England's Craig Dolby will start round two of the Superleague Formula Nations Cup from pole position after winning a dramatic rain-affected final against New Zealand's Chris van der Drift.
Rain fell just before and during the final, the climax of Superleague's unique knock-out qualifying format, for which Dolby chose to run second on the road.
He was already up by over 0.8 seconds at the first split and was in command of the duel even before van der Drift locked up and went off at Bolderbergbocht, allowing Dolby to overtake and cruise to the finish, winning by 5.2sec.
"It was good, I just kept my head," said Dolby. "I got away with a few mistakes in the knock-out stages. The final was unbelievable, it was so slippery. I found the grip on the warm-up lap, and knew I was eight-tenths up on the first sector and then Chris made his mistake, but I think we had it in the bag anyway."
Van der Drift, who didn't contest the opening round at Assen and has been racing in Formula Renault 3.5 instead, said: "I just hit the brakes and you just don't know how wet the track is. I braked late and lost the rear and went straight on. It's better than I expected, a front row is cool. It would've been nice to have done the opening round, but it doesn't feel like I've been out of this car for as long as I have."
In the first semi-final, van der Drift thrashed Frederic Vervisch (Luxembourg). The Kiwi was already 0.3sec up at the first split and 0.7sec up at the second. He maintained his advantage to the finish line, dropping only a couple of hundredths in the final sector to win by 0.717sec.
In the second semi, there was drama straight away when Dolby stalled at the end of the pit lane when his boot got stuck on a pedal. Despite this, once he was going, Dolby had the presence of mind to save his push-to-pass until the latter stages of the lap, so although he ran 0.2sec slower through the first and second sectors, he still pipped Neel Jani (Belgium/Anderlecht) by a fraction of a second. Jani's team then protested against Dolby getting assistance to restart, but after a delay while stewards looked into it, Dolby was allowed to progress to the final.
In the quarter-finals, a thrilling southern-hemisphere duel between Australia and New Zealand was resolved in favour of van der Drift after a great second sector time was enough to beat John Martin – who was quickest overall in the group sessions – by 0.024sec, who admitted to "messing it up by being scruffy". Vervisch defeated Robert Doornbos (now driving for Japan) by 0.015s by overturning a 0.3sec deficit in the final sector thanks to his strategic use of push-to-pass.
Jani produced a devastating lap - his 1m18.694s the fastest of the weekend - to defeat Assen race one winner Yelmer Buurman (Netherlands/PSV) by 0.788s as the latter struggled with low tire temperatures. Dolby beat Andy Soucek (Spain) despite being very ragged in sector one (admitting on his in-lap "I had a shocker"), but the Englishman saved his push-to-pass for later in the lap and he won through by almost 0.4sec. "I did such a bad lap," shrugged Soucek.
Preceding the knock-out rounds, in Group A, newcomer Mikhail Aleshin (Russia) spun at the chicane behind the paddock, flying over the curbs as he rotated and failing to make it through to the knock-outs along with Assen race two winner Duncan Tappy (now racing for Turkey) and Filip Salaquarda (Czech Republic/Sparta Prague).
In Group B, the big shock was Assen poleman Tristan Gommendy (France) falling at the first hurdle, his efforts not helped by coming across a dawdling Antonio Pizzonia (Brazil), who also didn't make it through along with the South Korea car of series returnee Max Wissel, the latter duo missing the cut by 0.043s and 0.048s respectively.