Qualifying for Round Four of the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport proved to be an up and down affair for A1 Team New Zealand, with Black Beauty lining up for the Sprint Race in sixth place and tenth for the Feature Race. Driver Chris van der Drift however, is determined to put her back where she belongs – at the front.
Heading into the four fifteen minute Qualifying sessions, where just one 'flying' lap is allowed, the mood in New Zealand garage was optimistic, and focused on a strong result.
Qualifying One, the first of the two sessions that determines the grid for the Sprint Race saw van der Drift slow down for a yellow flag, aborting his run and placing huge pressure for him to perform in Qualifying Two. With his second set of new tyres fitted, van der Drift came through to record a lap 1.15.457, quick enough for sixth on the grid. New Zealand's time was just under a second off Ireland who will start from Pole Position after recording a time of 1.14.507.
Three sets of new tyres are allocated to the four Qualifying sessions, and with two New Zealand's three sets already used, a carefully thought out strategy was in order for the all important Feature Race Qualifying sessions.
The team elected to send van der Drift out on a used set of tyres for Qualifying Three for a lap to 'put in the bank'. He recorded a time of 1.15.899, placing eighth in the session. With other teams also keeping another set of new tyres up their sleeve, the team knew van der Drift needed to lift the bar further to start within the top ten on the grid.
New Zealand were one of the first cars on the track for Qualifying Four, and with their last new set of tyres fitted, van der Drift knew he had to deliver. The lap was reasonable, but other nations improved more, while the team's engineering crew watched New Zealand bump down the order.
The eventual time recorded by New Zealand was a lap around Taupo of 1.15.622, 1.2 seconds off the Pole Position time, again recorded by Ireland.
The qualifying times recorded at Taupo present a fair indication of the speeds of the different teams on track, with the PowerBoost 'joker' lap removed from the format for Taupo.
The outcome of Qualifying was lower than the New Zealand team had hoped for, but an upbeat van der Drift heads into tomorrow's Sprint and Feature Races with some work to do.
The format of the race starts for this round has changed, with both races being started from a standing start. Traditionally in A1GP racing the Sprint Race is started from a rolling start, but the short run into a tight first corner at Taupo has brought about the change to the regulations for the weekend for the teams' safety.
Action starts tomorrow from 11am for the A1GP cars with the Sprint Race, before the Feature Race kicks off at 3pm.
Coverage of the racing action kicks off from 2pm on TV3.
Chris van der Drift, Driver
"It [Qualifying] could have been better."
"The pitstops will help us tomorrow; it's about being consistent and staying on line – it's very dirty off the racing line."
"Throughout both races there'll be some people going off and colliding with each other so we'll stay out of trouble and look to score some strong points"
John Sears, Team Manager
"Qualifying was slightly disappointing for us, we expected to be a bit higher than where we ended up."
"It's still a long race, there's three pitstops tomorrow so we'll be fighting from behind but we're still capable of a good result"
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