Switzerland Set the Pace in Chengdu

The A1GP Powered by Ferrari cars took to the Chengdu International Circuit in China for the first time today. Nicolas Prost started the day as the quickest rookie and reigning champion Switzerland set the pace with Neel Jani’s time of 1m 16.349s.

In an incident-packed first day on track, the rookies and developing nations were joined in the opening official practice session by USA and India, the teams yet to complete the same amount of testing mileage as the other teams. India’s Narain Karthikeyan topped the timesheet with a 1m16.710s, as the team began to make up for lost time after missing the season-opener at Zandvoort, but France’s Nicolas Prost was the quickest rookie.

It went pretty well,” said the 27-year-old Frenchman making his A1GP race debut this weekend. “We had a small problem in the first session with the engine and a little spin, but it was good and I got a grasp of the track pretty quickly. It’s good to be up there right at the beginning though. I’m not really used to this kind of bumpy track but I think this is the same for everyone. The track is pretty interesting and the bumps make it even more interesting so you just have to deal with it.” Prost, who is taking over race driver duties from Zandvoort Feature race winner Loïc Duval didn’t know if he was more excited or nervous about tomorrow. He added: “There is a lot of pressure on me, of course, but the team understand that it’s my first race so I’m just going to try to do as good as I can and see what happens.”

Thirty-minutes into the official practice session this afternoon, the first red flag came out as Malaysia was stranded out on track after a spin. France had initially set the pace, but after the session was re-started Switzerland went quicker and remained at the top despite two more red flags caused by local favourite China’s Ho-Pin Tung.

“This afternoon was the first time I have ever driven on this circuit but it’s very bumpy and dirty at the moment,” said the Swiss driver, “so it’s just been about finding the quickest line for us, which wasn’t always the traditional ideal line as everyone seemed to be taking alternative quick routes.

“It will definitely be one of the hardest A1GP races so far because it’s so easy to make mistakes on the bumps. That one qualifying lap will be something in between playing it safe and finding the limit of the car.”

Tung said: “Although it’s our home race, this track is also new for me so we are still learning and will make some further set-up changes in order to improve the car’s stability over the bumps.”

After making a flying start to the day, India carried the momentum into the afternoon, finishing third just 0.125-secomds behind Switzerland with South Africa’s Adrian Zaugg posting a quick time towards the end of his run to move up to fourth.

Former F1 driver, Robert Doornbos made his A1 Team Netherlands debut, finishing fifth while Marco Andretti made a promising start on his debut for the USA in eighth, just 0.834-seconds adrift of Jani.

As well as allowing India and the USA in the Rookie sessions to increase their testing mileage, there were also two hours of additional running for them and Great Britain. A1 Team GBR’s Danny Watts commented: “We have a good set up at this early stage. We’re not really worried too much about lap time we just want to make sure we have the car set up correctly and make sure everything is ok.”

A1 Team Mexico’s David Garza also got his first taste of the A1GP Powered by Ferrari car, but as his own car was still not ready he did this in A1 Team Switzerland’s machine. The Mexican team has also been allocated additional running on Saturday.

7 November 2008 Staff

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