Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hammer Time

After his baptism by fire in Sepang, Michael “The Hammer” Ammermueller bounced back in dominating style during this past weekend’s A1 GP outing in China. As Hammer-Muller captured his first pole position for the Sprint race, while series point leader Team Switzerland’s Neal Jani claimed second with Team Ireland’s Adam Carroll in third.

Jani then turned up the wick in the qualifying 4 session, capturing the pole for the Feature race, with Team GBR’s Oliver Jarvis snatching second, while Team India’s Narain Karthikeyan slotted into third and the Hammer dropped to fifth for the main event.

The Chinese round was the inaugural running on the Zhuhai International Circuit, which was originally intended for hosting a Formula 1 event, but was quickly forgotten upon Shanghai’s claiming of the Chinese Grand Prix in 2003. Zhuhai has struggled to land a mainstream event with the stillborn Champ Car race slipping thru the cracks before finally enticing the A1 GP series to race on its track after eleven years of existence.

Thus, all 22 nations were starting on a “level” playing field, since none of the teams had any previous experience at the track. On Sunday morning Ammermueller went on to lead the Sprint race wire to wire, claiming his very first victory in A1 GP competition, vindicating his over-aggressive “Panzer” driving style during the previous Malaysian event. Jani finished second while A1 Team China’s Cheng Cong Fu thrilled the crowds by taking the team’s first podium this season. The crowds went wild as Cheng Cong Fu was speechless over his third place finish.

Ironically during the Feature race, Hammer-Muller got pushed wide and dropped several places while Jarvis and Jani fought over the lead. Then New Zealand’s Johnny “Lightning” Reed and Malaysia’s Alex Yooung had another collision, which sent Yooung hard into the wall, thus requiring another safety car period during the day’s action.

Team GBR and Switzerland both encountered problems in the pits, which gave Team India’s Narain Karthikeyan the lead. Recall that Karthikeyan has spent time in Formula 1, first as a race driver for the declining Jordan Grand Prix team before becoming a test driver for Williams. Although Karthikeyan’s F1 aspirations seem to be fading into the sunset, Narain hung onto his lead in the Feature race and went on to score Team India’s very first victory in A1 GP.

New Zealand finished second with South Africa rounding out the podium, all the time being hounded by eventual fourth place finisher Team Germany’s Ammermuller. “Home Boy Cheng Cong Fu finished ninth after incurring a drive thru penalty for speeding in the pits. The series now goes on holiday until the New Year, which will see the debut of the second generation Dallara-Ferrari Ferrari’s…

Point standings after 4 of 11 events:
1. Switzerland, 79; 2. France, 60; 3. New Zealand, 59; 4. Great Britain, 48; 5. South Africa, 47; 6. Netherlands, 41; 7. Ireland, 39; 8. Germany, 37; 9. China, 28; 10. India, 27; 11. Brazil, 22;
12. Mexico, 17; 13. Canada, 10; 14. Czech Republic, 10; 15. Italy, 4. (19. USA, 2)