With the Bruno Coelho domination at the TITC showing no signs of abating, the Portuguese driver notching up his fastest TQ run in the penultimate qualifier even with getting out of shape, it was team-mate Alexander Hagberg who came out best of the rest. Posting a time 1.6-seconds off Coelho’s 5th TQ run, the result puts the Swede in contention to make it an Xray 1-2 on the grid that will decide the champion at the 16th running of Asia’s most famous race. Akio Sobue would complete the Top 3, with the Infinity driver together with team-mate Naoto Matsukura and, with an outside chance, Marc Rheinard all vying to start second with one final qualifier left to run on Sunday morning.
‘Finally I was fairly competitive in the first laps and I could get a second place’, said Hagberg afterwards. He continued, ‘I will try to do the same again tomorrow morning but it is gong to be pretty dusty as we are out first’. Not sure if he will change his car for Q6, he said, ‘2nd (on the grid) is still open so anything can happen in the last one. I will try my best to repeat what I just did. The car is definitely better than yesterday’.
One of only 3-drivers to run 14-second laps, Coelho and Matsukura the other two, Sobue said track conditions were not as cool as expected but added they were better than the previous round. Describing his car as ‘a little loose’, the Japanese National Champion goes into the final round of qualifying holding third on the grid but with a good final qualifier has the chance to overtake Matsukura. He said, ‘I will try to fight for second but I need a 20 lap run in 5:10 and in the morning the track will be dusty so it is going to be hard’.
Needing a TQ in the morning to get P2 on the grid, Rheinard, who found himself in the B-Main last year, was pleased to get a 4th as it almost certainly secures him 5th on the grid. The German said, ‘the starting order (for Q5) was based on the order of Q4 so I started 3rd last and it was hard to judge my pace compared the others. One time the car spun out at the chicane but the rest was ok’. He added, ‘we are still missing something. Bruno is on one level, then it is Akio, Naoto, Hagberg and me. Maybe tomorrow it will be a different game because the organisers will give us all new tyres for the final but I am sure Bruno will still be fastest.
With Q5 proving his worst round, Matsukura said, ‘my car was pretty good for the first minute but after that it started to understeer. It was not very stable’. Crashing on lap 12 of 20 at the end of the straight, the Japanese driver took full responsibility for the impact saying, ‘that was my mistake’. Sitting second overnight in the provisional qualification ranking, the former touring car & reigning 1:12 World Champion said, ‘it will be an important run in the morning to hold onto second’. Asked is he was to hold on to 2nd if he believes he can mount a challenge on Coelho he replied, ‘Bruno still has the advantage and don’t think that will change tomorrow’. Behind Matsukura, a good run from Charlee P would see him post his first Top 6 run as the lead Yokomo driver followed by the Infinity of 2017 second place qualifier Jilles Groskamp.