The Irish may have been among the last teams to take their new Ferrari-powered A1GP car out on a circuit for testing – but Portadown’s Adam Carroll put down a marker that suggested they are ready to challenge for the title.
The former F1 tester and GP2 racer set the fastest time of the six nations participating in the last-minute tests at Snetterton, part of an undignified scramble by the self-styled World Cup of motorsport to help as many teams as possible overcome delays in the supply of the new cars and compete this weekend in the Netherlands.
“Everything went really well,” he said. “The car was completely reliable, very consistent to drive and it is certainly quick – especially in the fast corners. It is going to be good to race it, and on the quicker circuits I think it’s going to be very impressive.
“It was good to get the team working together at the track in the run up to this weekend, and we really couldn’t have wished for a more straightforward day to test the car.”
The test was the first outing for Team Ireland’s new technical director Gerry Hughes, a seasoned veteran of Formula One with Jaguar, Jordan and Super Aguri. He said the day had been successful.
“We ran through our test programme and overall I have to say we are very pleased with the way things went. The car ran trouble-free all day and Adam did a good job, as we’d expect. It is still early days in terms of learning about all the systems on the car, but it behaved very well and we are in good shape for the weekend.”
Last season the Irish ran in Zandvoort with ex-F1 driver Ralph Firman before Carroll took over for the rest of the season, scoring one win. He is looking forward to getting to grips with the Dutch circuit, where he scored a podium in the 2004 Masters Formula 3 event.
He said: “I am looking forward to this weekend and to racing the new car. It is much more stable and consistent to drive than the previous A1GP car and very impressive through the fast corners. The Ferrari engine provides strong performance, and overall the package is a big step up.
“We are all starting from the same point in terms of understanding this car, so I think Ireland will be one of the most competitive teams. We are certainly here to win.”
Team Principal Mark Gallagher reckons the squad will be one of the quickest to adapt to the new machinery: “The new car is very sophisticated but inside Team Ireland our crew are mainly ex-Formula One, and indeed ex-Jordan Grand Prix, so learning about the new car and developing it is something we are looking forward to.
“With the last car some of the teams had a lot of experience running similar cars in other formulae, but this new A1GP ‘Powered by Ferrari’ car is something completely new.”
* Elsewhere on the grid, Team USA’s new Andretti Green Racing management dealt with the fact that many top-flight American drivers are racing in Atlanta this weekend by naming last year’s rookie Charlie Kimball to compete at Zandvoort. Kimball, who won at the circuit in 2006 racing in the F3 Euroseries, said: “It all happened pretty quick so it hasn’t completely sunk in yet. It wasn’t until I was on the airplane that I could really take a minute to think about it. This is a big deal to me.”
And A1GP has avoided the embarrassment of reigning champions Switzerland being among the teams to miss the first race of the season because of the car build delays. The team could not prepare its own vehicle in time – but series organisers today announced enigmatically that “another chassis has become available at the eleventh hour”. Neel Jani returns as driver.
The build delay has also forced another modification to the rules, following the change to the points system designed to avoid disadvantaging the teams that could not race in the Netherlands. For this weekend only, the planned four qualification sessions have been scrapped in favour of a single one-hour free-for-all. The mandatory pit stop has been dropped from the sprint race to conserve equipment, and its result will decide the feature race grid.