Akio Sobue has taken the opening round of qualifying at the 1:12 World Championships in China. The CRC driver topped the first of the six scheduled qualifiers after a blistering fast run from Naoto Matsukura came undone in the final two minutes as the former champion ran out of tyres. The top seed for qualifying, Matsukura quickly pulled clear of his rivals building up an advantage of over 6-seconds, but with a lap time that was 3/10th faster than anyone else his pace took its toll on the Roche drivers tyres leading to a the first of a number of huge crashes coming off the main straight. With the crashes leading him to finish almost a lap down on Sobue in P8, it was reigning champion Marc Rheinard who would be closest to Sobue’s time with JJ Wang, who is running in the second fastest heat, completing the Top 3.
Having dominated both free and controlled practice, when the order was determined by 3-consecutive laps, Matsukura’s first qualifying attempt came undone as his body shell start to rub the carpet as a result of the reducing tyre diameter. Eventually the body would leave the reigning Touring Car World Champion with no steering leading to the first of a number of spectacular off, Wang who was marshalling the corner after the straight saying afterwards he ‘almost died marshalling’ such was the force of one of Matsukura’s offs. With tyre wear a problem for all drivers due to the track’s low traction, Matsukura was confident that raising the ride height and trimming his body would prevent the problems happening again in Q2.
‘I’m happy’ was Sobue’s reaction to the somewhat surprise TQ run. Sixth fastest in controlled practice, the Tamiya touring car team-mate of Rheinard said a set-up change for Q1 had caused his car to be ‘a little difficult to drive’ with the Japanese driver complaining of having ‘a little too much steering’. Putting the problem down to going too far with set-up adjustment, the 22-year-old will ‘take it back a little’, feeling it should make the car both faster and more consistent for Q2.
Rheinard summed up his P2 time with, ‘the result is better than it (the car) drove’. He continued, his Yokomo ‘just doesn’t feel like a 1:12 to drive. It just slides around and the tyre wear is like we are driving on sand paper’. Asked about improving the car, the 3-time Touring Car World Champion said, ‘I’ve no idea. Everyone is in the same boat except Naoto, he is on a completely different level although I don’t know why he didn’t back it off for the last 2-minutes. He had loads of time on everyone and could have easily still TQ’d’.
Describing his first qualifier as ‘a safe run’, Wang said his ‘car is not fast’. The Xray driver continued, ‘I knew if I got a clean 8-minutes I could do ok and so the plan was to keep it on the racing line.’ While suffering ‘a few bobbles here & there’, the Shanghai based driver had just one mistake and ‘pretty happy’ with the result said ‘I need two more’. Planning to leave his X12 unchanged for Q2 he said while ‘the last 2-minutes are most difficult’ he would work around it and adapt his driving to suit.
Describing his car as ‘not super fast’, Masatsugu Ito was pleased to get a P4 for the qualifier. Having set-up his Yokomo for stability rather than speed, the 22-year-old said the car was ‘easier to drive’ allowing for a safe 8-minute run. Asked about his tyre wear over the last minutes of the qualifier, he replied it was ‘manageable’ and for Q2 he will just try to repeat the run with ‘another safe drive’.
With Associated team-mate Keven Hebert crashing out of Q1 having impressed in CP2 with the second fastest time behind Matsukura, it was Juho Levanen who led the challenge of the American manufacturer. Posting the 5th fastest time despite dumping on his final lap, the Finn said ‘I don’t think the car is any faster than before’. He added, ‘its not super fast but it was the consistency that got the result’. Asked about coming short on run time, the former World’s podium finisher said it was down to ‘too much power and not enough capacity’. With Jilles Groskamp also dumping in the same heat, Levanen said, ‘we are running a new speedo here and still need to find the right settings. The track is also bigger than what we are used to for 1:12’. Along with adjusting the setting on the Reedy speedo he will also ‘gear down’ for Q2.
Completing the Top 6 ahead of Japanese champion Hayato Ishioka, was 17-year-old 1:12 specialist Kousuke Suzuki. The 17-year-old said ‘the last two minutes were tough to drive’ and he is considering a set-up change on his CRC. Behind the two Japanese drivers, Xray’s Alexander Hagberg would get ninth with Toto Ebukuro completing the Top 10.