensing that he may have an advantage, "This will be big news at home, but it will definitely mean more pressure for tomorrow."

Chasing the Indonesian hard on what was an odd-looking timesheet, Italian rookie Max Busnelli admitted that he hoped to have done enough to persuade the team to let him race on Sunday.

"It is still possible that I will drive tomorrow," he reported, "This was my first time in the car, my first test, but it went really well. I like the car, it is very nice to drive, and there is no big difference from F3000, so for me it is not so difficult."

Team Portugal's Alvaro Parente set the third best time in the morning, and was second fastest time of the afternoon behind Australia's Will Davison, while Team GB, the Netherlands, Italy, the Czech Republic and Germany all featured in the top five during the day.

"I haven't raced on a street circuit for a while, so it's a case of taking it slowly," GB's Robbie Kerr admitted, "Today was a case of getting used to the bumps and tight turns and finding the places where you can really push."

Dutch rival Jos Verstappen, more of an acknowledged rain-master, admitted that he, too, had had to bide his time.

"It takes some getting used to and, on top of that, it's raining," he said of the Durban challenge, "This morning, I just familiarised myself with the track, which is all very unusual, narrow in some places, with lots of blind corners and a lot of bumps. During second practice, it rained so heavily that we did not do that much. We went out on track twice and both times there was a red flag. In the middle of the session, we did not drive at all because there was too much water and lots of drivers had spun into the wall. It's no use taking great risks when you only have one car."

Despite the conditions, local favourite Simpson admitted that overtaking may be possible 'at the end of the main and back straights - but I'll let you know on Sunday evening!'.

 

Comments

Loading Comments...