Ralph Firman overcame appalling conditions in today's four sessions in Estoril, Portugal, setting the 7th fastest time on a rain washed circuit. The A1 Team Ireland car was among the quickest throughout the day, though fell victim to the conditions in the final session when Ralph locked the rear wheels going into the slippery Turn 6 and spun into the gravel trap. No damage was done to the car and the A1 Team Ireland mechanics worked superbly to ready the car and benefit from several red-flag stoppages to enable Ralph to complete the final few laps of the delayed session.
Ralph Firman: "Conditions were far from ideal today but we put in some good running and seem to be in good shape in the wet. The track dried quite a lot towards the end of the first of the afternoon sessions, so we decided not to abuse the wet tyres on the track and sat out the end of the session. When it's wet, then damp, then wet again it's a bit of a lottery and there's not much we can learn in those conditions, but looking at the forecast it seems we are in for a mixed weekend. The track itself is really good with some nice challenges, so I'm looking forward to tomorrow and Sunday."
Andy Miller, Technical Director: "It's been a day of frustrations caused by the weather, plus we lost a little bit of track time towards the end with Ralph's off. The conditions have been neither one thing nor the other for long enough to enable us to draw any strong conclusions. Certainly we have the pace when it's very wet, but at the same time we have some work to do with the set-up in the drier conditions. It would be nice if we could just get a little more consistent running tomorrow morning."
Mark Gallagher, Team Principal: "Today's been a bit of a wash-out so it's difficult looking at the lap times to get an idea of how the weekend is going to go. Certainly Ralph looks comfortable in the wet conditions, but if it's going to be dry on Sunday it would be nice if we could get in some dry-weather running tomorrow in practice and qualifying. It's great to be back here at Estoril, nine years after Formula One was last here, and to be reminded of how good a circuit it is. Ralph seems to enjoy it!"
A1 Team USA owner Rick Weidinger knew that his team needed to make improvements over their showing in Germany earlier this month. By finishing the first day of practice at the Circuito Estoril in 5th place in second practice session moving up from 17th, A1 Team USA proved to Weidinger that they are heading in the right direction.
During a rain plagued session, the team was bolstered by consistent driving from Scott Speed, as well as the continued presence of Indy Racing League driver, Scott Sharp. Speed was pleased with both the track and the team's performance given the weather conditions.
"I am really pleased with the way we kept improving throughout the day," said Speed. "It's a tough track to get used to but it was fantastic to drive it. We kept getting better and better as the day went on and I am looking forward to qualifying tomorrow."
Team owner Rick Weidinger was pleased with his team's performance today and is pleased with how all the parts of the team are coming together at the right time.
"I am excited about how we are growing as a team," said Weidinger. "Scott really showed today how quickly he can adjust as a driver, Scott Sharp continues to bring that unique drivers' insight that helps us focus as a team and we got another outstanding performance from David Price's racing team. I am looking forward to a great day of qualifying. This all begins with one timed lap in each qualifying segment tomorrow."
France led the way in the first day of practice having the top time in the second session as well as the best time in the first. Rounding out the top five were Brazil, Portugal and Switzerland.
A1 Grand Prix provides national teams and their drivers the opportunity to compete globally on a level playing field with open wheeled race cars that have identical specifications and engines. For the first time in racing history, A1 Grand Prix puts driver against driver and nation against nation. A1 Grand Prix will bring together up to 25 nations representing 80 per cent of the world's population. It is the skill of the drivers and their crews that will determine who wins the race.
The global series will take place across six continents—North and South America, Europe, Africa, Australia and Asia—and will be televised around the world so fans in both established and emerging markets can experience the thrill of this historic international race series.
Grip seemed to be the magic word at the Estoril circuit today, with the two test sessions of this morning and the free practice sessions of the afternoon all being run on a wet track, sometimes under dry weather conditions. For A1 Team Netherlands it proved to be a very difficult day with both Jeroen Bleekemolen, who drove in the two morning test sessions, and Jos Verstappen not being able to put A1 Team Netherlands into the top of the timesheets today. An eighth place in the first practice session regrettably was the best result for the Dutch team.