The crowds poured through the gates and into the grandstands and open paddock as the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport began its 2006/07 season today at the Circuit Park Zandvoort, the Netherlands.
A1 Team Brasil was in action for today's practice sessions, with both of its weekend nominated drivers taking their turn in the car. Rookie Ruben Carrapatoso completed two separate 25-minute sessions, finishing an impressive sixth in the first segment. Tuka Rocha (right), who will be contesting the two races on Sunday, returned to the cockpit for the final one-hour session of the day, and completed his planned programme of acquainting himself with the legendary Dutch circuit.
The action will resume tomorrow morning with Tuka taking advantage of the final one-hour practice session before tackling the four-part qualifying session in the afternoon. As per last season, qualifying positions will be decided by combining the two fastest times of a possible four flying laps from each driver.
Unfortunately, Team Principal Emerson Fittipaldi has so far been unable to make it to Zandvoort due to a family illness, and Team Brasil would like to send its best wishes to the family.
Tuka Rocha: "I haven't been to Zandvoort before so today's practice session was all about learning the track. I really like the circuit here, it's very challenging and I think tomorrow will be very competitive. We had a few problems with the car, just little things that are new for this season, so those things need sorting out. To be tenth without pushing so much is not bad and towards the end of the session our splits were very similar to Canada, who was fastest, so I think tomorrow the times will reflect our level of performance more."
Ruben Carrapatoso: "It was okay for me in the rookie practice. I've driven here once before about five years ago, and I really enjoy the track, it's so fast. For half of the first session I was doing some work with the brakes which didn't involve going for times, but the rest of that session felt good. We made a lot of changes to the set-up in the break, which took quite a long time, and we only went out with less than ten minutes to go in the second session. I took it quite easy, just working on set-up and keeping the tyres safe. I didn't want to lose a set of tyres by pushing very hard and I wanted to be able to give some good feedback to the engineers which would help the team. I'm glad I was able to be a part of this first weekend and now I will be supporting Tuka from the pitwall."
A1 Team Canada set the benchmark in practice today ahead of Round 1 of the 2006-07 A1GP World Cup of Motorsport on Sunday, 1st October, as Toronto's James Hinchcliffe (19) belied his rookie status to lead the field of 23 nations with a fastest lap of 1m28.994s around the 4.18km Circuit Park Zandvoort.
Making his race debut for A1 Team Canada this weekend, following two promising tests behind the wheel of the 550bhp V8-powered A1GP car, James was immediately a front-runner in the rookie session which preceded official practice. Fifth fastest over the course of two twenty-five minute runs, James' form was merely an indication of what was to come as he took to the track for official practice later in the day.
The Canadian, who tasted victory in Portland earlier this year on his way to a 10th place finish in the 2006 Champ Car Atlantic Championship driving for Forsythe Racing, made the most of a fresh set of Cooper tires to post the only sub-1m29s lap of the session on just his fourth lap out of the pits. His benchmark time of 1m28.994s stood throughout the hour long practice run and while former Indy Racing League driver, A1 Team Great Britain's Darren Manning, came close he couldn't beat the Toronto teenager's debut time.
James Hinchcliffe: "The team did a phenomenal job today, they gave me a great race car and I'm just excited to be here racing for A1 Team Canada for the first time. Zandvoort's an awesome track and the number of fans here today for a Friday practice session is just incredible! I'm still learning little nuisances with the car and the track's still new to me but to get a car capable of going fastest on my competitive debut is a great testament to the team."
A1 Team Canada Consultant, 1964 Formula One World Champion, John Surtees: "It's a tremendous boost for James to set the fastest Friday time on his very first A1GP race weekend. The whole A1 Team Canada crew did a fantastic job and it bodes well heading into qualifying."
A1 Team France Rookie Driver, Loïc Duval (right), took part in the first practice session, the "Rookie Session" of the first round of the 2006/2007 A1 GP World Cup of Motorsport at the Circuit Park Zandvoort in the Netherlands. He completed 17 laps under sunny and pleasant weather conditions and finished at the top of the first
session with the fastest lap in 1.30.328.
Loïc Duval said: "Today was really a great experience for my first official practice and I would like to thank the team and the FFSA for giving me the opportunity to drive today. I haven't been in the car since a test at Silverstone in 2005. I had quite a good start especially as I did not know the car very well. The track was lacking grip at the beginning but as it improved I was able to do better lap times and finish first in Part 1 and Part 2 of the Rookie Session."
In the second session, knowing the track from previous experience in F3, Nicolas Lapierre took the wheel and worked steadily through his assigned technical tasks, focusing particularly on achieving a satisfactory chassis balance. He covered 9 laps and finished in 8th position with a fastest time of 1.30.844.
Nicolas Lapierre commented: "It was fantastic to see so many spectators in the grandstands. It was a very good atmosphere. It was nice to be back at the wheel of the car. I did not take full advantage of my new set of tyres. We worked well on the set-up and tomorrow we will make final preparations for the qualifying session."
Jean-Paul Driot, team principal, A1 Team France added: "We knew we were going to be the target because of our success last year but we will try to do the best possible job. I wanted to mention that our rookie Loïc has got the opportunity to drive as a result of an agreement with the French Federation of Motorsport (FFSA). It is a good opportunity for young drivers to develop their talent. It opens the door for them to new horizons."
Nicolas Hülkenberg (right) managed a good showing in his debut with Willi Weber's A1 Team Germany at Zandvoort. The 19-year-old junior finished among the top four in the curtain raiser for the A1 Grand Prix Series' second season.
After all newcomers to the series had completed a so-called rookie practice at mid-day, which A1 Team Germany finished in eighth place (1m32.621s), they were joined by the established drivers who had their first outing in the afternoon. "After we had started the rookie practice on new tyres, and we only ended up in eighth place, I was definitely a bit disappointed," said Hülkenberg. "Afterwards, we re-prepared the car completely." David Sears' race team optimised the spring, damper and anti roll-bar set-up as well as the ride height of the 520-hp single-seat racer.
With the improved car, the driver from Emmerich in Germany's Rhineland region managed to set a lap time of 1m29.873s, marking the fourth-best in the field of 20 nations. Again, all drivers went out on new tyres as the tyres used in the rookie practice were available only for that particular session and the teams then started to make use of their regular contingent of five sets of slicks. "The work with my engineer and the team was good straight away. The lap times prove that we're heading in the right direction," said A1 Team Germany's ‘duty driver', obviously pleased.
The 4.627-kilometre circuit through the dunes along the North Sea coast with its predominantly fast turns is considered a great challenge. "In the Scheivlak corner and the following bends, the steering forces are enormous. The fitness of every racer will certainly be a factor in the 70-minute race on Sunday," Hülkenberg added. Up to the third Free Practice session on Saturday the team wants to continue to improve the A1 Grand Prix racing car after analysing the data.
Team Great Britain
A1 Team Great Britain rounded off a competitive Friday as the 2006-07 season of the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport kicked off with Yorkshire's Darren Manning steering the British entry to the second fastest lap time in the official practice session.
Building on Oliver Jarvis' fourth fastest effort in the rookie session earlier in the afternoon, Manning proved to be on the pace straight out of the box setting his best lap, a 1m28.040s, on just his second tour of duty round the 2.6-mile Circuit Park Zandvoort. Bettered only by A1 Team Canada at the end of the hour long run, A1 Team Great Britain heads into tomorrow's qualifying session buoyed by its performance following its third place finish in last year's A1GP Nations Standings.
A1 Team Great Britain Team Principal, John Surtees: "Oliver (Jarvis) did exactly what we expected from him today and undertook a very unselfish first practice session working on things for the team. He only had two flying laps but still placed it fourth overall. Darren then took over and showed that the set-up was pretty good by going quickest on just his second lap before A1 Team Canada pipped us to fastest lap."
Darren Manning: "Oliver did a great job in the rookie session, he was fast which helped set us up for this afternoon's run. You really just get one, maybe two, good laps on the new tyres and I managed to bang in a pretty decent lap. I still think there's some time to be found but we're right up at the sharp end which is the best way to prepare for qualifying."
Oliver Jarvis: "I had to do some work for the team early in the first session which didn't really allow me to get the best out of the tyres but it should ultimately help Darren over the weekend. We finished third but I'm sure if we'd gone for a new tyre run at the end we'd have been right up there. Overall I'm really pleased with how things went and I think the team should be looking good for a strong performance."
Michael Devaney (right) and John O'Hara started Ireland's A1GP World Cup of Motorsport campaign with steady developments to the car throughout the two hours of Friday practice in Holland. Both drivers reported that there was more time to come from the car, O'Hara being first out on the track in the new ‘Rookie' practice session at lunch time and Devaney taking over for 2nd practice in the late afternoon. With neither driver having raced during the traditional summer motor racing season, today was also about getting them back up to speed, used to the performance of the A1GP car and learning the Zandvoort circuit.
John O'Hara: "I enjoyed getting out for my first practice session in an A1GP car, although it's a very short session in which to get much accomplished. The track here is quite hairy - you need to be pretty ballsy in some places and it's quite technical in others. I had a slight problem with the brakes early on and also flat-spotted the only set of tyres we are allowed to use in the session so that didn't help with getting the lap times down."
Michael Devaney: "We made a lot of progress with the car and definitely are headed in the right direction with the set-up as our lap times were good at the end of the session. When we went out on new tyres at the beginning of the session everyone was setting quicker times because our car was well off the pace and difficult to drive, but we made good improvements and I'd say on new tyres now we'd be close to the pace."
Andy Miller, Technical Director: "We spent the day working hard with both drivers, getting through a lot of changes while they both familiarised themselves with the circuit. Towards the end of the second session we were in better shape and with some more changes we can make overnight I think we'll improve still further ahead of tomorrow morning's final practice. The track is very challenging, it needs to be attacked in several places and there's a good mix between fast and slow corners with a few big bumps thrown in for good measure!"
The second season of A1GP World Cup of Motorsport is finally here and A1 Team Lebanon has been out on track in a return to competition.
A1 Team Lebanon is represented by drivers Khalil Beschir, Alex Khateeb and Basil Shaaban at this opening event, with Graham Rahal joining them at Brno, Czech Republic, the second weekend of racing in the Series.
A new feature of this season is an exclusive Rookie Session, which is restricted to drivers under 25 years of age who have competed in less than four A1GP races. None of the original line up of A1 Team Lebanon drivers is eligible for this, so the team has been joined by 22-year-old Alex Khateeb. He was given his first taste of the A1 Team Lebanon car this afternoon and enjoyed the experience.
Khateeb said, "I'm proud to have been selected to join A1 Team Lebanon in the rookie role, and to support my team mates by providing feedback and developing the car. Today I had my first chance to drive and I really enjoyed it. The power, the paddle shift, the braking, it is a step up in technical level and a good learning opportunity. It's a privilege for a young driver like myself to be driving this car, particularly in representing my country."
The team suffered a gearbox failure in the closing minutes of the rookie session and the team had a race against time to be ready for the first official practice of the weekend with Basil Shaaban behind the wheel. The Lebanon crew worked hard between the two sessions to replace the gearbox and rebuild the car. Showing great teamwork they were able to complete the necessary repairs and send the car back on track for a few installation laps.
Martin Stone, Team Manager, A1 Team Lebanon said at the conclusion of the session, "The timing was very tight today after we had a rare failure on a brand new gearbox, but we were determined to get our car out for at least a couple of laps. We did manage that, but obviously we lost one of only two practice sessions available to us and it has set back our race preparations. But as we've always shown we have the passion and dedication that you need for this sport and we'll bounce back tomorrow."
Shaaban says, "After five months without A1GP, it's great to be back representing my country and the Arab world, as we take on a highly competitive field of talented teams from around the world. I'm sure we can build on the experience we gained from competing last year to continue to improve our performances. Zandvoort is one of the most technically demanding tracks in Europe, so our learning will continue here, particularly as it's our first visit with A1GP. I didn't get much driving today, so we haven't had much chance to get to grips with the car and its set up requirements, but we'll work on it tomorrow."
A1 Team Malaysia joined a field of national teams for the opening day in the second season of the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport and posted 14th fastest time of the day in the official practice session this afternoon at Zandvoort.
Alex Yoong and Fairuz Fauzy arrived in Zandvoort, near Amsterdam in the Netherlands ahead of today's first practice day of the new season of A1GP racing. Yoong will be driving for the team throughout the weekend, with team mate Fauzy supporting him from the pit wall. The opening session of the weekend in A1GP is now reserved for young rookie drivers, and without the benefit of a suitable candidate, the Malaysian team could only watch from the sidelines.
Yoong enjoyed his first practice session at this challenging European circuit, which undulates around sand dunes close to the Dutch coastline. The young Malaysian said after the session, "I'm happy with our performance today. We spent some of the session on installation laps for our new engine and when we put on our new tyres it wasn't the optimum time so I think we can be satisfied with 14th fastest time overall. I think we can improve on this tomorrow and that we're in good shape.
"This is a very difficult, challenging track, but very enjoyable. It flows well and with the undulations, some interesting corners and its twists and turns, it's good fun to drive. I've never driven here before, but it's a great track to have on the A1GP calendar."
Jack Cunningham, Chief Executive, A1 Team Malaysia added, "It's good to see how quickly the team has been able to get back up to speed and be ready for the new season ahead. We've some new engineering and technical crew and they have integrated well. They've worked hard to ensure we were prepared for this first race and have done a first class job. This season will be highly competitive with enhanced standards in evidence at all teams. They will all have the same determined, competitive spirit that we have within A1 Team Malaysia."
On the first day of activities for the second A1 Grand Prix season, A1 Team Mexico was ranked among the top-10 at the 4.18-Km. (2.6-mile) Circuit Park Zandvoort. Salvador Duran led the national team and Sergio Perez's performance was impressive in the rookie practice.
The first practice was only for rookie drivers and was split in two sessions, with a 15-minute break between them. On the first part of the practice, Sergio Perez was ninth fastest and on the second he was 11th best. On his performance, Perez said: "It was a good day, because I went out to the track to learn the car and all those things. I did well. At the start I went out with new tyres - which is mandatory in the series, but my fastest lap was done with used tyres. If we consider that new tyres help to be at least a second faster, I think that in the end I would have been in a better position. Even with that, I'm happy because everything went well for us today. It was definitely helpful that I knew the track beforehand, because the laps I drove they would have not been enough to know it and I think I gave good feedback about the car to the team and to 'Chava' (Salvador Duran)".
About his performance today, Salvador Duran said: "I did very well. (After a difficult season in the British F3), when getting into the A1 car I have gotten back my confidence, therefore I think it was good. With a new team, new engineer, new everything, our sixth place in practice confirms that our team is one of the leaders. Of course, I would have liked to be in a better position, but it is a good start and we think to improve our performance tomorrow. It was a short session, so there is not much to say. The important thing is tomorrow's strategy."
About Sergio Perez, he added: "He did it very well. He did an excellent job in the practice, considering his age and experience. He is there for that and he knows it. Now it is going to be hard for him, because he has to wait until the Czech Republic to practice again, where I am sure he will improve his performance. I'm very comfortable that he is my team-mate and I hope continue on this way for the rest of the season."
Julio Jauregui, Executive Vice President of A1 Team Mexico, also said: "The team is new; they know they can improve they performance and that also the drivers will improve. The team is very happy with Duran and Perez. Duran recorded his times just three laps into practice. He adapted very quickly to the car and to what the engineer developed for the car. So we have high hopes of getting a good result this weekend. The communication between Duran and the team has been good. He had no practice in the car after his participation in the British Formula 3 and he is very happy with the team and with the car setup."
Regarding new driver Sergio Perez, he said: "The members of other teams are impressed by Perez's performance, mainly due to his age (16 years old). Sergio had the order to take care of the car and he was conservative. Even with that, he ran well, considering that he had never driven a car with such power."
A1 Team Netherlands has had a good first day at the Zandvoort circuit. Jeroen Bleekemolen (right) drove both the Rookie test, a special practice for drivers under 25, and the regular free practice session today. During the 50 minute Rookie test A1 Team Netherlands finished in second, directly behind A1 Team France. In the regular free practice Bleekemolen managed to set a seventh fastest time, with 1'30.382. His fastest time of the day.
The welcome of A1GP at the Zandvoort circuit was nothing less then fantastic. No less then 35,000 spectators, an absolute record for a Friday, saw the 23 A1GP cars go out and they did not hide their enthusiasm for A1GP and especially A1 Team Netherlands one bit. Tomorrow and especially Sunday promises to be a huge racing feast, of course dominated by orange.
A1 Team Netherlands driver Jeroen Bleekemolen was pleased with today's performance and thinks that there is enough room for a significant improvent. "I think that we have just had a very good day, I got to know the car. Of course I already knew the track very well, that made things a bit easier. We improved constantly and were in the top of the sheets all day today. Especially in the second session we tried a lot of things, changed many things in the set up and are going to make some more changes on the car before we start tomorrow. We are trying a number of things to make sure we are completely ready for qualifying", said Jeroen who found the reception here at Zandvoort absolutely amazing.
"When you see all those people here, it is just unbelievable. When you walk around the paddock the fans cling on to you. It really is fantastic!".
A1 Team Netherlands team principal Jan Lammers was of course delighted with this warm welcome for A1GP in the Netherlands. "Many have heard me say for a long time that A1 is the best thing that ever happened to racing. It's a completely new angle, I have gotten very enthusiastic about it and many others with me. When you witness how this enthusiasm is sealed today and how the Dutch public is honoring A1 with their presence, with 35,000 people on a Friday, there are no words to describe this. Everyone knows this is an all time record for both Zandvoort and A1, but this is almost a record for any racing class and any circuit. It does not matter if you are talking about Champcars, IRL or Formula 1, 35,000 people on a Friday is complete madness. We are completely delighted with that, said Lammers who also was very happy with the performance of Jeroen together with the team. "Jeroen gets into the car, goes out and immediately sets the three fastest sector times. In the end we finish in seventh with the thought that we can improve significantly. I am very pleased with that. What you still cannot avoid is the whole situation surrounding Jos. I have seen a lot of reactions that just hurt me. Jos has driven with us for a year and we have some points for discussion, but we must not forget that he is the most successful racing driver ever in the Netherlands and he has given us great moments. We must not forget this in the heat of the moment. The fact that we were not able to come to a conclusion and are now verbally fighting like a pair of alley cats, that is business. We did not come together on this one. That's very bad, but we are looking at the future. Everyone who wants to be here is here. We just are there for the racing. I am glad that Jeroen is doing well. I am glad that the spectators appreciate this and have a good time, that is great. Some of the reactions I have seen here and there just hurt and I can only imagine how they are coming across to Jos, I really feel bad for him. You just do't want this and I am hoping that soon good times will come his way again."
Team New Zealand
The New Zealand team is happy with its first taste of action at the opening meeting for the second season of the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport.
Matt Halliday set the 9th fastest time in today's opening practice at Zandvoort in the Netherlands after running in a new engine and getting to know a new and difficult circuit.
Halliday clocked up 22 laps in the one-hour session where Canada surprised with the quickest time, followed by Great Britain, South Africa , Germany and Switzerland.
Team Principal Colin Giltrap said the team is more than comfortable with their position.
"It took time to run in the new engine, but in the last 10 laps we were looking as quick as anyone and there's a lot of good drivers and teams behind us," Giltrap said.
"It's a tricky track to learn because it's quite bumpy in places, so local knowledge and previous experience is helping some of the teams."
Giltrap says Halliday has quickly developed a rapport with new operations and racing crew, Super Nova Racing, is happy with his effort in getting to grips with the circuit and is extremely happy with the car.
"It was a good shakedown, we've worked on a number of set-up options and tomorrow we should be in reasonable shape for the second practice session and the afternoon qualifying."
The big news of the day was the departure of A1GP Founder and Chairman Sheikh Maktoum Hasher Maktoum Al Maktoum, who has released his stake in the Series to increase the shareholder base while he pursues other opportunities.
Giltrap said the New Zealand team was sorry to see Sheikh Maktoum bow out because the parties had developed a close relationship and they respected the event founder for his vision in setting up the innovative nation versus nation Series.
The first two official practice sessions, in which A1 Team Switzerland Rookie driver Sebastien Buemi (right) took part, were held at the challenging circuit of Zandvoort in sunny and pleasant weather conditions. Familiar with this track, having already raced here this year in Formula 3 and Formula Renault, Buemi's task was initially to spend much of the allocated time of the opening session doing standard checks and analysing the levels of performance and handling of the car. The second session was then used to work on the car's balance and set-up. He was able to put in consistent times, finishing 5th in the second practice, where he set an encouraging lap of 1.30.059.
Sebastien Buemi said: "It was a good opening day as I have learned a lot about the car but also to work with my engineer Jacques with whom I am working for the first time. My lap times were quite good and I finished in 5th position of the official drivers' classification. Unfortunately after a small mistake with a set of tyres in the
Rookie session, I had to run with tyres that were already used and therefore I have lost a bit of time."
Max Welti, team principal, A1 Team Switzerland commented: "I have to say that it was a nice start as we have worked so unbelievably hard to be ready today. The livery of the car is really gorgeous to look at. Sebastien Buemi did a very good job especially as he has such little experience with these strong and heavy cars. He managed to be consistent in both sessions and was able to give very good and useful feedback to his engineers. There is of course still a lot to do and we are still quite far from where we would like to be but as a whole, it was a positive day."
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