Heavy rain saw Team France victorious in the first Feature race of the A1GP 2008/09 season in Zandvoort, The Netherlands. Team Malaysia brought home a win in the Sprint race.
Treacherous rain, mixed with the choppy North Sea sending up large quantities of spray, gave a spectacle that could only be seen to be believed. Good thing I'm here to say what happened.
The first race of the 2008/09 season at Zandvoort was set up perfectly, with new cars, new drivers, and the home nation on pole position for the Sprint race, New Zealand alongside, and Ireland rounding out the top three. Team Malaysia started in fourth.
Team Monaco put in a fabulous performance in qualifying, starting fifth on the grid, along side Neel Jani for Switzerland in sixth.
Only 17 cars were ready for this race, as eight of the teams (including GBR, Germany, India, and Canada) were not ready in time.
So as the scene was set on a wet and windy Zandvoort, the sprint race got underway. Due to the conditions, the race started under a safety car.
As soon as the safety car went in after six laps, Jereon Bleekemolen led out of the final corner, with New Zealand's Earl Bamber in second.
It was then that the drama unfolded with Adam Carroll for Team Ireland applying the power too early round the final corner and spinning, facing head on into the rest of the field.
Team Monaco were the unlucky culprits of this incident, as their driver had nowhere to go and crashed into Ireland, therefore forcing him to retire.
Since that moment, there was an incident on nearly every lap, with Lebanon, Australia, and Korea all going off within two laps of each other.
Two laps later, New Zealand and Netherlands participated in a thrilling battle at turn 13, with Earl Bamber victorious, and claiming the lead from Jereon Bleekemolen.
This small piece of overtaking showed Bamber's potential as an A1GP driver, as the 18-year-old raced like a veteran.
He forced the experienced Bleekemolen into a mistake, taking advantage of it by getting alongside him halfway through the corner, forcing him to the outside of the exit, and causing Bleekemolen to concede the place.
But it was Malaysia who were to shine in this race, as they overtook first Netherlands and then New Zealand to claim victory in the Sprint race. New Zealand was second and France third.
This was a shock result for France, as Loic Duval started the race in 11th and posted the fastest lap of the race, therefore obtaining a bonus point.
Netherlands finished fourth, with Switzerland, South Africa, Italy and USA rounding out the points finishers.
Team China were unfortunately the unluckiest of all the nations in this race as they had battled their way from 16th to fifth, but then spun on the last corner with only four laps to go.
So with an exciting Sprint race over, what did the Feature race have in store for the crowd at Zandvoort?
With Malaysia looking so quick throughout the Sprint race, they seemed the favourites to win, but France were not to be counted out, as they had shown brilliant potential in the sprint race.
And of course, it was France who were to be victorious as Loic Duval drove an absolutely stunning race and put France back on the top spot.
Of course, he did receive a hint of luck from the pit stops, with Team Malaysia having a problem with the right rear tyre, therefore allowing Duval to build a large enough lead to pit and rejoin the race safely in the lead.
It was a similar story in the second round of pit stops, but without any problems for any of the teams.
Amongst all the drama in the pits, there was plenty of drama on the track, with both Switzerland and South Africa retiring, and Ireland's Adam Carroll spinning again.
Another ingredient was to be added to this recipe of a perfectly entertaining race, with Team Lebanon and Team China crashing entering Tarzan.
It was caused by Lebanon's David Morad trying to go wide into the corner and touching the paint on the outside of the track, therefore resulting in an almighty collision with China's Hoo-Pin Tung.
This mistake cost Lebanon their highest points finish (fourth place) in their entire A1GP career.
After that incident the safety car was deployed, and the race was finished early under a safety car with Team France taking the chequered flag, Team Malaysia second and New Zealand's Earl Bamber claiming the last podium spot.
Team Monaco recorded a sixth place after their unfortunate accident in the Sprint race, launching their A1GP campaign with a good result, and Team Korea taking the last spot with only seven cars finishing.
Along with all the drama of the race, the drivers also had a different trial to overcome, and that was their new cars.
The old specs were:
- Engine: Zytec
- Size: V8
- Bhp: 550
- Power boost: 30bhp
- Torque: 330
- Tyres: Cooper
- Brakes: Steel Alloy
Compared to the new specs of:
- Engine: Ferrari
- Size: V8
- Bhp: 600
- Power boost: 60bhp
- Torque: 408
- Tyres: Michelin
- Brakes: Carbon Fibre
These new and improved specs of the cars added an extra trial for the drivers to overcome, not to mention the wideness of the new chassis, giving a hint of Champ Car to the racing.
With the first race of the season over, Zandvoort truly served up the recipe for a perfect race. Drama, crashes, new drivers, unassailable amounts of overtaking, and an old champion back on the winning spot.
Next on the menu is Chengdu, China on Nov. 9, and may it provide an equally delicious line of events.
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