Dario Balestri is finally a World Champion. One of nitro racing’s unquestionably fastest & most talented drivers, the Italian delivered a long overdue victory at the 21st running of the 1:8 Onroad World Championships in Monteux, France. Top Qualifier for the 1-hour main, the Infinity driver would waste that opportunity with a very bad start from pole that saw him swallowed up by the pack and off onto the grass. Rejoining a distant last, while new team-mate Naoto Matsukura led from the defending champion Simon Kurzbuch, Balestri set about his recovery eventually going to the front when Matsukura, who he had in his sights, hit trouble. With Matsukura’s championship debut ending with a P8 DNF, it was Kurzbuch who would finish runner-up, 5-seconds back after an hour of intense racing. While not the result the Shepherd driver was after it does complete an impressive run of three consecutive 1:8 World Championship podium finishes. Claiming the final step on the podium would be Shoki Takahata, the Mugen driver having a good recovery after an incident with 2015 runner-up Takaaki Shimo cost him a lot of time due to a tucked body.
With the enormity of his win leaving Balestri somewhat lost for words to describing the feeling, he said, ’I made a shit start. My fault. I waited too long on the start I was in the middle of the pack and had a big crash which ended in the grass. Then my tyres were dirty but when they got clean the car was unbelievable and I could come back’. A driver who has so many times come close to the World title but come short in terms of his luck, he added, ‘this was the best car I have ever driven in a final and the engine too’ – his fastest lap over 2/10th quicker than that of Kurzbuch. Making two tyre stops, describing them both as ’super fast’, he agreed the win was a monkey off his back and lifted the pressure of finally achieving his life’s goal might make him enjoy racing even more. ‘I have to thank Kenji San my boss for giving me the opportunity to change my life. He has created a fun and passionate team and for sure it is a nice atmosphere to work in. There is no pressure.’ He continued, ‘This result is for all the team, they worked a lot for the brand. Nikiado San has done an amazing job with creating this car’. Balestri was also indebted to his engine builder Massimo Fantini, a former Worlds Top Qualifier who never quite managed the title. ‘I have no words to describe the engine. Fantini deserves this for all the work & time he has put into the sport’. Having waited so long to get the official status of being the World’s No.1 driver, Balestri was making sure he thanked everyone who made it possible. ‘My mechanic Antonio (Castellani) put all of himself in the race. He was perfect and of course so was my second mechanic Massimo (Mannucci).’
Kurzbuch said, ‘I am a little disappointed at the end. We go into a race with the crew to win it but this time we couldn’t do it.’ He continued, ‘I can’t say we made big mistakes but we lost a few seconds here and there. Still 3 World Championships in a row on the podium and last year’s 1:10 podium in Gubbio is good for a hobby driver’. Being more specific about his final, he said, ‘the start was good as I could overtake Dario so it was just me an Naoto. Apart from two times on the grass I drove a clean final but it wasn’t enough in the end. My pit crew did an amazing job. It was hard work under the French sun for 1-hour’. As the reigning Euro Nitro Series champion he concluded, ‘we will take a few days off and then prepare for Fiorano because the ENS title is still open and we want to make sure we bring that one home’.
Summing up his first World’s final, Takahata said, ‘I’m very happy to be on the podium but I think we could have got more’. Unfortunately his challenge for a better result, was severely hampered when he was hit by Shimo. With the supplied marshals originally instructed to not touch the cars other than place them back on track, the body tuck was very costly. Original planning two tyre stops for the race, the 23-year-old’s crew would change it and drop the second tyre change to try to recover some of the lost time, his MRX6 not having any issues going the unscheduled extra distance on the tyres.
Having left no doubts in the minds of nitro racing’s best drivers that he is a new force to be reckoned with, Matsukura was understandably down beat after his impressive performance was brought to an end by a flat receiver battery. The reigning multiple 1:12 World Champion, only made his competitive 1:8 debut at the opening round of the ENS this year but took control of the race putting a lap on the entire field at the half way mark. A clean race to that point for the ‘full punch’ driving style Japanese ace, he would get his entry from the pit lane wrong and make contact with the barrier which would require an extra pit stop next time round to fix the body. He would have a second mistake also after leaving the pitlane as his car ‘had no steering’ and he ended up on the grass this time it costing him the lead. In the end however it was all going to be in vein as his battery died, him saying afterwards, ‘I don’t know why because I changed it before the race’. He continued, ‘My car was super good and my own pace was good I had no mistakes only the one after the pits but still I was on top. I will come back and next time I’ll get the win’.
Finishing fourth, last year’s 1:10 podium finisher Alessio Mazzeo described it as ‘a very hard race’. The Xray driver continued, ‘I made a big mistake the first lap and lost too much time and then I pushed too hard to make back the time. 4th is the correct place for my performance. Dario and Naoto were too fast for me and congrats to Dario, I know the passion he has for this’. The first 1:8 Worlds the 200mm specialist has contested he continued, ‘This is my first 1:8 Worlds and I never imagined at the start of the week I could make the final so for that I am very happy with the result’.
Making it five different manufacturers in the Top 5, ARC’s Silvio Hachler said, ‘I am pretty happy with 5th. One week ago I would for sure have taken this but I really wanted 3rd place’. The Swiss driver continued, ‘I’m happy with the car and engine but had one small mistake myself when I came into the pits too early and my crew was not ready’. His second time to make a Worlds final, bettering his P6 in Japan in 2013, he concluded, ‘the field was super competitive so to finish top half I’m really happy’.
Simon Kurzbuch is set to defend his World title this evening in France, the Shepherd driver winning his Semi Final to progress to the 1-hour final that will decide the winner of the 21st running of 1:8 Onroad World Championships. Starting from pole in the second of the Semi encounters have lost out on the TQ to Dario Balestri and the Super Pole to Naoto Matsukura, Kurzbuch would win the 30-minute encounter from Jilles Groskamp and Silvio Hachler with the fastest race time to secure 3rd on the grid. Winner of the first Semi ahead of fellow Japanese driver Shoki Takahata, Takaaki Shimo will line up third ahead with Takahata completing the top half of the grid ahead of Groskamp, Hachler, Alberto Picco, Alessio Mazzeo and Lars Hoppe. Coming into the event as one of the pre-event favourites along Kurzbuch and Balestri, there was cruel luck for Bruno Coelho. Starting from pole the Xray driver was in clear control of the race until he suffered a suspected partial engine seize at the end of the straight. While the engine fired back up in the pits he title hopes were done. Also suffering similar faith was former World Champion Adrien Bertin. With the large French crowd fully behind the HB driver, cheering loudly his every pass, he worked his way to the front leading for a time but with 8-minutes to go his engine stopped. A heartbreaking end to what was to be the veteran racers retirement from competitive racing.
‘We won our Semi so we achieved our goal’, was Kurzbuch reaction to his win but he wasn’t so happy. The Swiss driver continued, ‘I think we need to improve for the final especially also my driving. I need to risk more’. While pleased with his car, the factory Novarossi driver said they must also look at the engine. He said, ‘One stint really tight. We did have good fuel time so maybe it was the temperature. We need to check this for the final’.
Finishing just 2/10th behind Kurzbuch 2-years ago in Brazil, Shimo summed up his Semi win by saying, ‘It was unlucky in qualifying but today is OK’. Coming through from the earlier 1/4 Final and starting the Semi 9th, he added, ‘we had work after qualifying but today we jump and jump again’. Looking to the final, the Infinity driver, who has made the Final since 2011 and finished 2nd twice, added, ‘My car & engine are good so my plan for the final is to enjoy it and have fun’.
Starting 3rd on the grid, Takahata would have an impressive recovery from a bad start which saw the Mugen driver in the grass before the first corner and needing to be marshalled. From last however he would quickly get back to the front to claim his first 1:8 Worlds Final start. Making an outside only tyre change during the race, the 23-year-old saying tyre wear is higher today, he said 2 stops for all four tyres could be a option for the final but he is confident he has the car to put in a good race. While the Semi B would see two Japanese drivers progress it would be the end for 2013 Champion Tadahiko Sahashi, the Serpent driver having the disadvantage of having to make one extra fuel stop compared to his rivals.
In an exciting battle for the final guaranteed bump up spot, the final two spots decided by quickest race times, Mazzeo would come out on top. With Coelho’s demise, the Italian will carry Xray’s hopes in the final. Dedicating his making of the final to his friend Giuseppe Catanzaro who passed away recently, he said, ‘Like always it came down to the last lap. The conditions were very hard with the wind and my engine was too lean so when I gave full throttle it lost power. The car was also very loose in the rear but I grit my teeth and we did it’. Set-up to run a different set-up for the final he concluded, ‘I have to thank Massimo (Fantini) for this and also Daniele (Ielasi) because he changed the strategy during the race and that got me through’.
‘I could not hear any commentary so I had no idea of the running order’, was Groskamp’s reaction. He added, ‘I just drove my own race but I didn’t know if I was racing for position or if a driver was a back marker but in the end I made it and my car was super good’. A finalist in 2013, Groskamp is one of 5 Infinity’s to make the final, with Alberto Picco bumping up from the 1/4 finals. Unfortunately for team-mate Jesse Davis, while he looked to recover from a slow tyre change, on his last stop his mechanic’s t-shirt would get wrapped up in the front wheel costing the quick Australian time and a chance to bump up having been in contention before the stop.
Benefiting from mistakes from Hoppe and JJ Wang right at the end, Hachler was delighted to make it through. The Swiss driver and great friend of Kuzbuch said, ‘It was a perfect race until I lost a wheel’. As the ARC driver exited the pits after his tyre stop the rear left wheel came off with his hopes of making the final looking to be over. ‘I pushed 100% after that. I drove on the limit and I also got a bit lucky other crashed ahead of me but the car was perfect and I can drive on the limit for a long time so I think it will be good for the final’.
The 21st running of the 1:8 Onroad World Championships is down the final 22 drivers with the 1/4 finals completing the line up for the two Semi finals which will decide the 8 drivers to join Dario Balestri and Naoto Matsukura in the fight to become the World Champion. In the first of the 1/4 encounters it was JJ Wang who took the win ahead of Takaaki Shimo after the 2015 Vice Champion was given a penalty for bad refuelling. Behind them John Ermen was holding third but the ARC driver came under intense pressure from 2013 World Champion Tadahiko Sahashi in the final laps. With the Serpent driver all over the Dutchman the pair made contact at the final corner with Ermen ending up on the grass. While Ermen protested the result, after watching video footage of the pass officials deemed the result would stand with Sahashi progressing to the Semis.
In the second 1/4 final, Alberto Picco was the winner from Infinity team-mate Carmine Raiola who was another to be penalised for bad refuelling. Behind them Takehiro Terauchi would complete the Top 3 of a race that would see reigning 1:10 European Champion Toni Gruber and former finalists Rick Vrieljink and Flavio Elias go out. Losing second gear on his WRC, Gruber tried to continue but it was too much for his engine and it expired. For Vrieljink his chances of progressing ended when he ran out of fuel and for Elias, who was running his 5th final after a bad qualifying, his run ended due to a broken steering servo.
‘Very happy’ was how Wang summed up progressing to the Semis. The Mugen driver continued, ‘qualifying was so so, so I’m happy to still be in the mix’. On the 20-minute encounter which he started 4th, the Chinese American driver said, ‘The start was good for me but the conditions were very difficult. The Top 3 were evenly spaced but then the drivers behind started to attack. When Shimo got the drive through I took the lead and just tried to drive a safe race to the end’.
Echoing Wang’s comments of conditions being more difficult today, Picco said, ‘the track was not as good as yesterday. It was slippery and more difficult to drive’. He continued, ‘I just tried to keep a good pace without pushing because I didn’t have the same confidence as before because of the dust on the track’. Otherwise, the Italian veteran said the rest of the race was good and while conditions are more difficult he will leave his Infinity unchanged for the longer 30-minute Semi Final.
Lamberto Collari is out of the 21st running the 1:8 Onroad World Championships. The driver who has been World Champion a record 9 times, saw his attempt for a 10th title end when he suffered a glow plug failure while leading his 1/8 Final with 2/3rd distance complete. The Italian’s last Worlds Final appearance was when he won the last of his titles in Switzerland in 2009. Losing 3-laps as a new plug was fitted, Collari eventually finish 8th while up front it was former Finalist Rick Vrielijnck who took the win to progress to the 1/4 Finals. Also joining the Capricorn driver by completing the Top 3 would be Thomas Desmaries and Paphon Chanyasah. For 2013 and 2015 Finalist Shinnosuke Yokoyama it was the end of his run of final appearances with the Japanese driver finishing 6th.
In the first of the 1/8 finals which got the final day of action in France underway, it would be Serpent’s Merlin Depta who took the win having started 8th on the grid. Behind the German, former European Champion Oliver Mack would follow him home having start the the 20-minute directly behind his fellow countryman. One of the standouts, having had a bad qualifying when he ended up qualifying in the 1/64th final, 2015 Finalist Flavio Elias completed his run of bump ups with third. As a result the Brazilian Capricorn driver will now make his 5th race start here in Monteux. Casualties of the race included Michael Salven who went out after a crash at the start and his Serpent team-mate & 2009 Finalist Mark Green who could only manage P5.