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SA scores in first A1 GP race

2005-09-26 08:09

Stephen Simpson at Brands Hatch, Picture Ron Gaunt Motorpics

Simpson, the 21-year-old South African who won the national Formula Ford championship in 2000, drove the race of his life to give South Africa a magnificent sixth place after starting at the back of the 25-car grid in the inaugural A1 Grand Prix of Nations at Brands Hatch in England this afternoon.

It was a fitting reward for the young South African, who was disconsolate after finishing last in the earlier 18-lap sprint race after clashing with former Formula One drive Jos Verstappen - once dubbed the most dangerous driver in Formula One - in the Team Netherlands car and having to pit for a new nose cone, losing two laps.

Brazil?s Nelson Piquet Jr was the class of the field, scoring a double for the day when he drove like a Formula One star to win comfortably in a time of 55 min 1,91 sec, from Australia?s Will Power (+11,33 sec), Mexico?s Salvador Duran (+23,12 sec), New Zealand?s Matt Halliday (+23,70 sec), Malaysia?s former F1 star Alex Yoong (+24,35 sec) and South Africa?s Stephen Simpson (+24,85 sec).

Making up the top 10 were Netherlands? Jos Verstappen (+25,63 sec), Japan?s Ryo Fukuda (+26,21 sec), Canada?s Sean McIntosh (+27,17 sec) and Germany?s Timo Scheider (+1 lap).

Verstappen clash

Particularly satisfying to the South African, whose fine performance was watched by thousands of South Africans (the national flag was very much in evidence among one of the biggest crowds seen at Brands Hatch since Formula One was last here in 1986), was finishing ahead of Netherlands? former F1 star Verstappen, with whom he?d clashed in race one and arguably the most experienced driver in the field

Moment of the race, which was marked by many numerous incidents and a spectacular roll-over involving Lebanon?s Khalil Beschir, was a stunning overtaking manoeuvre by Piquet, worthy of the finest of Formula One drivers, when he regained the lead from Power on lap 28 by driving round the outside of the Australian in Surtees Bend.

The Brazilian had lost the lead he had occupied since the standing start, from pole position on the grid, when the field became bunched after two safety car incidents and the Australian benefited from a quicker performance by his team in the mandatory pit stop to change all four wheels.

"I feel very, very good. I was so disappointed after the first race that I wasn?t sure I could pick myself up for the second.


"But my team and all the important people who had come all the way from South Africa to see their car race (including chairman of Team South Africa Tokyo Sexwale and CEO Dana Cooper), were incredibly supportive. I also had a big responsibility, to all my fellow South Africans.

"Finishing sixth in our first race in this historic and unique motor racing championship, which is the first in the world to pit nation against nation, was more than I expected after starting from the back of the 25-car grid.

I feel really proud to be a South African right now and I am so happy for Team South Africa, who have supported A1 Grand Prix since Sheikh Maktoum announced his ground-breaking project.

"We?re very proud of Stephen. He showed great courage and determination today in the face of adversity, like a good South African," said Team South Africa chairman Tokyo Sexwale. "This has been a fantastic occasion and all South Africans can be proud of their team today.

"There are 11 other races in the series, with a round in South Africa in January 2006, and we could not have got off to a much better start. With the encouragement of all South Africans, Team South Africa will do even better in the future.

SA flag

"The South African flag flew high today and we again showed the world that we can perform at the highest levels of international sport," Sexwale added.

For Sheikh Maktoum Hasher Maktoum Al Maktoum, founder, president and chairman of A1 Grand Prix and a member of the Dubai royal family in the United Arab Emirates, it was a dream come true. He started both races with the words "Gentlemen, for the pride of your nations, start your engines".

The next round of the A1 Grand Prix series is at Eurospeedway in Germany on October 9.

The main race was preceeded by a 30-minute sprint race which was both a decider for starting positions in the main race, and a points scorer.

And Piquet Jr dominated that race too when he led from start to finish after heading the rolling start from pole position.

Second, 2,44 sec behind was France?s Alexandre Premat, followed by New Zealand?s Matt Halliday (+ 2,89 sec), Australia?s Will Power (+ 11,45 sec), Great Britain?s Robbie Kerr (+ 12,79 sec) and Mexico?s Salvador Duran (+ 17,27 sec).

One lap down

South Africa?s Simpson finished 24th out of the 25 starters, a lap in arrears after a collision with Netherlands? Jos Verstappen at Graham Hill Bend on lap one.

The 21-year-old South African pitted for a new nose cone and rejoined the 18-lap race two laps down.

He did his best to close the gap on the rest of the field and was lapping faster than many of the others who had qualified around him, hauling in the Team Russia car of Alexey Vasiliev to unlap himself once before the chequered flag came out.

"I?m very disappointed," said a dejected Simpson after the historic race, held in hot and sunny conditions at one of Great Britain?s most famous motor racing circuits.

"I managed to maintain my grid position in the rolling start and was well-placed to make up some places on the first lap.

"I was right behind the Netherlands car of Jos Verstappen as we entered the left hand Graham Hill Bend (the third corner after the start).

He took a tight line, hugging the apex of the corner and then unexpectedly moved to his right. I was unable to avoid hitting his left rear wheel with my right front wheel.

Verstappen was unable to continue and was the only retirement in the race.


We interview SA's A1 hero

2005-09-26 14:14

Inside Wheels24

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