Thrills, Spills, and Controversy in The Algarve
Algarve, Portugal recently played host to what could only be described as two breathtaking races. Team Switzerland picked up a third consecutive feature race victory, giving Neel Jani 10 career victories, the highest amount that any A1GP driver has obtained. Team Netherlands won the Sprint race.
The new event for this years A1GP at the Autodromo International de Algarve, has been described as being a "rollercoaster", with its many hills, and sweeping corners.
Formula One teams have tested here before during winter testing, but no actual racing car event has taken place here which provided the drivers and the teams a new challenge to seize control over.
Team Italy scored a pole position in the Sprint race qualifying thanks to debutant and ex-Formula One driver, Vitantonio Liuzzi, with Robert Doornbos for Team Netherlands next door, and Team Ireland rounding out the top three.
Team Switzerland did not put in a time and started at the very back of the grid.
This set up a race full of thrills and spills, with every team pushing as hard as they could to score any points they could.
As it was Team Italy kept up their advantage for about two seconds as Doornbos got off to a powerful start and overtook Liuzzi before reaching the first corner. Team Ireland also tried to put the pressure on in the first corner.
Liuzzi kept second place, and from then on frustrated championship contenders Team Ireland and Portugal by keeping them at bay.
Teams New Zealand and Germany were caught up in some first lap incidents along with Team Lebanon. New Zealand's Earl Bamber made a move on Team Lebanon at turn three, but unfortunately hit the front of Daniel Morad's car when trying to close the door on him, spinning him out of the race.
Then on turn five Andre Lotterer for Team Germany made a move around the outside of Morad trying to capitalise on Morad's sudden lack of pace due to some front suspension damage caused in his mix up with New Zealand.
However, the Lebanese car could not make a left turn, and this led to the two drivers clashing with Team Germany losing their rear left wheel.
Team Lebanon carried on for one more lap but the suspension damage was too great, therefore forcing Morad to retire. Following his excellent fourth place in the feature race in Kyalami, he and the team were hoping to score big, but ended with negative results.
These incidents caused the safety car to be deployed, bunching up all the teams.
So after the first couple of laps, and all the excitement and drama of retirements, the order was Netherlands, Italy, Ireland, Portugal, Monaco, India, Malaysia, and Brazil. Team Switzerland were able to claw themselves up to 13th, while Neel Jani looked as strong and determined as ever.
With the restart Doornbos quickly left Liuzzi in his dust, and set about setting the fastest lap of the race, demonstrating his dominance. Team USA on the other hand had a bad restart, with Teams Australia and Switzerland making a move in the early section of the lap.
The first round of pit stops provided excitement and gave some of the front running teams some much needed advantages.
Team Netherlands were the first of the front runners to come in, and the Dutch crew made a perfect stop. Teams Italy, Ireland and Portugal were next to come in, and Ireland and Portugal made the jump on Italy, dispatching Liuzzi once and for all.
Small drama happened in the pits with Brazil's Felipe Guimares clipping a wheel that one of China's pit mechanics was holding, sending it rolling to the pit wall. It was recovered quickly and business resumed.
Switzerland stayed out the longest, and eventually pitted with seven laps to go, rejoining in eighth.
However, bad judgement by the Swiss team meant they received a 30 second stop go penalty for coming in a lap late, placing them back in 15th, foiling Neel Jani's brilliant attempt to score some much needed points.
The race was red flagged with three laps to go as Brazil and South Africa had a coming together at turn three, due to a brake failure on Brazil's behalf.
This meant that the race was finished early and Team Netherlands won the race, with Team Ireland finishing second. Team Portugal put in a pleasing performance in front of their home crowd with a third place under Felipe Albuquerque's belt.
Italy, Monaco, India, Brazil, and Malaysia rounded out the rest of the points finishers, with Ireland obtaining the fastest lap, and an extra point.
With the Sprint race over, Ireland had placed themselves ahead of Switzerland and looked to take more advantage over that lead after looking so strong in the Sprint race.
Team Netherlands definitely looked clear favourites to win the feature race, and with a pole position under them, this was going to be all to easy for them. Until that is, on the formation lap, Robert Doornbos suffered an electrical fault that caused a fire in his car.
The favourites couldn't get round the formation lap, and an enraged Doornbos got out of his car and watched the first few laps of the race on the side of the track.
So with Netherlands out the way, Teams Ireland and Switzerland were now placed on the front row of the grid, a straight race between the top two title contenders, with Portugal only four places behind them. The heat was on before the race even began.
The lights went out and Adam Carroll got off to a fabulous start, with Neel Jani not too far behind. Team USA got off to a magnificent start, with Marco Andretti boosting himself from sixth to fourth before the first turn.
Team Portugal however recovered that position back from them, and the drivers started racing hard to move themselves as high as possible up the field, with Lebanon running wide on turn six with a puncture, and Australia getting caught up with something on the first corner placing them last.
Team Ireland were dominating at the front, with Carroll getting a 1.8 secs' lead over Switzerland and they were looking to cruise home to victory, which must have annoyed Doornbos, who was still sitting on the fence, helmet on, watching the race.
However, Ireland received a drive through penalty for jump starting on the grid and they came in soon after it was issued, placing him way down the field. Neel Jani at the front, and in clear air, gained the fastest lap of the race so far with a 1:32.774 secs'.
The first pit stops were soon upon the teams, and most teams came in early, all having smooth stops, Portugal being one of them.
Switzerland and Ireland came in a lap after the first load of teams and rejoined without any trouble.
New Zealand's Earl Bamber ran a very quiet race up until this point, but all of a sudden found himself leading the race. So when he came in to pit he rejoined in third behind Switzerland and South Africa, who were having their best race of the season so far.
Adrian Zaugg and Earl Bamber had a great tussle for about six laps or so, until Bamber caught himself out when hard on the brakes, and went straight into the back of the South African car, placing them both out of the race.
Both teams were going for their best finish of the season, so this was disappointing for drivers.
This issued a safety car, and after a hectic first half of the race, the order was, Switzerland, Portugal, Italy, USA, Mexico, (who Fisichella'd their way to fifth), Monaco, Malaysia, India, Germany, and Ireland.
With the restart, Felipe Albuquerque made a great move on Jani around the outside of the first corner and slotted himself into the lead. The home crowd went absolutely wild as they saw their man take the lead of the Feature race.
With the race back under way there were plenty of battles through the field, but one battle brought the safety car back out the same lap it went in.
Liuzzi tried to make a darting move on the inside of Andretti at turn nine, but both ended up touching, and Italy collected the innocent Monaco, forcing all three to retire.
As the safety car made another lap of the Algarve circuit only 12 cars remained in the race, making this one of the most eventful races of the season so far.
So with 20 laps to go, the safety car made its way back into the pits for the restart, and Portugal went on the acceleration too early and almost overtook the safety car before it went into the pits.
Due to this Albuquerque bunched up the whole field again and then went away, leading down the pit straight and through the first corner.
The second round of pit stops came all too soon for the teams, and all the teams came in within a couple of laps of each other, with Portugal and Ireland coming in a lap later than Switzerland.
After the stops the order was Switzerland, Portugal, Ireland, India, Malaysia, Australia, Mexico, Great Britain, China, and Indonesia.
After a brilliant stop that placed them right behind Portugal, Ireland were charging hard after hearing that they were to receive another drive through penalty for overtaking John Martin of Team Australia before crossing the line after the Safety Car.
From here on Adam Carroll really started to push to get the fastest lap before serving his penalty, and even get passed Portugal to the dismay of the crowd.
Carroll got the fastest lap with a 1:31.453 secs', and begins to really push hard, closing the gap to Switzerland to about half a second with about six laps to go. Also Ireland had been told they don't need to serve their penalty, so Carroll was free to race as hard as he could to get passed Jani.
There were a couple of late retirements with Australia and India both retiring with about three laps to go.
Adam Carroll pushed as hard as he could to get by the experienced Neel Jani, but the seasoned driver held his head together and kept himself ahead of the Irish driver to take the chequered flag for the 10th time in his career, with Ireland following ever so closely behind.
Portugal put in another brilliant performance in front of their home crowd to record another podium finish.
Now due to Ireland's penalty, they were given a 25 second penalty after the race, placing them fifth, and promoting Portugal to second.
So the revised finish standings were Switzerland, Portugal, Malaysia, Mexico, Ireland, France, Great Britain, China, Germany, Indonesia.
With such a thrilling race at the new Algarve circuit, the championship is tighter than ever, with only six points separating Switzerland, Ireland and Portugal. This looks like it will be heading right down to the wire in Mexico, but next stop, Brands Hatch.
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