Britain and Ireland each grabbed a pair of podiums as A1GP visited China – but it was the Irish who came off better, Adam Carroll winning the sprint race while Danny Watts saw victory in the feature race slip away in the pitstops.
Portadown’s Carroll took maximum points from the sprint by settling the fastest lap on his way to a pole-to-flag victory ahead of the Netherlands’ Robert Doornbos. Watts had qualified fourth but jumped reigning champions Switzerland at the start and spent the rest of the race successfully fending off Neel Jani’s attempts to regain the place.
Carroll, who failed to finish either of the races in the Netherlands, said: “I managed to get into turn one first and tried control it from there. Obviously, I knew Robert was going to be very quick and pushing extremely hard so I just kept my head down and tried not to make any mistakes.
“It’s brilliant – the guys have worked so hard and were due the results. This year I think we are going to get what we deserve.”
Watts said: “I had a good move round the outside of Jani at the first corner and I just had to pursue it. After that it was just a case of trying to hold onto the back of Ireland and the Netherlands. I had to keep it clean and tidy and not let Jani by again.”
Unlike Ireland, which had looked one of the strongest teams in the field from the moment Carroll ran his first shake-down lap more than a month ago, Team GBR received their car too late to take part in the first race weekend – in fact, they were still assembling it at the circuit in Chengdu.
This unfamiliarity with their machinery may have cost Watts victory in the feature race, where he started from pole but lost the lead to Portugal’s Filipe Albuquerque during the first pitstops and second place to Carroll during the next, although tactics and traffic clearly also played a part.
Watts led by a second and a half when he took his first stop, but Albuquerque stayed out for two laps longer and kept the lead after he eventually stopped. In the second round of stops Watts was again among the first to pit but emerged in traffic, allowing Carroll to gain second place by staying out longer and making a fast stop.
Behind Albuquerque, Carroll and Watts, fourth place was again taken by Jani. Doornbos stalled on the grid and was a lap down before he could join the race, but did earn the point for the fastest lap.
Carroll said: “Well that’s the start we really wanted at Zandvoort. I came here determined to have the best weekend we could and at least try to win a race or come away with a couple of podiums. I really think we can challenge the rest of the season for the championship.”
Neither Watts nor team boss Katie Clements were too upset at the result, given the challenges faced by the British team.
Watts said: “When I saw the car when we arrived here, it was still in bits with a lot to do. We never would have thought we’d be going away with two podiums – two third places. I think the two podiums have to go to the mechanics. They’ve been working so hard through the nights so it’s been a huge effort from everyone within the team.”
Clements agreed – and also had praise for her driver: “We cannot be disappointed with two podiums. I have to thank again the entire team for the immense work they have done this weekend and the hours they have put in. It took a superhuman effort to get the car prepared and all that work has paid off today.
“Danny has done an incredible job for us on his debut, especially considering he hasn’t raced a single-seater in more than two years. We are leaving Chengdu as a very happy team and are very excited at the prospect of what we could achieve in Malaysia in two weeks time.”
None of the teams that ran strongly in the Netherlands – Malaysia, France and New Zealand – made much of an impact on the weekend, picking up just a handful of points between them. Indycar star Marco Andretti finished 15th in the sprint and recovered from disappointing qualifying in the feature to take eighth for the USA.
Malaysia now lead the series with 28 points, ahead of Ireland and France with 23 and the Netherlands and New Zealand with 20. Switzerland have 18, Portugal 17 and Great Britain 16. Australia round out the top 10 with 13. New A1GP rules for this season, brought in because some teams could not take part in the Dutch rounds, will force all teams to drop the points from their worst weekend.