Robbie runner-up as Swiss take titleby Rob Widdows on 7th May 2008
A showdown for the A1GP championship seemed an unlikely prospect, even if it was mathematically plausible. As the teams arrived at Brands Hatch 29 points separated the Swiss from the New Zealanders, the advantage very much with Neel Jani after an impressively consistent season.
As events unfolded at this wonderful racing circuit, looking at its absolute best in the Spring, it quickly became clear that Kiwi Johnny Reid was not going to get on terms with the championship leader. The black car never looked quite right all weekend and Jani did just what he had to do, taking the title with a steady drive to fourth place in the opening Sprint race. The excitement was all ahead of him, with Robbie Kerr (above) keeping his head and leading all the way from Jonathan Summerton and Adam Carroll, the Irishman having muscled his way past a cautious Jani at Paddock Hill bend on the opening lap.
What A1GP does really well is to put on a show for the people who have paid to come in. Add to that the attention to detail by Jonathan Palmer, the man behind the renaissance of Brands, and you have a great days’ motor racing. Just like it used to be. Alright, the A1 cars are not the most thrilling machines on the planet, but the new Ferrari-based formula should be that bit more exciting next season. After three years this series really has grown up, and developed into a thoroughly entertaining show.
The days of Mansell Mania came to mind as the cars formed up for the big race of the day. Not quite as manic, I’m pleased to say, but a similar swell in the grandstands. Union jacks everywhere, flying in the early summer breeze and draped over the fences, while all around the circuit the crowd cheered and waved as Robbie Kerr lined up alongside poleman Narain Karthikeyan. Team India, run by Mike Earle’s Arena Motorsport, had done a superb job with the car and their driver was having one of his good weekends, very neat and quick everywhere. We were in for a great race to finish the A1 season. This was Brands at its best, Alain Prost strolling down the pitlane as if he’d never been away.
To cut a long story short, Karthikeyan (above and below) on good form was too much for Kerr and even the safety car (a Ferrari of course) could not help Team GBR in front of their home crowd. At the pit stop Team India did a fractionally better job and just squeezed their man out ahead of Kerr by the snap of an air hammer. The crowd was jumping up and down – and you don’t see much of that these days at a motor racing event. There were groans when Adam Carroll threw what could have been a superb race away – dicing with Karthikeyan he broke his front wing and then, strangely, decided not to pit. The wing collapsed and he went flying off the road, lucky to recover and finish way down the field.
So it’s over for another year then and what a great finale. Congratulations to Brands and to A1GP – this was a fine example of how to entertain the fans. Lots of doughnuts in front of the grandstands sent them home happy, a wild one from winner Karthikeyan sending him into the barrier… ah well, they don’t need the car or the engine any more, do they? Next season A1GP rolls out the Ferraris and the opening race of the new season will be at Mugello, the beautiful circuit in Tuscany. Now that is something to look forward to, I reckon.