Although he’s a former World Champion he had never before TQ’d even a single round of qualifying at the bi annual event, but here in Thailand its a very different story for Atsushi Hara. Winning the final qualifier to confirm he will start tomorrow’s A Mains from pole, the Japanese ace topped the time sheets on 4 of the 6 occassions with his great rival Marc Rheinard the only one to denying him total domination.
Having ruled proceeding yesterday Hara’s run came to an end in the fourth round as he played with set-ups for Sunday’s finals allowing Rheinard to narrowly snatch the round TQ. The German repeated it again in the fifth heat but returning to his Friday set-up Hara resumed control to officially confirm himself as the Worlds Top Qualifier, a fact that was never really in doubt following his super fast time in the third heat.
Rheinard described his second spot on the grid as the ‘perfect position’ as he can apply the pressure rather than receive it. The German, who Hara acknowledges as being his toughest opponent, appears to be on a high about chasing down the first ever Touring Car World Champion. On pace the pair are very evenly matched but Rheinard has a reputation for being able to find 105% when needed. As 2006 podium finisher Paul Lemeiux put it ‘one good thing about not making the A Main is that I’m going to get to watch one hell of a dog fight’.
Third on the gird will be Ronald Volker. The German has been very fast throughout the event and has the speed to pick up the pieces if the two in front come undone. This is the second time the LRP/Hot Bodies driver has made the World final and he has set himself the goal of a podium finish. Turning things around today Viktor Wilck will start from fourth. The Swede will line-up directly behind his Tamiya Racing Factory team mate and says it is vital to make a quick get away so as to stop the front row making an early break.
Masami Hirosaka lines up fifth but still hasn’t given up hope of taking his first ever Touring Car World title. The Yokomo driver said his slump in performance after a stunning opening day was down to tyres. The Japanese legend said he made the wrong choice between new and used tyres for the different track conditions. Now that he has that figured out he said he is looking forward to a ‘clean race’ tomorrow.
Defending World Champion Andy Moore who TQ’d the last World’s will line up sixth. The British driver had an electrical problem in the last qualifier which cost him grid places but rekons thing are still wide open and it could all be decided at the first corner. Starting just behind him is fellow countryman Elliot Harper. Top Xray on the grid, this 15-year-old is sure to be on the shopping lists of a number of manufacturers for the 2009 season thanks to his impressive Worlds debut. Really happy to make his first Worlds final Harper, who unlike his rivals didn’t have the benefit of pre-event testing, said he would like to finish well but with everyone so close on times it will be tough racing.
Another big surprise finalist is local Thai driver Meen Vejrak who is also at the controls of Xray’s T2 009 chassis. A slipping belt cost him two good runs in the last two qualifiers but with this now fixed the FEMCA Nitro Touring Champion is aiming for a Top 5 finish.
Giving Hot Bodies the biggest share of the grid is Hayato Matsuzaki, the IFMAR 2WD Off Road World Champion claimed 9th ahead of Jilles Groskamp whose Tamiya takes up the final spot on the starting line-up.
Taking the unlucky honour of BQ (11th position) goes to Hupo Honigl but the Tamiya driver is joined in the B Main by some other unfortunate World Class drivers like Kyosho team leader Shin Adachi, 2002 World Champion Surikarn, TITC winner Teemu Leino, US Champion Lemieux and the newly crowned 1:12 scale World Champion Naoto Matsukura.
Top 10 results from round 6
1. Atsushi Hara (HB/Team Orion) – 19 Lap 5:11.387
2. Ronald Volker (HB/LRP) – 19 Lap 5:11.906
3. Marc Rheinard (Tamiya/SpeedPassion) – 19 Lap 5:12.172
4. Hayato Matsuzaki (HB/LRP) – 19 Lap 5:13.760
5. Elliot Harper (Xray/Nosram) – 19 Lap 5:14.037
6. Masami Hirosaka (Yokomo/Nosram) – 19 Lap 5:14.273
7. Jilles Groskamp (Tamiya/SpeedPassion) – 19 Lap 5:15.273
8. Steven Weiss (Xray/LRP) – 19 Lap 5:15.299
9. Hupo Honigl (Tamiya/LRP) – 19 Lap 5:15.886
10. Teemu Leino (Xray/Team Orion) – 19 Lap 5:16.559
So tomorrow is D day and with Scotty Ernst on the mic there is not going to be a more exciting place to be in the world than at the RCS in Bangkok. Drivers will have one practice session to settle the nerves before the 15 most important minutes of racing in their careers will determine who is the World’s No.1. We will try to share that excitment with you through our continued Speed Passion and LRP supported live reports from Thailand.