Sureshwaran drives A1 Team India to 17th in Sprint and Feature race

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Durban, Feb 25 (UNI) The absence of ace driver Narain Karthikeyan hit A1 Team India hard as they could only manage to finish 17th in the Sprint and Feature race in the A1GP Series here.

With Karthikeyan, who was badly injured during the morning practice session on Saturday and was declared unfit to drive by doctors on race-day, his qualifying positions of ninth and 17th were deemed void.

The burden of responsibility fell on the young shoulders of rookie driver Parthiv Sureshwaren who put up a creditable performance yesterday, driving in both races for the team.

Sureshwaren, who had only driven last February in Sydney, was competing in only in his second-ever race in the A1GP Series.

Pinned as the only rookie up against 22 other experienced, leading national drivers, he was to start at the back of the grid at 22nd position for both races.

In the 15 lap Sprint race format, Sureshwaren managed to move up five places, finishing at 17th position ahead of some of the A1GP Series' best drivers including Johnny Reid of A1 Team New Zealand and Bruno Junqueira of A1 Team Brazil.

''I was gaining confidence and the racing experience was good for me. I was learning the track during the Sprint race and hoped for an improved finishing position in the Feature race,'' Sureshwaren said. ''It was a difficult track and with several cars crashing and piling up, I focused on keeping out of trouble and staying on the track.'' Michael Ammermuller of A1 Team Germany was disqualified for some aggressive driving. He took Jeroen Bleekemolen of A1 Team Netherlands - who was competing for the podium- out of the race on the last lap which was deemed an ''avoidable collision''.

The debris was cleared up and some damaged cars were forced into the pit lane - including A1 Team Australia, A1 Team Mexico, A1 Team South Africa, A1 Team Germany, A1 Team China and A1 Team Pakistan.

But young Sureshwaren craftfully avoided all contact with the car carnage caused at the start of the race. In fact, the Indian found himself leading the track at P1 in a strategic late pit stop call by Team India, ahead of current Championship leader, Neel Jani of A1 Team Switzerland.

However, the team eventually went in for the required first pit-stop and Sureshwaren rejoined at 13th place.

A drive through penalty slowed him down and Sureshwaren ensured he stayed clear of other pile ups and traffic on the track and found himself alternating between 13th and 15th place.

With the pit stop violation and by slightly exceeding the pit lane speed limit, Sureshwaren was shown the black flag in the last few laps of the 43 lap feature race.

A1 Team India, finally finished at 17th place in the Feature race.

A1 Team India is 12th in the Championship standings with 28 points, with the next race in Mexico City on March 16.

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