3-time 1/12th World Champion Naoto Matsukura set the early pace in free practice at the 1:12 World Championships in Beijing, China. With 6 of the 8 practices runs that make up the opening day of the 18th running of the championships completed, the Roche driver was fastest over three consecutive laps from reigning European Champion Alexander Hagberg and defending World Champion Marc Rheinard. While the track layout is proving popular with drivers, the big complaint is the lack of traction something that isn’t being helped by the low 56 entry count.
With the fastest times of the Top 5 drivers all posted in P4, fastest man Matsukura summed up his earlier runs by saying, ‘the track is a little difficult because of the low traction and the layout too, there are many chicanes’. Adding ‘the track is big but good’, the Japanese driver said the traction levels are not showing much signs of significant improvement. Running gold compound Team Bomber tyres on his prototype Roche he said due to the low traction the ‘tyre wear is high’ but happy with their performance in the early part of the run he will try to make the car more stable through a setup change.
‘Struggling a little bit’ was Hagberg’s reaction to getting to within 6/10ths of Matsukura over 3-laps. Running the production version of the prototype X12 2017, he used to win his 3rd consecutive European Championship this year, the factory Xray driver said he ‘runs out of grip at the end of the run’. Getting 9-minutes of practice time each practice, the Swede wants to ‘preserve the rear tyres’ adding the traction is ‘surprisingly low’. Running Hot Race tyres, he will try a different tyre size for his next practice as well as adjusting his tyre prep. A fan of the 30 X 24 metre track which he described as ‘really big’, he added ‘it’s bigger than I’m used too, it’s nice’. Feeling he needs ‘work on consistency’, he will make a small set-up change for the remaining 2-practice rounds.
A 1/10th of a second off Hagberg’s pace, Rheinard described his performance as ‘so, so’. The Yokomo driver said, ‘I am still trying to find the right set-up and the right tyres, the grip is a bit strange’. With ‘traction not really good’, the German said ‘over the run the pace drops a lot’ as the rear of the standard YRX12 becomes ‘loose’ so we ‘need to find grip’. Asked about not improving on his P5 & 6 time he said, ‘Heat 4 was good but in the next two it was slower again for some reason’.
Running a prototype CRC, the brand with which Rheinard won his 2014 title, Tamiya Touring Car team-mate Aki Sobue posted the 4th fastest time. The Japanese star, who finished 4th at the Japanese National Championship earlier in the year, said for 5-minutes the car is good but then it gets loose adding his CRC tyres are ‘maximum small’ by the end of the 9-minutes. A driver more focused on his touring car efforts when asked about planned changes for the final two free practice run he replied, ‘I will let my mechanic decide’.
Running a prototype Morotech which features a different carbon weave that makes it a lot stiffer with side aluminium braces running under the front suspension arms adding further rigidity, 2014 podium finisher Hideo Kitazawa described his opening performances as ‘so, so’. Running YR compound Morotech tyres all round, the Futaba employee is like everyone else having a ‘problem with rear tyre grip’. For the final two practice runs the Japanese driver plans to try a different rear tyre to improve his consistency over the run.
Completing the Top 6 with a time from his opening practice, Keven Herbert said he was ‘doing ok’ adding ‘it could be better, it could be worse’. The Team Associated driver who is running a standard car continued, ‘I can do ok laps but its a little difficult to drive’. Running JFT tyres, S30 on the rear and S35 on the front, the Canadian is looking to ‘find more rear grip’. Planning to test a harder rear tyres on his next run, he feels if he can get the car ‘more consistent, it will be alright’. Behind Herbert, Yokomo driver Toto Ebukuro was 7th fastest ahead of newly crowned Japanese National Champion Hayato Ishioka. Chinese American driver JJ Wang would post the 9th fastest time with his Xray ahead of 2012 Vice World Champion Andy Moore at the controls of a Roche.