Track Name – Yatabe Arena Organisers – JMRCA Country – Japan Location – Tsukuba (70km East of Tokyo) Direction – Anti-clockwise Surface – Astro turf Previous events hosted – 1995 1:10 Offroad Worlds, 2000 Electric Touring Car Worlds
The 16th running of the IFMAR 1:10 Offroad World Championships takes place at the World famous Yatabe Arena with the Japanese venue’s second hosting of the bi-annual event sparking much debate and divide within the offroad racing circles. With the World’s best drivers having fought it out for the sport’s greatest prize on dirt since the championship was first held in 1985, 30-years on the week long event will be run without a bit of dirt in sight. After receiving a proposal from the Japanese hosts seeking to use an artificial surface, the sport’s governing body IFMAR accepted, allowing the Yatabe Arena to create the first astro turf World Championship track. With many purists opposed to allowing an Offroad World Championship to be decided on a ‘touring car track with jumps’, 7-time Offroad World Champion & legend of the sport Masami Hirosaka sees a place for both dirt and astro turf tracks in the sport.
The Electric Section Chairman of FEMCA (Far East Model Car Association) and the legendary face of track owners Yokomo, Masami said the key reason for creating an astro turf track was to ‘bring something new’ to the Offroad World Championships. With artificial track surfaces popular in Europe, the multi-round carpet surface Euro Offroad Series establishing itself as a competitive high profile championship, Masami feels this track type has great potential bring the sport to new places and help it grow grow adding its ‘very easy maintenance’ and much easier to bring astro or carpet to a shopping mall than dirt.
Originally built in October 1989, the track is this time round housed in the newest extension to the facility which was erected in 2011. Covering an area of 21.5m deep by 38m wide, the track has been extensively redesigned since the Warm-up race held in June. A track that was widely viewed as lacking obstacles, the new track design is a combination of driver and industry inputs with Masami saying ‘reactions from the internet’ also taken into account pointing out we ‘couldn’t ask just one person to design the track’. The biggest noticeable addition is the large tabletop which was built for the Warm-up race but left out as the JMRCA didn’t like the size of it. The other change is the roller which has been redesigned giving it a better angle which JConcepts’ Jason Ruona has now officially named as the ‘ high elevation roller’. One somewhat contentious addition to the track is the ‘washboard section’. Made of five widely spaced rubber strips, drivers are expressing concerns over the height but Masami said the height was intentional so as to make the cars run more offroad than touring car ride heights. Another key change is the moving of the main straight from in front of the drivers stand to the opposite side. The timing loop has also moved to the straight which Masami said should leading to ‘exciting final laps’. One of the key people reasonable for ensuring the preparation of the track for the 150 drivers was facility manager Hiroshi Suzuki. Following the Warm-up race the track had to be completely taken up so a touring car carpet track could be laid which then had to be removed to make way for the Worlds track. Under the astro turf are are two layers of wooden sheeting running criss-cross the depth allowing all the piping, strips and corner dots all to be screw securely into place.
While drivers will not get their first feel for the track until free practice tomorrow, defending 2WD World Champion Jared Tebo was positive about the new layout saying ‘it looks pretty good now that they added more obstacles’. The Kyosho diver added ‘it looks fast but I’m ready to get on it’. Asked about the addition of the rubber strips, the American said, ‘I don’t know till I get to run on them but hopefully it adds a spot where if you get reckless you’ll crash’. Winner of 2WD at the Warm-up Race, Lee Martin echoed Tebo’s views saying ‘It looks good’ but adding he was ‘not sure about the strips, they could be good or bad’. The Yokomo driver said the up face of the table top is a bit blind which could be a problem if a car crashes there but otherwise should be fine’. Feeling having the straight at the back is better, he predicts the astro is going to need a few runs to break into the new layout.
Elliott Boots is the 2015 1:8 Offroad European Champion, the driver renowned for his outright speed finally coming good to claim the first major title of his career. Top Qualifier at the 35th running of the championships, the Kyosho driver would end the reign of former team-mate David Ronnefalk by leading home the HB driver by almost half a lap of the Ongaroring. In front of a hugely supportive Italian crowd Alex Zanchettin would complete the podium in Sacile ahead of home hero Davide Ongaro. Unfortunately for Ongaro’s Mugen team-mate Robert Batlle his race would end before it had even started when his front centre driveshaft came out during the final countdown to the cars being put down on the grid.
Finding his first big title ‘quite emotional’ and struggling to hold back ‘tears of joy’, Boots said he was ‘unbelievably happy’ as he has ‘never won anything like it before’. Top Qualifier at the 2012 World Championships, but failing to make it into the Main in Argentina, Boots came into the event with a new approach saying he has been working on his consistency and being ‘less erratic’. Describing beating Ronnefalk as a ‘surreal feeling’, the 22-year-old said ‘no mistake basically’ was the key his victory. Starting 3rd on the grid behind Ronnefalk and Ongaro, he said he knew he needed to stay with Ronnefalk at the start as ‘its when he gets away that he is dangerous’. Admitting Ronnefalk was able to pull away slightly he said he just kept at it and when the leader made mistakes he was able to catch back up. Not realising Ronnefalk was on one stop less he said his pit crew of Michael Cradock and Marco Rossi did a superb job of updating him and talking him through the race. Giving Kyosho their third consecutive Euros title, the win marks the first title for Reds Racing, the Italian engine being the dominant brand of the event.
Ronnefalk said he wasn’t disappointed with second. His first year into a four year contract with HB/HPI Racing, he said ‘I’m still learning and every race is a new experience but we will be stronger next year for it’. The 19-year-old said he felt overall the pace was there and had he ran a clean race it would have been a very close finish. Having not had the right compound of the AKA City Block front and iBeam rear he had used in qualifying available to him for the final he said having run Impacts in Q5 knew they should be ok. Running the new ‘long wear’ soft compound he said they proved to be a little slower and around 20-minutes got soft making his car twitchy to drive leading to mistakes. Initially stopping for fuel at 6:40, he said with Boots having a little more speed they switched to 7:30 to make up the time by saving a stop. With his Orion powered D815 coming to an abrupt stop on a landing at the back left corner of the track due to a rock and ending up on its roof this negated much of the benefits of the long runs but Ronnefalk said while risky it still helped him to stay ahead of Zanchettin for second.
With this his first time to make the final at the Euros, 2014 World Championship finalist Zanchettin was delighted to finish on the podium a result that got him a huge cheer as he took the chequered flag. Describing the race as ‘amazing’, he said while it was great racing in front of a home crowd, just like at the Worlds, it also brought a lot of pressure. Starting the race undecided on whether to stop at 9 minutes or 7:30 he said when he saw others stopping at 7 he went safe. Suffering ‘two really bad mistakes’, the 20-year-old Italian Champion said his Reds Racing powered 8ight 3.0 was ‘really good’. A late push would see him close in on Ronnefalk until a mistake on the last lap.
Managing to snatch the lead just as the field came around to complete the first lap, Ongaro said while the result could have been better finishing fourth was still a great result. Admitting the crowd played a bit on his mind over the race, ever pass or bobble he made getting a huge reaction from the packed grandstand, the 14-year-old said a couple of mistakes cost him time that he couldn’t recover. Pleased to be in the mix with ‘some of the best in the business’ he said overall it was a great week for him.
Setting the fastest lap of the 45-minute final Joern Neumann would finish 5th ahead of another of Italy’s emerging talents Riccardo Berton. The Serpent driver had a ‘pretty bad start’, a crash losing him half a lap and dropping him to last. Describing his Maxima powered S811 as running ‘perfect’, the German said after that it was a good race and he was able to work his way back up to the front. While happy with his driver’s race, Neumann’s pitlane & Serpent designer Gerd Strenge was frustrated about having his Pro-Line fuel gun ‘robbed’ at the end of yesterday’s qualifying. With all the guns individually number Strenge said he hopes who ever took it will return it to its rightful owner.
David Ronnefalk will start his quest for a 3rd consecutive European title from pole position after winning his Semi at the Ongaroring in Italy. The HB driver won the first of the encounters ahead of Top Qualifier Elliott Boots and Euro B Champion Riccardo Berton. Entertaining the crowds from the start of the 20-minutes right through to the finish, a chaotic second Semi would see Davide Ongaro claim an easy win over 2014 Runner-up Martin Wollanka as all hell broke loose behind. Suffering a flame out that dropped him to 8th, Robert Batlle would work his way back through the field despite getting knocked around in a race that would see Martin Bayer loose his place in the final after a 10-second penalty was issued for contact with Marco Baruffolo right before the chequered flag.
Describing his race as ‘safe’, Ronnefalk said at the beginning he was happy just following Boots and while ‘others were a little faster’ it was his own consistency that was key to the race. Suffering only one incident when he came into the brick section too fast and couldn’t get his D815 stopped in time causing him to hit Alex Zanchettin, on whom he waited to give back position, he said the rest of the race ‘was good’. Looking to the 45-minute final, the Swede said he was feeling good but added with the track ‘now pretty bad’ having got ‘really rough’ it was going to be hard to run a consistent race due to the conditions. Unfortunately for former champion Yannick Aigoin a broken clutch would force his retirement with drive issues also hitting Neil Cragg. In contention for the win, the Associated driver would lose rear drive. ‘Letting everyone else crash’ while he was ‘just driving around’ Cragg said it was ‘a shitty end to a tough week’.
With 14-year-old Ongaro in no way fazed to battle with 2012 World Champion Batlle in the final, the Mugen driver got by his senior team mate after an early mistake from the Spaniard. Batlle would retake the lead but just as he was about to make his first stop, his MBX-7R came to a stop one corner after the loop. Luckily it didn’t cut 2 corners early, the former 2-time champion said he could feel he was on the limit earlier in the lap and as a result was trying to at least just nurse it to the line. Knowing the engine was rich and planning to lean it out during the stop, he lost around 14-seconds to his rivals in the first round of fuel stops as marshals returned his car to the pitlane. Describing the race as ‘a crazy Semi final’, Batlle continued ‘there were crashes everywhere and no one showed respect for each other. It was completely mad’. Looking to the final in which he will start 7th on the 12 car grid, he said he would ‘at least try to make a clean start and then make it happen’. Asked about Ongaro matching his pace he said he was ‘ok with that’ and he was ‘happy with his car’. The biggest name to not progress from the Semi B was 2012 Champion Darren Bloomfield, the Agama driver one of those coming off worst in the frantic battle for bump up positions.
The Semi Finals line up is complete with 24 drivers remaining at the 35th running of the 1:8 Offroad European Championship. With a number of last years finalists finding themselves in the 1/4 Finals, the biggest casualty was Christoffer Svensson. Crashing into the chicane at the end of the main straight at the 9-minute mark his Mugen would suffer a broken shock forcing the Swede to retire and he misses the Main for the first time in three years. At the end of the 20-minute encounter it was Portuguese driver, and this year’s Euro B Championship Top Qualiifier, João Figueiredo who would take the win to progress to the Semi. Behind the Kyosho driver the younger of the Baldo brother, Oscar, would finish second ahead of Fabrizio Teghesi and France’s Tom Robin. Missing the cut after finishing fifth was Bryan Baldo, who set the fastest pace in timed practice earlier in the week, with the race also the end of the road for last year’s finalist Joesph Quagraine.
In the second of the 1/4 Finals, Teemu Leino dominated proceedings and his quest to again make the Main continues with him the only driver to run a 37-lap pace over the race. Behind the HB driver was former Euro B Champion Ricardo Monteiro took second ahead of last years runner-up Martin Wollanka. Starting sixth the Xray driver made a great pass on Dominic Bauer and then got by Lee Martin, Martin securing the final Semi Final starting position. For pole sitter Mirko Bianchi, a broken steering servo would end the Mugen drivers race after 12-minutes. The race would be the end of the event for former finalists Jérôme Sartel and Borja Hernandez who finished 6th and 8th respectively.
Hosts of the 35th running of the EFRA European Championships taking pace at the Ongaroring in Sacile, Italy, the Italian National Federation AMSCI have provided some insight into the equipment being used by races. While some racers opted not to specify all the various components that allow them to go racing the data is still a good breakdown of what is popular in the current European 1:8 Offroad market. In terms of chassis choice it is Mugen which is most popular with over 1 in four drivers racing the Japanese car. Reigning champions Kyosho are the number 2 choice on 16 percent followed by Xray with TLR a very close fourth.
As a choice of power it is Top Qualifier Elliott Boots’ engine sponsor Reds Racing which has the largest share of the market with almost a fifth of all drivers using the Italian engines. With 15% of drivers, OS are the second most used ahead of Novarossi. Chasing three consecutive titles in a row here in Sacile, Orion are fourth with 7% usage.
In terms of tyres the two American brands Pro-Line and AKA dominate the market of providing grip with two thirds of drivers running them. On 36% Pro-Line are the leading brand with defending champion David Ronnefalk’s sponsor AKA second. Of the rest it is Beta with almost 10% making them the 3rd most popular supplier.
Firing everything up here at the Euros, fuel offers racers the greatest choice of options with American producer Byron the biggest supplier ahead of Spanish brand Nitrolux.