Friday favourite: The Ferrari-powered flyer that gave Ireland World Cup glory
The much-loved A1GP series bowed out in 2009 after just seven race meetings with its new Ferrari racer, but it made a huge impression on its final champion Adam Carroll. The A1 Team Ireland driver recorded five wins and six poles from a possible 14 with the car as he romped to the era-ending 2008-09 title
Financial problems meant the fleet of ‘Powered by Ferrari’ A1GP cars only saw service for a single year before the self-styled 'World Cup of Motorsport' bit the dust. A1GP’s 2008-09 season at the height of the financial crisis was a turbulent one, as money woes for promoters and parts delays contributed to the cancellation of four rounds and a calendar of just seven races. Several teams were unable to test before the first round, but at least they were on the grid – many more didn’t even have a car to field.
Yet the car penned at Bognor Regis by former Lola and Penske designer John Travis made an excellent impression and is regarded fondly by that year’s champion as the high point of a racing career that has taken in Formula 1 tests for BAR, Formula E with Jaguar, the DTM with Audi, the Le Mans 24 Hours and, briefly, IndyCar.
Adam Carroll had already established himself as an A1GP winner by claiming the 2008 Mexico City feature race – the first win for Team Ireland after two seasons of mixed results with Michael Devaney, Ralph Firman and Richard Lyons – with the series’ original mount: the venerable Lola-Zytek based on the 2002 Formula 3000 chassis and fitted with updated bodywork.
But it was the new 2008-09 machine that that Carroll felt “allowed me to really be the best I could be” as he romped to a title that put his name on Michael Andretti’s wishlist– although his 2010 IndyCar foray would ultimately fall flat after two outings.
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“That was a really nice car, really well-made,” says Carroll of the ‘Powered by Ferrari’ racer. “It was just a great piece of kit – it had a lot of grip and a lot of downforce.”
The first bespoke car built for A1GP was powered by the same direct-injection V8 engine from the F430 GT2 car – “It was a beast of an engine to put in the back of a single-seater,” Carroll says – and utilised technical support from Ferrari in its development. It was “totally different” to its dated forebearer and “a big step change” that met his need for grip and downforce.
“The more grip and more power you give me, the faster I can go,” says the Portadown 39-year-old, who won the opening round of this year’s British GT championship at Oulton Park in Shaun Balfe’s Audi.
The original A1GP car, a Lola-Zytek, was agricultural by comparison with its 'Powered by Ferrari' successor
Photo by: A1GP
“I found the Lola quite difficult. It wasn’t a precise car, it suited really heavy-handed, aggressive drivers. I didn’t mind it moving around, I love a car that’s lively, but it just didn’t really prompt you. It gave you no feedback and it was really hard to actually feel the last half a second in it.
“To extract speed from a car and a track when there’s no grip and the car just slides around, I find that difficult because I can’t actually do anything with it. It’s easy to get to the limit and then you can’t really do anything about it. But with the A1GP Ferrari, you could feel the last half a tenth, everything.
“When the car has more grip, your braking zones are super-late, you don’t have much time to think about it. There’s no downtime and in those situations, I feel I personally can perform at my best.”
Its only issue, Carroll reflects, was the car’s single compound of Michelin tyres.
"The pole positions were particularly satisfying for me. It was the first time I really felt in my career that I actually had the people and the machinery needed to perform at that level" Adam Carroll
“It was actually the tyre from when they tested in the UK in the cool weather, so when we went to the hot tracks like Sepang, the tyre didn’t actually work that well,” he says. “The track temps were just too high for it.”
His season got off to a difficult start in treacherous conditions at Zandvoort “as what felt like a Force 9 storm battered the sand dunes,” according to Autosport’s report. Carroll spun early in both races, but come round two at the Chinese Chengdu circuit he was immediately on the money with a sweep of pole, fastest lap and victory in the sprint before finishing second in the feature to Portugal’s Filipe Albuquerque.
Aside from a non-finish at Kyalami when punted off by Fairuz Fauzy, he was never outside the top five for the remainder of the season – despite feeling hard done by two separate penalties that cost a likely feature victory at the Algarve Circuit. Further wins arrived at Sepang (by 15.9s over Albuquerque in the feature) and New Zealand’s fiddly Taupo track (edging Neel Jani by 1.4s in the sprint), before ending the year with a Brands Hatch double to clinch the championship.
Carroll won five times with the car, and claimed pole for both races at Taupo in New Zealand
Photo by: A1GP
As Autosport’s report put it, he “put in the performance of a driver that wins titles for fun, not one that has been scrapping to keep his career going since nearly winning the British Formula 3 title in 2004.
“Two pole positions were backed up with two very comfortable wins, as the Irish car was the class of the field, while Ireland’s title rivals Switzerland and Portugal were left scratching their heads all weekend as they struggled for speed. Neither Neel Jani nor Filipe Albuquerque got anywhere near Carroll as he wrapped up the championship in dominant style”.
It was the only clean sweep that season after a change to the sporting regulations, introduced for Malaysia, that allowed push-to-pass usage for a single full lap in one of the four qualifying sessions. This had the result that some prioritised grid position for the sprint and others for the feature that paid more points, making it difficult to qualify at the sharp end for both races.
“That actually was quite lively, that made a difference,” recalls Carroll of the push-to-pass.
Yet he was regularly found at the top of the timesheets, taking pole for three races in succession across the Sepang and Taupo weekends and annexing the top spot in qualifying at Brands.
In all, his record with the car stood at six pole positions and five wins - he would also have won the Taupo feature without the anti-stall kicking in after his second pitstop, allowing Jani to pounce. But Carroll says it’s the qualifying statistics that are his proudest feat, as “it was the only thing that ever really allowed me to get the best out of qualifying”.
“The pole positions were particularly satisfying for me,” he says. “It was the first time I really felt in my career that I actually had the people and the machinery needed to perform at that level. The continuity with it and just the style of it allowed me to completely focus and actually just drive with a clear mind.
Carroll celebrates the spoils of victory in Sepang, taking a champagne shower from Filipe Albuquerque
Photo by: A1GP
“When you do that, that’s when the car can become an extension of your body, so when you finish a qualifying lap like a 1m10.9 at Brands, you don’t have a massive amount of memory from it. You’re just doing it, turning your hands, moving your feet and the car goes with you and the outcome is pole position laps.
“You can be mentally in the zone and ready for it, but it doesn’t mean the car is going to react the way you need it to react. So when you’re in a car like an A1GP car with a lot of downforce, no power-steering and really good horsepower – it had a lot of torque for a single-seater – and we got it dialled in, it honestly was amazing.
"The group of people we had then, this was just a real one-off scenario. It was just a group of individuals who were really experienced, but just so hungry to win" Adam Carroll
“I’ve had some amazing races over my career, I’ve won races in exciting fashion [see his pass on Alexandre Premat around the outside of Imola’s old final chicane to win the inaugural GP2 race in 2005 – ed] and I’ve always been a strong racer, but for me qualifying was something that I felt I hadn’t been able to prove a point in. It’s not easy to get a car that allows you to fight for pole positions and race wins, it’s a really hard thing, and to build that consistency.”
In addition to an in-form Carroll, Team Ireland also benefitted from the arrival of technical director Gerry Hughes from the disbanded Super Aguri Formula 1 team. He “brought a lot of structure to it,” Carroll recalls, and added the finishing touches to “probably the most talented, experienced and most aggressive team I’ve ever been with in my life”.
“The group of people we had then, this was just a real one-off scenario,” says Carroll. “It was just a group of individuals who were really experienced, but just so hungry to win.
“Once we came together as a team, unbelievable. Their pitstops, their aggression and their motivation to win was so good. It was such a shame we couldn’t have taken that group of people and gone and done IndyCar or LMPs.”
In addition to the car allowing him to flourish, Carroll reckoned the team he had working on his Team Ireland car was among the best he's worked with
Photo by: A1GP
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