Courtesy Stuart Morrison Public Relations
Durban - The A1 Grand Prix of Nations, Durban, South Africa, attended by President Thabo Mbecki and just over 100,000 people over the course of the weekend provided one of the most spectacular races of the season to date.
As the cars left the starting grid and streamed down to the first corner, it was A1 Team Switzerland who got the best start and led A1 Team France out of the tight hairpin. However, the best start was definitely made by A1 Team Netherlands who were up to XX by from sixteenth on the grid by the end of lap one. The start wasn't without dramas as A1 Team Czech Republic stalled on his fifth position on the grid and so causing the cars behind him to take avoiding action.
The pit stops started early with the leader and second placed A1 Team France coming in at the end of lap two. This pit stop proved the start of an uncharacteristically troublesome race for Series point's leader France as a 53 second pit stop dropped them down the field and this was not helped by the fact that later in the race the team were given a drive through penalty for a pit lane infringement.
Unfortunately the first safety car period was when the race was only three laps old. This was to remove the cars of A1 Teams USA and Australia that had tangled in turn one when the American driver tried what proved to be an unsuccessful overtaking manoeuvre. A1 Team Great Britain didn't have any better luck than France as a slow pit stop was followed by a second one on the next lap because the air gun had become wedged in the back of the car and this obviously had to be removed.
When the safety car came in at the end of lap six it was A1 Team New Zealand leading helped by the fact they had yet to make their compulsory pit stop.
Despite the tightness of the track, there was plenty of overtaking but A1 Team Canada suffered when the racing was a little too close and they lost their front wing in turn one only to run over the debris a lap later before having the opportunity to pit for a new nose which they did at the end of lap 10.
The second safety car period started on lap 12 when A1 Teams India and Indonesia collided. The cars were removed and racing began at the end of lap 15 with Brazil leading at this point although again due to not having pitted. At this point in the race, A1 Team Ireland's hopes of a finish disappeared after lying as high as second on lap two and then spending time in the pits with a problem. On lap 15 Ralph Firman parked the car on the side of the track after developed a severe handling problem caused by a broken anti-roll bar.
The crowds witnessed A1 Team Malaysia overtaking A1 Team South Africa on lap 16 and after the re-start the racing continued with at one point, three cars abreast trying to go into a corner with A1 Team Lebanon being the filling in the sandwich. A1 Team Malaysia were the next culprits to bring out a safety car after spinning and partly blocking the track on lap 26, narrowly being missed by A1 Team New Zealand. This period lasted for three laps with Brazil still leading when the safety car pulled off at the end of lap 29.
A podium position for A1 Team Germany looked certain until the car hit a wall on lap 36. However, A1 Team Switzerland looked set to notch up win number two as when Brazil pitted at the end of lap 37 they moved into the lead. Jos Verstappen was in an amazing second place but it was obvious again he was not going to give up the chance of a win until the chequered flag. As the cars were on their last lap, Jos took his opportunity and passed the car with the red and white flag on it which seemed to be slowing although not enough to allow third place A1 Team Portugal to get by.
Race winner Jos Verstappen said 'I'm very happy. I had a fantastic start, and was battling with people all the way through. Both I and Alvaro made mistakes but I managed to get past and stay ahead, then Germany went into the wall and I know Brazil still had to pit.'
Speaking about his courageous overtaking manoeuvre on the last lap of the Feature race, Verstappen said: 'In the Sprint race second position was good, but I tried to overtake and it didn't work out as I wanted. This time I was in the same position, and Neel was running wide. I used my PowerBoost and managed to overtake. I'm really pleased for the guys because they worked very hard and the fans as well. It was quite tough to come here with a new mechanic and a new race engineer, there were quite a few things different, but right from the start when I got in the car, it felt good here and I felt confident.'
A disappointed Neel Jani said: 'It looks like we always have problems in the race, I had no brakes at all in the last few laps. What can I say? For sure I am disappointed; we lost in Dubai through bad strategy and here through brake failure. I'm not too happy. Out of the last six races we could have won 5. When you have made a mistake it is bad enough but when it isn't your fault it is even worse. I probably won't sleep very much tonight.'
Portugal's Alvaro Parente commented: 'I'm very pleased, especially after qualifying. We had really good pace in free practice and qualifying was a disappointment. I attacked the Sprint race and managed to finish eighth, a good position for the start of the Feature race. It was an interesting fight and overtaking is hard on a street track like this. It's great to have so many people watching the race, thanks to the crowd for their support. I'm delighted for the team who have worked really hard. Now we have to work for a win.'
A1 Team South Africa finished fifth which equalled Alex Yoong's record for best finish at a home race. For all their efforts, Brazil gained the bonus point for the fastest lap being the only driver to record a sub 1.19 time of 1.18.178 which obviously is now the official lap record for this circuit at an average speed of 151.2km/h.