Akio Sobue has claimed the biggest win of his career with one of the smallest margins possible, the Infinity driver winning A3 by 0.003 of a second from Alexander Hagberg to be crowned champion of the 16th running of the TITC. With a win a piece, it was Sobue and Hagberg along with Marc Rheinard who went into the final race with a chance of the title after reigning champion Bruno Coelho crashed out of title contention in A2. Hagberg needed the win, Sobue having the advantage of the faster winning time. Starting second behind his Xray team-mate Coelho, the Top Qualifier quickly opened the door to put Hagberg where he needed to be. With Naoto Matsukura and Coelho clashing at the next corner, Sobue and Rheinard made up the Top 3, the stage set for the 3-way showdown. After an initial challenge on Hagberg, Sobue dropped back with Hagberg looking like Xray would retain the title but over the final 3-laps the race came alive again as the Japanese driver reeled in the leader. On the last run through the sweeper, Sobue went for a pass getting out of shape in the process before attempting a pass on the inside of the Swede and there was contact, both cars spinning out. With Hagberg resuming in the lead, with a bigger gap than before the contact, it looked as the race was decided with three turns to go but Sobue wasn’t conceding that easily and launching his car at the finish line he managed the perfect line to snatch a win that left everyone in amazement. Behind Meen Vejrak crossed the line third securing the Bangkok driver the final step on the podium ahead of Marc Rheinard.
‘I’m so happy for the team’, was Sobue’s reaction to winning Asia’s most famous race. The unassuming driver continued, ‘I joined the Infinity team last year at this race and to mark it with the biggest win of my career I’m so happy’. On the deciding A-Main he said, ‘As I expected Bruno opened for Alex. My car in the beginning was not so fast, Alex was a little faster. Then my car started to get better and I push the last minute and started to catch him’. On the contact in the sweeper he said, ‘It was too much of a push from me but I wait for him to take the back the lead’. Asked if he thought the incident cost him the win he replied, ‘I never give up and made full punch to the line. I never made podium here before’.
An understandably frustrated Hagberg said, ‘everything was going well until the last lap. Akio tried to pass me and crashed into me. Basically he won the race from me because of this which is definitely not fair’. Having started out the event looking untouchable with Coelho dominating all six qualifiers, TITC 2018 turned on its head today for the Slovakian manufacturer with Coelho finishing 8th. The result is one that even his rivals agree highlights the race organisers need to address the tyre situation for the future.
With the weekend proving tough for Yokomo, last year’s podium finishers Nicholas Lee and World Champion Ronald Volker both failing to make the A-Main, Vejrak was delighted to make the podium at his home race. Qualifying 6th on the grid, the former nitro touring car World Champion said, ‘I knew I needed to finish ahead of Marc and I almost traction rolled trying to keep up with him at the start. Then I could hear some sound coming from Marc’s car and I get by him’. He continued, ‘last year no A-Main, this year I’m on the podium, it is the best result I could have expected. I’m super happy for Yokomo and also to be the only Protoform driver on the podium’.
Explaining the noise that Vejrak heard and that forced him to retire from A3, Rheinard said, ‘I went wide slightly on the straight and hit the outside pipe. I wasn’t hard but it felt like the C-hub was broke but the tyre had come off completely. It was my fault I hit the pipe but the tyre should not come off like this’. He continued, ‘anyway the team took the win which is most important. I would like to have got a podium, the pace was there in the end’.
In a dramatic turn of fortunes TITC 2018 is going to see the crowning of a new champion as Akio Sobue took the win in an action packed A2 at RC Addict. Having spun out on the opening lap of the opening encounter, defending champion Bruno Coelho looked to have returned to his qualifying form but with a comfortable lead the Xray driver flipped in the sweeper dropping down the order and out of contention for a third consecutive win at Asia’s most famous race. Coelho was initially followed by A1 winner Alexander Hagberg but was given a huge break when Naoto Matsukura ran into the back of the Swede with Sobue the benefactor moving up to second. Moments later however that became the lead as on the same lap Coelho touched the curbing and flew off the track. Also taking advantage of the two incidents, Marc Rheinard suddenly found himself in second which he would hold to the end after seeing off a valiant challenge from Hagberg. A similar battle went on behind with Meen Vejrak seeing off Coelho for 4th.
‘I’m happy’, was Sobue’s reaction after the race. The modest Japanese driver continued, ‘I made an ok start and was behind Naoto and Alex, they crashed and I was second and then Bruno crashed’. He continued, ‘when I moved to first I could drive safe because Marc and Alex were battling behind me’. Asked about A3, Sobue said, ‘Bruno is out (of contention for win) so I think he will open for Alex but I hope Naoto can pass him at the start’. With Sobue having the faster race winning time, Hagberg needs to win A3 to take the title. Commenting on his contact with Hagberg, Matsukura said, ‘It was my mistake with Alex. My car was very good and every corner I can catch him but there he maximum braked and I couldn’t get stopped. After that Bruno rolled me and my race was done’.
Summing up his race, Rheinard said, ‘Me and Naoto made a better start this time and the order stayed the same. I don’t know what happened between Naoto and Alex but I was second’, He continued, ‘My car was pushing to the left this time so I had to lift in the sweeper which allowed Alex to close but I knew I had to stay in front of him for Akio and now he has a 1 & a 2 and Alex has a 1 & a 3. For me a podium would be nice but everyone is struggling a lot now so we’ll see what the next race brings’.
Hagberg was frank in how his race went. He said, Naoto crashed me in the chicane and it cost me one position. I tried to pass Marc at the end but there was no space. That’s it’. With many people missing what caused Coelho’s costly error as they were watching the battle for second, the Portuguese driver explained, ‘I touched the curb in the sweeper flipped the car’.
Alexander Hagberg took the win in an exciting opening A-Main at the TITC, the Xray driver withstanding intense pressure from Infinity’s Akio Sobue to cross the line 17/100ths in front. Having had the perfect week leading up to the A1, reigning champion Bruno Coelho’s domination came to an end on the first lap. Starting from the TQ, he would lose his Xray approaching the front straight spinning in front of the pack with Naoto Matsukura unable to avoid him. This let second place qualifier Hagberg go to the front with Sobue in tow and closing. All over the back of the leader, fourth place starter couldn’t find a way by with an attempt at the end of the front straight resulting in contact. With Sobue waiting on Hagberg to retake the lead, this brought Meen Vejrak into the lead battle but after a couple of laps the Yokomo driver dropped off give Sobue breathing room for a second attempt to pass but Hagberg kept his composure to secure the win.
Punching the air with delight on the drivers stand, afterwards Hagberg said, ‘for some reason it felt like no traction. I can’t say it was the tyres or the track but I was sideways everywhere and I was lucky to keep it on the track’. Given the lack of traction reported by most drivers, he said, ‘now I don’t know what to do with the set-up’. On his battle with Sobue, the vocal crowd showing their appreciation throughout the race, the Swede said, ‘It was a good fair battle. He tagged me but then let me back in front. It was a good race’. Summing up his race team-mate Coelho, who would finish 7th, said, ‘I had zero traction as I had concerns about. I don’t know what happened. We had a perfect car all the week and the only thing we changed was the tyres and now it is like this. I have nothing more to say’.
‘There was no space, I couldn’t get by’, was Sobue’s reaction after the race. Posting the fastest lap of the race, the Japanese driver said, ‘My car was not too bad. The low traction suits my car and it was easy to drive’. A driver of few words, he concluded, ‘I go maximum attack in the next one’. Matsukura said his problems started with his grid position. With both himself and his 5th place qualifier team-mate Marc Rheinard starting on the inside of the grid both drivers struggled to get away due to being off the racing line. He said, ‘I couldn’t get full throttle, the wheels just spin. Then I have to be safe not to crash Akio.’ Hanging on to his third position he would then run head into a spinning Coelho dropping him down the field with him eventually recovering to 4th.
Finding himself in the battle for the lead following errors from an number of drivers in front of him, 6th place qualifier Vejrak said the race ended a lot better than it started. The Thai driver said, ‘I had a bad start because another driver crashed me onto the grass’. Working his way up the order and running in third he said, ‘When Alex and Akio crashed I tried to punch it but there was no space. I tried to keep with them but at the end my pace faded and I dropped back’. Asked about his car set-up, he replied, ‘overall it is a little better than before. My lap times are more close now’. Team-mate Naoki Akiyama would complete the Top 5.