here was something Michael Schumacher-ish about the way Team Germany driver Nico Hulkenberg won Sunday’s 50-lap A1 GP Feature Race at Taupo.
He started from pole on a track drivers call a qualifying track – which means whoever qualifies fastest has an almost unassailable advantage because places to overtake are near non-existent.
But even so, he didn’t win by just a second or two.
He took the chequered flag a staggering 19.5 seconds ahead of Frenchman Loic Duval.
Indeed after the first three laps or so when he had Duval right on his tail, Hulkenberg began to ease away, building the gap lap after lap.
Team New Zealand’s Jonny Reid was third in Black Beauty, four-tenths of a second behind the Team France car.
Reid had pushed hard during the race, harrying the Frenchman for the whole distance and making several lunges to try to pass him.
But Duval, having his first race in A1 GP, defended stoutly, and Reid couldn’t find a way through. He said Duval’s car had enjoyed better grip and the black car was sliding around more, making it difficult to mount an effective challenge.
Reid said Taupo was an extremely physical track and he had torn skin on his hands from the effort required to turn the car into the tighter corners.
During the race black flags waved from the grandstands every time Black Beauty passed, the crowd cheered and a myriad hand-painted signs urged: “go Jonny go!”
It was stirring stuff, and Reid appreciated the support.
He said it had been an emotional experience to race a Team NZ car in front of his home country crowd, and he thanked Kiwis for the support they had shown him.
“It’s the biggest motor racing event I’ve ever had to deal with (in New Zealand), and next time I’ll be a lot more calm and relaxed, I think.”
Duval had gained an extra slight advantage during the compulsory pitstop for tyres.
He and Reid pitted on the same lap, but the French crew got their car out a second quicker.
All that did was make Jonny try even harder, and he pushed and probed looking for a gap, the blue French car’s mirrors filled by the black car.
Duval said he had been untroubled by Reid’s attempts to get past, and hadn’t felt under any real pressure.
Though the leading trio had raced line-astern for most of the distance, there had been some fierce battling further down the order.
Sebastien Buemi brought the Team Switzerland car home fourth, ahead of the hard-driven Netherlands car of Jeroen Bleekmolen.
James Hinchcliffe finished sixth in the Team Canada entry.
Hulkenberg’s fastest lap, one minute 14.742 seconds, is now the A1 GP lap record for the Taupo circuit.
Germany now leads the A1 GP series by 19 points from France. Reid’s two third placings at Taupo have catapulted New Zealand into third place, three points behind France. Hulkenberg was over the moon with his double victory at Taupo.
After the first few laps of the Feature Race he said he had been able to get into a rhythm. “I was able to find my pace, and I could make a little gap between us.”
Hulkenberg said he’d been feeling a little off-colour on race day.
“My manager was a little bit sick this week and I think I have caught something off him, but I am allright.
“I drank about four litres of fluid before the race and I am okay. I want to say a big thank-you to the team as we had a good strategy and a great pitstop.”
Duval said he’d been unable to overtake Hulkenberg.
“It is easy to crash in the first corner, so I was careful. After three laps he was too far away to be caught.
“With 33 laps to go, Jonny Reid started chasing me on the narrow track and was trying to get me to make a mistake, but I resisted his pressure. I was hoping that he would (halt the attack) with Buemi, Bleekemolen, Robbie Kerr (Britain) and Hinchcliffe closing up on to him.
“(But) I was determined to finish well despite the pressure, saw that Reid made a couple of mistakes and continued…to keep fighting for my second position in this tough feature race.
“I almost lost my position on lap 29 as once more Reid tried to pass me but failed. But I was prepared for his attack. I fought back to maintain second place keeping (him) behind me.”
Reid said it was “tough out there.”
Though he felt he had a faster can than Duval, “I was sliding around. I knew if I could get in front (of the Frenchman) I could pull away gradually. There was not much between us. I think we were quicker overall but I just couldn’t put that into second place. When we had the backmarkers I knew that would cause some confusion so I put the pressure on but there were no mistakes made by (Duval). Loic did a very good job under pressure and credit to him. That was a tough race for us all and I am happy with third place.”
The next round is on February 4 at Eastern Creek, Australia, where Reid will again drive Black Beauty.