Motorcycling: Piquet Jnr leads from front as A1 promises fall flat

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The Independent Online

Brazil dominated the opening round of the new A1 Grand Prix series on its debut at Brands Hatch yesterday, with Nelson Piquet Jnr winning both races from pole position.

In the new championship, which pits nation against nation in a self-styled World Cup of motor sport,all 25 drivers competed in equal cars, designed to encourage overtaking and with a boost button for extra help.

Organisers had promised an all-action championship, but in the sprint race precious few used overtaking manoeuvres and the GP2 regular Piquet Jnr won with ease after controlling the race from pole position before an action-packed feature race ended with another Brazilian win.

In a rare change of position at the start of race one France's Alexandre Premat squeezed past the New Zealander Matt Halliday to secure second place in front of a huge crowd at Brands Hatch, estimated at about 80,000. Piquet revealed that he knew victory was all but assured as soon as he cleared the first corner without trouble, admitting overtaking is still extremely difficult despite pre-race promises from organisers.

"It was a beautiful show," he said. "The team has done a good job; it was perfect. Alex was quite close most of the race and had a similar race pace. I knew on this circuit if he wasn't one second a lap quicker he would not overtake me because it is so hard on this circuit."

The Australian driver Will Power claimed fourth while Great Britain took a respectable fifth place through the former British Formula Three champion Robbie Kerr.

The feature race was a more entertaining affair, punctuated by a safety car which prompted an exciting finish. The safety car came out 13 laps into the 38-lap race when Italy's Enrico Toccacelo and Khalil Beschir clashed, sending the Lebanese car into a frightening barrel roll.

Beschir flipped through the air but, despite badly damaging his car, he was able to walk away from the crash, saying: "It was a dramatic accident but I knew it would be fine; the car is very strong."

At that point Power held the lead for Australia after capitalising on a slow pit stop for Piquet, but when racing resumed he came under immense pressure from the Brazilian.

The ex-British Formula Three champion hounded Power and eventually edged past with a brave move around the outside with 10 laps to go. His superior speed was obvious and he streaked clear to win by 11 seconds from Power, with the Mexican Salvador Duran a surprise third. Halliday was fourth with Alex Yoong fifth for Malaysia.

Piquet said: "We had problems with the pit stop but I managed to overtake Will, something I never expected was going to happen. When I saw Will in front I thought that I would be second."