Team Mexico snatched its first pole position in the closing minutes of qualifying for the penultimate round of the A1 Grand Prix series at Laguna Seca in California, unseating points leader France in the process.

Salvador Duran, one of the few drivers with a little previous experience of the rollercoaster circuit, had been in the hunt for top spot throughout qualifying, but needed a late effort to clinch his maiden pole.

"It has been great so far, everything went right," the Sentul podium visitor admitted, "We have good competition from France, but I think we have a car to win. We have been fast in qualifying and we can be fast in the race. We have the car now, and we have the team - in fact, I think we have the best team in the series now."

The Mexican says that he will not be intimidated by the more experienced drivers lining up behind him on the grid, despite the fact that Nicolas Lapierre will be looking to add the series title to France's impressive haul of victories.

"It is very difficult to pass here, but I am racing with experienced drivers and it is easy to race with them," the Mexican explained, "I hope to get into the turn one first, and I'm confident that these guys have a lot of experience and I respect them. But I think I can be as quick as them."

Out to clinch the championship this weekend, Lapierre's job will now be slightly tougher, despite the French team's only rival, Switzerland, having had its second segment time disallowed for failure to comply with weighing procedures. A1 rookie Giorgio Mondini, who replaces Neel Jani this weekend, sits 16th on the grid as a result.

"I wasn't really surprised to lose pole, as my last lap was not that good," Lapierre confessed, "I made a mistake in the last corner, which cost us. But we are here to win the championship, and we qualified in front of Switzerland, which is the main thing.

"As a driver, I am disappointed to lose pole after leading in the first three sessions and, of course, I want to win every race I take part in, so it will be a compromise between winning the race and getting the points to win the championship."

Matt Halliday continued his recent good form, taking third on the grid for Team New Zealand.

"The track is difficult in places, and there is a bit of water on the kerbs, but we have a good package and a good starting set-up," the Kiwi explained, "We are looking for a good result tomorrow."

Asked if having raced at the circuit in 2001, while in the Indy Lights series, Halliday explained that the cars were very different.

"It is more important to have a good set-up than know the circuit," he pointed out, "We are a team here on our own so, if we get lost on set up, we can't share data with another team."

While the battle for first place in the points is now a two-horse race, competition is heating up for third place. Team Malaysia put in its best qualifying session of the season, taking fourth place on the grid alongside New Zealand, another possible contender. Great Britain, the Netherlands and Brazil, however, all suffered slightly less fortunate sessions, claiming sixth, twelfth and 19th places respectively, but will look to put pressure on Malaysia as they fight for those crucial points.

Team Lebanon joined Malaysia in posting its best-ever qualifying result, with teenager Graham Rahal again excelling on a track that boasts a straight named after his father. Rahal Jr secured eleventh place on the grid, putting the team in a strong position to score its first points of the season.

Fifth on the grid, between Malaysia and Team GB, represented a decent result for Australia, which has former IRL regular Ryan Briscoe making his debut this weekend. After a slow start, while he got used to the A1GP car, the sometime Toyota F1 test driver quickly climbed the leaderboard and is poised for the team's best weekend since the opening round at Brands Hatch.

The top ten was completed by Portugal, Ireland, Germany and South Africa, meaning that previous circuit winners Max Papis, Bryan Herta and Patrick Carpentier all start in the lower reaches of the grid, claiming 13th, 17th and 18th respectively.

Despite the rule which allows teams to switch drivers between qualifying and the sprint race, all have decided to retain their initial selection and there will be no driver changes.



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