Alex Yoong waited until after the chequered flag had fallen to claim his first A1 Grand Prix pole position for Team Malaysia, depriving Team GB rookie Darren Manning of top spot on his debut.

The Briton had led from the very first session, having deposed morning pacesetter Ananda Mikola from P1 with the fastest lap of the weekend, but his failure to produce another lap in the 1min 51secs bracket allowed Yoong - who did - to nick the honour with the very last qualifying lap of the season. Manning was just 0.056secs away from getting a second lap below 1min 52secs, but Yoong's advantage at the flag was over a tenth, bringing a wry smile to Team GB boss John Surtees' face.

"I thought it was all over after I was quickest in the first session, but this qualifying system is different, and it isn't over until the last car crosses the line," Manning admitted.

"It's still a really good result for Team Great Britain. I made a small mistake just before the back straight, and lost too much speed - the back straight is very long and I lost a lot of time. Without that, I think I would have been even closer to Alex.

"I have little experience as to how the series is run, but we are doing okay, and I will be going out to win the race tomorrow."

Malaysia's performance not only toppled Manning, but also mean that series champions France, Laguna Seca winner Mexico and the impressive Indonesia all missed out on possible pole.

"Today was really good, the car was brilliant after we made a couple of small improvements from yesterday," Yoong reported.

"It's a great day for A1 Team Malaysia. The team is brand new, and was only put together for A1GP, so it has been a big effort for a lot of people. This will mean a lot to the people in Malaysia, which, like China, does not have a motorsport background."

Alex Premat was at the wheel of the French machine for qualifying, following France's decision to split the weekend between the two drivers who secured the crown, but could not match the sort of pace shown by Nicolas Lapierre in free practice and had to settle for third spot. Premat was nearly seven-tenths shy of Yoong's eventual time, with Salvador Duran and Mikola equally spread behind him.

"Just before qualifying, I managed to do a few laps during third practice, so I had to learn the set-up of the car and the circuit quickly," Premat revealed, "I made a few mistakes but, for tomorrow, I think it will be perfect."

Michael Devaney shrugged off his lack of seat time, and subsequent gearbox problems, in the Team Ireland machine to vault up the order in session three and eventually claim sixth place. That put the youngster ahead of more experienced heads such as Jos Verstappen, Tomas Enge and Ryan Briscoe who, along with Giorgio Mondini, rounded out the top ten.

Verstappen, one of only two drivers to have contested every A1GP weekend this year, stole a valuable march on main rivals Brazil, New Zealand and Portugal in the battle for fourth overall, but had to wait for a slip from Team NZ's Matt Halliday to ensure that he would start ahead of the All Black car. Halliday eventually slipped to 13th, but still starts ahead of Brazil's Christian Fittipaldi and Portuguese newcomer Cesar Campanico, who claimed 16th and 18th respectively.

Briscoe, like Halliday and Team USA's Phil Giebler, saw one of his four runs ruined by an incident but, unlike the Kiwi, it happened on his first outing, giving the former IRL racer three attempts knowing what he had to do to secure a decent spot. The Australian eventually crept back into the top ten, but Giebler, who went off at the same spot in turn two, could only recover to a disappointing 19th.

That left the USA, and several others, behind a fired-up local team, for whom Tengyi Jiang threatened to take a top ten place, before a step up in performance from more expected frontrunners saw the Chinese car pushed back to 15th.

China have decided to join France in taking advantage of the unique rule which allows teams to change drivers between qualifying and each of the two races, and will give Ma Qinghua a chance to appear in front of his home crowd in the sprint race before Jiang returns for the feature.

 

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