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FEATURE RACE RESULTS12 March 2006
A1 GRAND PRIX OF NATIONS, CALIFORNIA, USA
California, USA - A1 Team Mexico became only the third team to win a double header over an A1 Grand Prix of Nations weekend when Salvador Duran took victory in the Feature race at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The team started with a gamble by using slick tyres on a track that still had damp patches. The only other team to take the same decision was A1 Team Brazil and at the end of the day it proved to be the right one.
It was A1 Team France that got the best start leading Mexico into turn one and building up a 2.7 second lead by the end of the first lap. The pit stops started early with the leaders France coming in at the end of lap three followed by teams that included Portugal, Great Britain and Germany. Germany had the best stop and leapfrogged both Great Britain and Portugal during the stop.
The first safety car period came when A1 Team South Africa slid off in turn six on lap five. This period gave Mexico the opportunity to pit but the lead they had at the beginning of their 42.2 second pit stop was lost when they came out just behind France whose earlier stop had taken 40.1 seconds. However, it was not the new champions who were leading the race as A1 Team Lebanon had still to make its pit stop so Graham Rahal was able to lead until the safety car came in at the end of lap 10 and he was beaten into turn one by France.
The Lebanese driver did not however succumb to pressure from the third place Mexican team and in fact stayed there until lap 23. A bad day for A1 Team Netherlands continued with a drive through penalty for overtaking during a safety car period which Jos Verstappen took at the end of lap 13 but this was swiftly followed by even more dramas when he was black flagged again, this time for speeding in the pit lane. For the driver, this was one penalty too far and when he came in at the end of lap 18, he got out of the car and had no further part in the race.
Although all the cars were changing on to slick tyres there were still damp patches on the track which were catching several of them out including Malaysia on lap 15 when a spin dropped the team down from thirteenth to twenty-first and A1 Team China on lap 17.
A1 Team Brazil was still in with a shout for third place in the championship before the race but when the car was seen to cruise slowly round and pit at the end of lap 20 that chance evaporated. While the team kept sending the car out again it was not for championship points. They are now only in with a mathematical chance of winning the race, lying 18 points behind current third place sitter A1 Team Great Britain.
On lap 26, Mexico at last got by A1 Team Lebanon and A1 Team Germany also attacked, although with not so much success as they were kept at bay for several corners and it was only after a wheel-banging incident that Lebanon were relegated to third. It was a short-lived third as on lap 27 the car spun but continued letting Germany, Great Britain and Portugal by although they were all lucky not to have a collision. The Lebanese car took this opportunity to pit for new tyres and after a 41 second pit stop, re-joined at the back of the field. It was only a short time later when the car arrived at turn three on lap 28 and it was all over for A1 Team Lebanon as a spin left the car stranded half-way across the track and the safety car had to be deployed again so that it could be removed from this dangerous position.
The safety car pulled off at the end of lap 32 but this was by no means the end of incidents on the track although it was not deployed again. On lap 33, New Zealand spun and dropped from seventh to fifteenth. On lap 35 the Czech Republic spun from ninth and while everyone took avoiding action, A1 Team China arrived at the scene of the incident already going backwards. Both cars were left on the edge of the track while racing continued with France leading.
It was then at the end of lap 36 that the situation at the front of the field took a dramatic turn when Mexico overtook France and it became obvious the new champions had a technical problem which turned out to be the car stuck in third gear. France tried to struggle on but eventually had to pull off the track on lap 38 while lying fifth. Due to safety car periods, the chequered flag came out early at the end of lap 40 with Mexico leading Germany and Great Britain across the finish line.
A1 Team Mexico are one of only three teams to win both a Feature and Sprint race at the same circuit. Speaking about his second win of the day, Salvador said: ’It was a nice race, I was on slicks which I think was the right choice. We figured if there were no yellow flags we could pull out a gap and if there was a yellow flag we could go into the pits and change the tyres. Unfortunately France got past me in the pits, and then it was difficult to get past people on track.’
Finishing his last race for A1 Team Germany on the podium, Timo Scheider said: ’It was a good race, but in difficult conditions. This was my last race in A1GP before I go back to DTM, and I’m happy for the team that we got a podium. Thankfully we benefited from Nicolas not finishing the race. Overall I’m very happy I did A1GP. I hope I can do A1GP again, so many people have said to me that it is a spectacular series, and great to watch. There is real racing and real overtaking, not just in the pits like in Formula One.’
Also finishing his last race of the season in A1GP, Robbie Kerr said: ’I’m a bit disappointed that Timo was able to pass in the pits, and its unfortunate to go out without a win. But generally the season has been brilliant, and I must thank the team, John Clements and John Surtees. Hopefully I will be back next year, it’s been great to represent Great Britain. It was unfortunate that Nicolas had problems, but obviously I was quite pleased because I benefited from it. France have done a great job all season and congratulations to them for winning the Series.’
Nicolas Lapierre was leading the Feature race when technical problems forced him to retire. ’We had trouble with the battery. The gear box was stuck in third and then the engine stopped. But this is racing and it was our first problem in 20 races. The team has been brilliant. We have had a great season, with 13 wins and winning the Series two races early.’
Asked if he would race in the second series of A1GP, Nicolas answered: ’If I can I will. It’s been a great winter for Alex and I in A1GP. It’s been a lot of fun and the series is really nice. The qualifying sessions are very exciting, the PowerBoost idea is great, the format is basically really good. Being in A1GP has kept us racing over the winter and now we are ready for the summer season.’
The bonus point for the fastest race lap of the day went to A1 Team France who recorded a time of 1.17.951 on lap 27 of the Feature race, with a speed of 166.4kph.
Series Points to date - A1 Grand Prix of Nations, California, USA