Jeroen Bleekemolen sealed his nation's first victory in some 45 races in the sprint outing at Kyalami in South Africa this weekend, producing a faultless performance to prevail by just over four seconds from Portugal's Filipe Albuquerque, with a delayed Neel Jani coming in third for defending champions Switzerland.

From pole position, Bleekemolen made a clean getaway from the standing start to lead the chasing pack into turn one for the first time. Jani similarly had a great start from third to snatch second position away from Albuquerque, whilst behind the leaders India's Narain Karthikeyan moved up from fifth to fourth.

The former Jordan Grand Prix ace was not able to hold onto his position for long, however, as an aggressive move by feature race pole star Clivio Piccione pushed Monaco past and up into fourth. With championship leader, Ireland's Adam Carroll, also sensing an opportunity to get ahead only a few corners later, Karthikeyan suddenly found himself relegated to sixth.

Further down the order, China's Ho Pin Tung and New Zealand's Earl Bamber were enjoying a good battle for eleventh, with a lap three effort from the former looking to have got the job done, only for Pin Tung to out-brake himself again and allow 'Black Beauty' to re-take the position.

Malaysia's Fairuz Fauzy moved up ahead of France's Nicolas Prost for eighth, whilst Bleekemolen was storming away at the front, having established a substantial 4.6-second lead over Switzerland by only lap four. Behind the top two, Portugal led Monaco, Ireland, India, South Africa, Malaysia, France and Italy as the pit window opened.

The Netherlands and Switzerland were first to blink, with the following three runners all staying out on-track for an extra lap. Bleekemolen had a smooth stop, but Jani lost time having to get away slowly to manoeuvre around Malaysia's car, which had pitted just in front.

Albuquerque came in a lap later still for Portugal, in the process reclaiming second place from Switzerland, with Bleekemolen now having extended his advantage to a dominant 6.4 seconds. With the race's only mandatory stop completed by all, Portugal led the chase from Switzerland, Monaco, Ireland, India, South Africa, New Zealand, Malaysia and France.

A1 Team Australia's superb pit work boosted John Martin six places up the field to his eventual finishing position of twelfth, whilst fellow Antipodeans Team New Zealand also gained three spots during the pit visits, vaulting Earl Bamber up into points contention.

Albuquerque, meanwhile, was on a charge, setting the fastest lap of the race on lap nine to narrowly close down the gap, but there was worse news for Great Britain's Danny Watts and Brazil's Felipe Guimares, who came together whilst fighting over 15th position. The pair touched heading into turn one, with Watts' car spinning into the gravel and out the race.

There were no such concerns for the delighted Bleekemolen, however, who motored serenely on to take the chequered flag and record his team's first triumph since Beijing early on in the second campaign of the nation vs nation series. South Africa is clearly a lucky country for the squad, as its first of three wins to-date came around the streets of Durban back in season one.

"I'm feeling pretty good," the former DTM and FIA GT star remarked afterwards, with a touch of understatement. "It all just went amazingly. It was a very hard race for me, though, because in the beginning I could feel there was some kind of pull with the fuel pick-up. It didn't cost me any time, but I could just feel it coming.

"Then after the pit-stop the car just stopped and I feared the race would be over, but it started working again. I lost about one-and-a-half or two seconds, but luckily we were still able to win. In the beginning we were really quick; I don't know why we were so much faster, but everything worked. The car worked really well until the problem came, but then it still was exciting for me."

"The team did a very good job and I managed to pass Switzerland," enthused runner-up Albuquerque. "I'm really happy with the fastest lap and second place.

"I'm still aiming for the lead of the championship. It's going to be an interesting feature race now because we are all together in the middle of the grid. We will see who the luckiest guy is, because anything can happen."

"We were second and then unfortunately we had some problems at the pit-stop," related Jani. "First of all the pit-stop was not that quick, and then I couldn't get out because Malaysia was parked in front of me. We have to be happy with third, though, as it's still points so let's see what happens in the next race."

A late pass by Carroll on Piccione on the very last lap for fourth position ensured Ireland retains its prior lead in the nations' standings heading into the feature event this afternoon.

To see the sprint race results in full, click here

 

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