Nicolas Lapierre guided Team France to its eleventh victory of the season in the first of two A1 Grand Prix races in Indonesia, assuming control on lap two and disappearing from the chasing pack.

Despite the optimism being shown by Team Great Britain after Robbie Kerr snatched pole position on Saturday, the former British F3 champion had no answer to Lapierre into turn one, the French car sweeping through on the inside to take the lead, and then pulling away at around half a second a lap.

Once the gap had climbed to six seconds, the French driver appeared content to hold station, happy that he had enough of an advantage should Kerr or any of the chasing pack get too close.

"We worked hard on the car in warm-up and made a few changes, but it was still quite difficult with the tyres, and I pushed hard to pass Robbie," Lapierre said afterwards, "Fortunately, I had a really good balance on the car until the end.

"At the beginning of the race, it was difficult to open up a gap but, as he began to defend against Salvador, it got easier and, by the end, I was able to build up quite a big gap."

Kerr already had his hands full by lap three, as the resurgent Mexican team, this weekend in the hands of Salvador Duran, homed in on the back of the GB machine and created enough of a distraction to keep the Briton busy without ever really threatening for position. The pair circulated almost as one throughout the 18 laps, but came home in the same order as they had found themselves at the end of lap two.

"The car was good and qualifying was good but, unfortunately, it didn't last," Kerr sighed, having claimed second spot for the fifth time this season and moved Britain into third in the points, "The balance went away throughout the race, and the car became quite difficult, but there are still good possibilities for the next race. We were close in this race, but not close enough."

Duran duly claimed Mexico's first podium finish since the season opener at Brands Hatch, and strengthened his claim to be on board when the series visits his homeland in two weeks' time.

"I'm very happy, even though we could even have finished second," he beamed, "The car was good although, at the end, there was a bit of oversteer. Now I hope that we are able to finish in the points again in the feature race."

It could all have been different had Neel Jani been able to make his opening lap move on Lapierre stick, but the Swiss driver once again found himself rebuffed by the French and slipped back behind Duran. The silver machine, prepared by the same team as Lapierre's tricolour car, appeared to be a handful for Jani, with the tail visibly twitching more than the rest, and the GP2 racewinner quickly came under pressure from Alex Yoong.

Determined to put on a strong showing in neighbouring Indonesia, the Malaysia hounded Jani until lap eight, before slipping past the Swiss car for fourth into turn one, immediately setting himself up for Malaysia's best result. Jani was then left to chase the yellow Lola, the pressure from behind having been stemmed by the re-appearance of Stephen Simpson's South African entry, which had pitted early and filtered back on track between fifth and sixth places.

That effectively gave Ireland's Ralph Firman an added obstacle as he attempted to break into the top five, but the former Jordan F1 pilot also had his hands full with the persistent Matt Halliday, whose sinister black New Zealand car was filling both his mirrors. Their battle went on until a couple of laps from home, when Halliday found himself under pressure for the first time, and eventually slipped back to an eventual eighth.

The man to break up the Ireland-NZ scrap was Jos Verstappen, who had charged through from 13th on the grid after a tyre-affected qualifying. Now back on a matching set of rubber, the Dutchman quickly broke into the top ten, running in tandem with the Czech Republic's Tomas Enge, before disposing of the sometime IRL driver in his climb up the order.

Hayanari Shimoda went the same way shortly afterwards, before Verstappen's pace - which matched Lapierre's - allowed him to close quickly on the battle for sixth. With Halliday focused on duping Firman into the wrong move, Verstappen was able to tuck into the slipstream of the NZ car down the main straight, before pulling out and sweeping around the outside of T1 for seventh. Firman, however, proved just too far out of reach, and the Dutch had to settle for P7.

The final point-scoring positions were filled by Shimoda and Enge, although the Czech driver found himself under pressure from local hero Ananda Mikola right to the line. The Indonesian had something of an up-and-down race, making places quickly in the opening stages after qualifying a disappointing 17th, but then losing out to Germany's Timo Scheider as his tyres and power boost disappeared around mid-distance. Only a late-race resurgence allowed him to reclaim eleventh, before latching onto Enge's tail as they flashed across the line.

Canada and South Africa both lost potential point-scoring finishes with early pit-stops after problems on the opening lap. Sean McIntosh found himself in the middle of the melee in the midst of the top ten, touching Yoong's car and having to stop for attention to his own. South Africa was also an early pit visitor, heading in at the end of the first lap after the bonding on the front wing failed, allowing it to rub on the left tyre. Simpson subsequently showed just what he was capable of by passing Jani mid-race, albeit not for position, but the rainbow nation entry was back in the garage by half-distance, however, after the oil light came on.

Portugal went backwards during the 18-lap encounter, finding itself battling with the USA and Italy. The Azzuri's Max Busnelli looked to have pushed Alvaro Parente back another place on lap five, only to run out of road at turn three and bounce across the gravel. Although he rejoined, the Italian found himself back down in 16th, from where he had started.

Team Brazil's weekend got no better, Christian Fittipaldi a mid-race pit visitor with tyre problems, while Australia lost any chance of making up places with an opening lap moment for Marcus Marshall. China parked up on lap six, three laps after India had had a grassy moment, leaving Austria's Mathias Lauda to pick up bonus places from his 22nd place start.

 

Comments

Loading Comments...