Team GBR and the Irish will again be locked together on the A1GP grid, qualifying first and second in Sepang for tomorrow’s feature race, and sixth and seventh for the sprint.
Danny Watts and Adam Carroll will be hoping for a similar outcome to the last race meeting in Chengdu, China, where they were closely matched in qualifying and went on to finish on the podium in both races, Carroll winning one.
But they will face fierce competition from defending champion Switzerland, on pole in the sprint thanks to driver Neel Jani, and two stars of the opening rain-sodden round in the Netherlands who were rested in China – France’s Loic Duval and New Zealand’s Earl Bamber.
The pair will take the rolling start of the sprint race behind Jani and will be followed by Portugal’s race-winner from China Felipe Albuquerque. Italy’s Edoardo Piscopo will start fifth, with Watts and Carroll next.
In the longer feature race, which has an F1-style standing start, Carroll will be on pole and Watts second. Lebanon’s Daniel Morad took and unlikely third and home favourite Fairuz Fauzy, another driver who scored well at Zandvoort, joins him on the second row. Behind them will be Albuquerque and Dutchman Jeroen Bleekemolen.
So far, the winner of the feature race at Sepang in each of A1GP’s three seasons has gone on to win the championship.
Marco Andretti, who is expected to be Team USA’s only driver during the rest of this season after Andretti Green Racing team-mate Danica Patrick reportedly priced herself out of contention, qualified 12th for the sprint. He set no time in the first qualifying session for the feature but came back fighting the second, taking eighth on the grid.
Qualifying was shaken up by a new feature introduced for this weekend – each driver was allowed to use his ‘powerboost’ button for the whole of one lap during the day. The button adds 60bhp to engine power, which turned out to be worth about two seconds on a lap of Sepang.
Many teams used theirs in the sprint qualifying, seeking a higher grid position to counter the reduced overtaking opportunities in the shorter race, and four of the top five teams in the final results had reached that position through using the extra power.
Team GBR was among those who saved theirs for the feature qualifying, choosing to accept a lower position in the sprint. In a statement afterwards, they said: “The team takes confidence from the fact that GBR was the second fastest car minus the powerboost in the session.”
The new rule was part of the reason why many teams will start the two races from radically different positions in the field – notably Switzerland, first in the sprint but 16th in the feature, New Zealand (3rd and 15th), Italy (5th and 19th) and the Lebanon (18th and 3rd).
British team boss Katie Clements said: “It’s been a pretty exciting afternoon and this new powerboost rule has really shaken up the grid. I am very pleased with the team’s performance and the pace that we have shown.
“Tomorrow is going to be a hard day for Danny and the other drivers dealing with this extreme heat and humidity in a very long race. I am very hopeful based on today’s showing that we can secure some strong results.”
Driver Danny Watts added: “It was a good session and we have proved we have the pace. My lap in the sprint race qualifying felt really good so I was a bit disappointed to be sixth, although at that point I didn’t know who had used the powerboost.
“My feature qualifying lap was not very good at all and in fact I apologised to the team as I crossed the line for a poor effort. To find I was second was great – I think the powerboost bailed me out on the straights. We should have been a lot quicker though and that gives me confidence.
“Tomorrow is going to be a big day and that’s where it all matters. We have the pace and we’re focused now on race day.”
Carroll said: “That was my first pole for the feature race and I wanted that one badly. It was quite a good lap but obviously there is the powerboost and that’s when I chose to use it.
“It’s going to be hot, so we will be even redder and sweatier. There is not much you can do in England to prepare for temperatures like this, not only is it hot but it’s really humid and that what makes it quite difficult.”