Having missed the last round of the championship, having apparently come to the end of its relationship with Hayanari Shimoda, Team Japan returned to the A1 Grand Prix fray in Indonesia - where Shimoda duly secured its best qualifying position.

With the opening day at Sentul being blighted by rain, and third practice on Saturday morning going the same way, Shimoda knew that judging the weather would be the key for the four qualifying sessions. Tropical rainstorms had hit the circuit in the middle of both days, but had passed before qualifying, leaving dry tyres as the only choice early on, although each team was keeping an eye on the clouds looming ominously overhead.

Having lapped just 0.862secs behind the pacesetter Team France in final practice, Shimoda reckoned that sixth or seventh was possible in qualifying, but used the first of the four single-lap runs to check the car after changes had been made following morning practice.

Satisfied with its performance, he put on new tyres and got out on track early in session two, clearly anticipating rain as thunder was heard echoing around. Although that proved to be a false alarm, Shimoda used the dry track to set a time good enough for 14th. Another set of new tyres for the third session saw the sportscar ace shave another tenth from his time, but that was enough to move him up to fifth.

The rain finally returned for the last session, and the team decided to preserve its tyres, Shimoda happy that his position would not be threatened by those drivers who had decided to complete another lap. However, despite the satisfaction, he felt that another dry run could have improved his position still further.

"I'd had some understeer in the morning, so we made a set-up change and the first run was to check the balance," he reported, "It was fine and, on the new tyres for run two, I immediately felt good grip. I made one small mistake, but the car felt good and I had good balance.

"We didn't change anything for the third run, except to put on the other new set of tyres. However, on my hot lap, a car came out of the pit-lane as I was going to the first corner, so I had to brake late to be able to overtake him. I lost maybe a tenth of a second, which was a shame."

Shimoda will line up alongside Malaysia's Alex Yoong on the sprint race grid, the former Minardi F1 pilot having also posted his best qualifying result of the year.

Following a similar strategy to Team Japan, the Malaysian squad ran used tyres for the first session, before putting on new rubber for the second. Yoong improved his lap time, posting a provisional sixth place, then improved on the mark in the third segment to keep his position. However, having saved a final set of new tyres for the fourth segment, Yoong was disappointed when the rain arrived, spoiling his opportunity for further lap time improvement.

"Our best qualifying so far, and I think everyone in the team is a little bit pleased because we were very quick today," he said, "We sorted out our balance issues from this morning and set our best times on old tyres. We saved a new set for the last run, but unfortunately it rained. These things happen - we took a gamble, but it didn't work out."

The result came on the back of a poor outing in Durban a fortnight ago, leaving team boss Jack Cunningham satisfied with the turnaround.

"How quickly things can change," he observed, "We had a very difficult weekend in South Africa, and here we are now, looking highly competitive and on course for a really good result."

 

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