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’.
Robert Batlle is the 2017 1:8 Offroad European Champion. Ten year after winning his first title, the Mugen driver delivered a dominant race performance at the Gröndal Ring in Sweden to claim his third & most important Euros win. Top Qualifier for the race Batlle would win his Semi to start from pole and after some early errors in the 45-minute final, returned to the front from where he pulled away from a thrilling second place battle. Having taken the early lead until a mistake, Swedish hero David Ronnefalk would duel it out with defending champion Elliott Boots and rising star Davide Ongaro. A hard fought battle, Ongaro would come out on top to claim his first Euros podium finish with 2nd. With high expectations for his home race, Ronnefalk would take some consolation from completing the podium in Eskilstuna having to work hard to stay ahead of Boots. Setting the fastest lap of the race, Boots’ quest for a third title in a row would disappear in the pits with the British driver suffering flameouts on two of his fuel stops.
‘Amazing’ was the word Batlle used to sum up winning the 37th running of the European Championships. A driver who since winning his first title in 2007 in France has always been a title contender, the Spaniard added, ‘Each title is always special but this one is important. After the last three or four years when we always have mechanical problems finally we did it. This is David’s home so to beat him here is super amazing’. Commenting on the race, he said, ‘we knew at the start we would all be close together on the track. I made a good start but then had two errors, the one on the right side cost me a lot. After that I talked to myself and said it was ok to drive 2 or 3 tenths slower because I saw the others were crashing a lot also. I started to drive the most comfortable I could and finally we got the win’. Reminded its ten years since his first win he said, ‘this is a nice way to mark it’.
Receiving congratulations from his very pleased team boss Craig Drescher, Ongaro said, ‘I’m really really happy’. Making only his third Euros Main start, the 16-year-old Team Associated driver added, ‘It was very difficult race because of the track. It was very rough’. Changing to the same tyres for the final as Batlle, both drivers running AKA’s soft compound long wear Impact tyre, the Italian said, ‘all the package worked and I just tried to drive without mistake’. He continued, ‘I had big battles with David and Elliott but this fighting cost too much time & the chance to fight with Robert for 1st position but I’m happy to get my first podium’.
‘In the end it was a podium which isn’t bad considering how hard I worked out there’, was how a clearly disappointed Ronnefalk summed up his third place. The HB Racing driver continued, ‘the car was too edgy for me, we need to check it over but I think maybe the temperature drop because of the clouds was the problem. It felt to drive like a spring cup had come off. I had to fight really hard with Ongaro and Boots and this let Robert get away and take control of the race’. The World Champion concluded, ‘I wanted to win here because its my home country but next time’.
Asked to sum up his final Boots replied, ‘shit pretty much’. The Kyosho driver said, ‘the car was really good in the end and was getting better and better. At the start I got stuck behind a few people and when they crashed it stopped me. I ended up making a couple of mistake because I was pushing hard to get back to the front and we also had a couple of problems on the pit stops. I caught up to the lead almost’. Suffering two flame outs, on his 1st and 3rd fuel stops, he said, ‘If I had no problems in the pits I feel 100% I would have won it. Sometimes that’s what happens’. Behind Boots, Kyosho team-mate Riccardo Berton would claim his best finish with P6 ahead of young Spanish talent Juan Carlos Canas.
Robert Batlle will lead away the 13 drivers that will battle it out in Sweden to become Champion of the 37th running of the 1:8 Offroad European Championships. The Top Qualifier won his Semi with the faster time of the two encounters with David Ronnefalk recovering from a bad start to win the other, just 1-second of a difference in their winning times after the 20-minute races. Keeping Batlle honest in the early part of the race and leading the Spaniard for a time before a costly mistake, Davide Ongaro would finish second to secure fourth on the grid. Behind Ronnefalk, reigning champion Elliott Boots having had a very comfortable lead early on over fellow Brit Darren Bloomfield would finish second with a difficult car to start his quest for a third title in a row from 3rd. Behind the Top 4, João Figueiredo will start 5th with former champion Bloomfield lining up 6th making it five different manufacturers in the top half of the grid.
Describing it as ‘a good semi’, Batlle said he had to push more than he needed as Ongaro was stuck on his rear wing and that resulted in 2-mistakes as he tried to get a gap on the young Italian. The Mugen driver continued, ‘apart from this the race went as we planned’. Asked about the main final the 2007 & 2011 Champion said, ‘It good that I am starting from No.1 but there are four drivers who are all within 10-seconds of each other so I am just going to try and be the one that is the most consistent’. He concluded, ‘I think the race will be about who makes the least mistakes’.
‘Its going to be an exciting final’, was Ronnefalk’s reaction to the grid for the final. Asked about his poor start, the HB Racing driver replied, ‘I just didn’t want to crash and told all the other drivers from Sweden not to but then I did it myself’. He continued, ‘Coming up the roller I hit a rut. It’s the worst place to crash and I lost at lot of spots there but it was nice to come back from that and get first’. Looking to the final, the Word Champion said, ‘Its a long main but I think the start position is important still. I didn’t know Robert’s time but with my crash I knew it would be hard to beat but in the end it was just a second’. Setting the fastest lap of the two Semis, only himself and Batlle posting 39-second lap times, he said, ‘I’m happy with the car so I’m ready’.
Boots described his Semi final result as ‘not too bad’. The Kyosho driver added, ‘I had a problem with my car near the end. I don’t know if it was a stone or something but it was binding up and switching the rear around but at the start it was pretty good’. Asked about the pending 45-minute final, he replied, ‘the tyres were a bit edgy (in the Semi) so I think we’re going to change compound’.
New for this year, the Last Chance Final would see 3-time Champion Renaud Savoya join as the 13th starter. A race between the 12 Semi Finalists to not make the Top 6 cutoff to progress to the Main Final, the TLR driver won the 15-minute shoot out from last year’s podium finisher Neil Cragg. For the first half of the race female racer Jessica Pålsson did an impressive job of leading the final but rejoining right behind Savoya after her fuel stop the Swede had a mistake which dropped her back to 6th.
The Semi Final line-up is complete for the 37th running of the 1:8 Offroad European Championships at the Gröndal Ring in Sweden. In the first of the 1/4 Finals it was French driver Rayan Medjoubi who took the win from pole sitter Hampus Berg. The Kyosho driver won the 20-minute encounter easily, going an extra lap, to book his first ever Semi Final appearance. The others to progress would be Jorge Soler and 2016 Finalists Bryan Baldo. The TLR driver started his day in the 1/16 Final and just made it through to the 1/8. Starting from the back, the Spaniard again claimed the last bump up spot to again carry the No.12 in the 1/4. Battling with Jürgen Trieb, he would jump down the inside of the Sworkz driver as they started the last lap to progress once again.
In the second of the 1/4 Final encounters, 2015 podium finisher Alex Zanchettin started on pole and lead throughout. The Tekno driver lead home Infinity driver Lee Martin, the newly crowned 1:10 2WD Offroad World Champion back in the Semi having missed the cut last year. Having bumped up from the 1/16, Kyosho driver James La Pavoux continued his good run to finish 3rd and progress for a 3rd time. Completing the Top 4 & becoming the final of the 24 drivers still in contention to become European Champion would be Marcel Paul, the German leading the most race mileage done award having qualified down in the 1/32nd final.