The 100,000 Dutch fans at Zandvoort for this weekend's season-opening A1GP race will have the privilege of seeing the local team starting inside the top ten.

To the joy of the many spectators at the track, Jeroen Bleekemolen put the bright orange car ninth on the grid for tomorrow's race, though the 24-year-old reckoned he could have been higher still after lying in the top three at the end of the third of the four qualifying sessions. Every time the Team Netherlands car crossed start-finish line a standing ovation rose from the grandstands.

"It certainly wasn't too bad," said Bleekemolen, drafted in at the last minute to replace Jos Verstappen in the Dutch squad. "I'm still lacking a bit of experience driving with the new tyres, but I was going faster and faster all the time.

"In the final session I was running used tyres, and you cannot do much with them. Ideally I should have had one more set of new tyres, then we could have been in a better position. I think we can be reasonably satisfied though. We were quite competitive the whole time and at the top of the timesheets for a long time.

"I am certain that within a few races we should have the experience to be really in front."

Tomorrow will be Bleekemolen's first experience of A1GP's rolling starts, but the former DTM and FIA GT star said he felt prepared for the challenge.

"That is all new to me," he admitted, "but I will just do my best and see how far we can come. In A1GP you can start from last place and still win the race.

"The spectators here are fantastic. Every time you exit the pit lane and all along the track, you just see the dunes move. You see everyone stand up and wave flags. It's great!"

"Of course we were very curious how things would fall into place," team principal Jan Lammers added. "Jeroen has not driven formula cars for a while - GTs are a whole other story.

"We are lucky this is our home track and Jeroen can get into the mood here. You need information from your tyres, and he hasn't got much of that yet. This is the position we are at.

"When you start racing you never aim for ninth of course. There is much more room for improvement, but if we can finish the weekend inside the top six that would be great."

 

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