France became the first nation other than Brazil to win a race in the fledgling A1 Grand Prix Series as Nicolas Lapierre controlled Sunday's 18-lap sprint race from start to finish.

The third encounter in this new and ambitious series got off to an explosive start as Great Britain's Robbie Kerr tried a late lunge on Team USA's Scott Speed as the closely bunched field heading into the first turn. Contact was made between Kerr's right front and Speed's left rear, sending the USA machine skyward and triggering a chain reaction that saw half a dozen other cars bump into one another as the field negotiated the tight first complex.

Ireland's Ralf Firman took to the grass as Pakistan's Adam Khan touched Portugal's Alvaro Parente with Holland's Jos Vertsappen and the Czech Republic's Tomas Enge also suffering damage. Kerr and Speed were out on the spot while Verstappen made just one slow lap to the pits with a damaged rear suspension. Khan made two, smokey laps before his nosecone parted company on the main straight, leaving enough debris scattered across the track to warrant the safety car.

The appearance of the SC board negated France's handy early lead and allowed second place Switzerland (Neel Jani) an ideal opportunity to pounce. However Jani was caught napping badly when the safety car ducked off at the start of lap six and Lapierre opened a lead he would never lose.

Behind Jani, Brazil's Nelson Piquet Jr stayed in close contact to the Swiss driver but couldn't find a way past, perhaps choosing not to risk the car rather than muscle his way by the slightly slower Jani.

A little way behind the top three, New Zealand's Jonny Reid was having a sterling day in fourth place, from 14th on the grid, frantically holding off home country hero Timo Scheider. Scheider found himself in the thick of the first turn action when he suffered contact from both Portugal and Holland, leaving the German entry behind the fast-starting Malaysian car of Alex Yoong.

Scheider wasted little time in passing Yoong, who would prove to be a bit of a roadblock for everyone else, but couldn't find a way past Reid, taking the chequered flag less than a second behind the all-black machine.

Some eight seconds ahead of the battle for fourth, France calmly reeled off the remaining laps to take a two second win over Switzerland with Brazil a further half a second behind but if the front five finishers failed to ignite much excitement from the reasonable (but not great) crowd, Yoong's defence of sixth position at least kept things slightly interesting.

From 18th on the grid, the first turn melee saw Yoong sneak into fifth position and although Team Germany got through just prior to the safety car the former Minardi F1 driver spent the remaining laps holding off a determined challenge from Canada's Sean McIntosh and Italy's Enrico Toccacelo. Behind these three, Firman recovered well to pass more than half a dozen cars to take tenth position but couldn't find a way past Mexico's David Martinez, who crossed the line in ninth.

The other main mover was the typically feisty Tomas Enge in the Czech Republic entry, who rose from 18th to 12th after a precautionary pit stop while the safety car was out. Enge fell just short of getting by Japan's Hideki Noda, who finished eleventh although he did battle by his Panther Racing teammate Tomas Scheckter, who crossed the line in 13th position for Team South Africa.

 

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