GP2 champ Jolyon Palmer quick in first F1 test despite engine/technical woes

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Engine problems in the morning and technical issues in the afternoon marred Jolyon Palmer’s inaugural Formula One test for Sahara Force India. However, the GP2 champion made the track time he did get count.

Palmer logged only 37 laps in the Mercedes-powered VJM07 today at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi but his best of 1 minute, 44.516 seconds was good enough for fourth on the time sheets behind F1 vets Valtteri Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen, and Nico Rosberg.

Following today’s outing, Palmer said it was “surreal” to wheel the VJM07 out of the pits but quickly got on with the task at hand.

“Despite a few technical issues early on, in the end we managed to get back on track and have a solid hour of running, getting up to speed fairly quickly,” he added.

“What really stood out for me is the power delivery of a Formula One car, compared to what I am used to in GP2: I heard lots about it all year, but to actually experience it first hand, feeling it as I drove was impressive.”

Chief engineer Tom McCullough thought the British youngster acquitted himself well, all things considered.

“He settled into the team very quickly and everyone was impressed with his approach to the day, especially his communication with the engineers,” he said. “The early part of the day involved some aero data collection, which went to plan and should give us some useful information for the design of next year’s car.

“It was a shame that we suffered an issue with the engine towards the end of the morning, which confined us to the garage for a large part of the day. The crew did a good job to get the car out for the final hour of running to give Jolyon some more valuable mileage.”

After claiming the GP2 title this past year, Palmer is naturally looking toward the global pinnacle of motorsport for 2015.

While a race seat may or may not be too much to ask right now, he’s hopeful that he can at least land a reserve seat – and he thinks Force India would be a good place to have that particular role.

“I have learned a lot working with the team, seeing how everyone operates, and I am really happy about today’s experience,” he said. “Sahara Force India is a team that gives young drivers good chances and I would love to get a role with them. They developed Paul Di Resta into a good racer, created a meaningful FP1 program for Jules Bianchi and generally do a really good work with their reserve drivers.”

Force India will turn over the VJM07 to European Formula 3 pilot Spike Goddard for tomorrow’s second and final day of testing in Abu Dhabi.

April 5 in Motorsports History: Alex Zanardi’s amazing Long Beach rally

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Alex Zanardi entered the Long Beach Grand Prix on April 5, 1998 as the race’s defending champion and the series’ defending champion.

But the Italian didn’t seem a serious contender for much of the 105-lap event. Zanardi started 11th position and lost a lap early when he was involved in a multicar spin in the hairpin.

Alex Zanardi celebrates after winning the 1998 Grand Prix of Long Beach. Photo: Getty Images

But the race was still young, and despite emerging from the incident in 18th place, Zanardi slowly progressed through the field while battling radio problems that made communication difficult with his team.

With five laps remaining, Zanardi passed Dario Franchitti on the backstretch for second place and then focused in on leader Bryan Herta.

With two laps remaining, Zanardi made his move, making a daring pass on the inside of Herta in the Queen’s Hairpin (which no longer exists as the track layout was changed the following year).

The move was reminiscent of Zanardi’s famous last-lap move on the inside of Laguna Seca’s famed Corkscrew in 1996, which deprived Herta of his first CART victory.

Franchitti passed Herta as well, and Zanardi went on to clinch his first victory of the season.

“On a day when everything went wrong, we came back and won,” Zanardi said following the race. “I can’t explain it. It wasn’t until I saw Bryan ahead of me that I ever thought I had a shot at winning. It was amazing. I have no words to describe it.”

Following Long Beach, Zanadri won six more times in 1998 en route to his second and final CART championship.

Also on this date:

1992: Bobby Rahal led from start to finish to win the Valvoline 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. The win was the first of four victories for Rahal during his championship season.

2009: Ryan Briscoe won the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the first of three victories for the Aussie in 2009. The race was also the first IndyCar Series on Versus, which was rebranded as NBC Sports Network in 2012.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994