The British and Irish teams staked out the front row for A1GP’s two races in China tomorrow, Ireland’s Adam Carroll taking pole in the sprint race, then Team GBR’s Danny Watts qualifying top for the feature race with Carroll beside him.
The Netherlands’ ex-F1 and Champ Car star Robert Doornbos was the only other driver to get a look-in, qualifying second for the sprint where Watts could only manage fourth.
Watts said: “I think it was nine days ago I found out that I was actually coming here, so to be sitting here now, in pole position for the feature race is really amazing.”
Carroll added: “It feels great to get Ireland’s first ever pole position – and to make it a double front row start is even better. It’s quite a bumpy circuit so it’s very important to put together a really clean lap.”
His pole position follows strong Irish performances in all the A1GP test, qualifying and practice sessions since the new car was introduced – but failure in the two races so far this season, where the Portadown driver was caught by the wet conditions in Zandvoort and twice spun out when pushing too hard.
By contrast, Team GBR’s success comes in spite of being caught by the delays in the build schedule of the new Ferrari-inspired car, meaning that the squad missed the Dutch races and were only able to test their car for the first time yesterday.
Driver Watts is the only member of the squad to have experience with the car, having been one of A1GP’s test and shakedown drivers when the first couple of production models were completed.
He said: “I think the credit’s got to go to the team. They’ve had four hours sleep in the last two nights, working through the night just getting the car prepared and ready for practice yesterday.
“It’s been an amazing few days. It’s a new car for the team to get used to. A new driver in the car for Team GBR and luckily the whole package has come together really nicely.”
Carroll said: “The times are so close and the drivers are of such quality that it feels great to be at the front. The new ‘Powered by Ferrari’ car is extremely quick with huge levels of downforce and it has really suited the team and my driving so far.”
The 20-car field ran two separate qualifying segments, with the sprint race grid being settled first. Each segment was supposed to involve two sessions, but the sprint qualifying was reduced to one after it took too long to clear away a car that crashed at the end of the first session.
Carroll’s 1m 15.423s, set late in the first session, therefore survived as the pole time, ahead of Doornbos, Neel Jani for reigning champions Switzerland, Watts, and Portugal’s Filipe Albuquerque.
In the second session of the feature race qualifying segment, France’s Nicolas Prost crashed while trying to pass the far slower South Korean car, breaking the momentum of what was gearing up towards a thrilling shoot-out between several teams.
None of the leaders improved when the session re-started, so the top four from earlier in the segment will fill the top two rows of the grid, Watts’ 1m 15.325s proving fastest ahead of Carroll, Albuquerque, Jani and South Africa’s Adrian Zaugg.
There was disappointment for home favourite Ho-Pin Tung, who suffered repeated electrical problems and could only manage 18th and 17th on the two grids.
Indycar star Marco Andretti, making his debut for the USA, ran as high as eighth in practice but slipped back to 16th and 11th in qualifying, the accidents in both sessions costing him dear.
He said: “I’m disappointed. Our first session wasn’t great, and with the second session being cancelled we didn’t get the chance to better our time for the sprint race.
“Our third session of qualifying, for the feature race, was decent and we were confident our last attempt would have been faster. We had fresh tyres and with my out lap I was in a position to put up a very quick time when the red flag came out.
“We had to put extra laps on the tyres, and you can’t do much on old tyres. It’s disappointing, when we had the speed we didn’t have the luck or the track time. We have our work cut out for us tomorrow.”