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.
It will be an Xray 1-2 on the grid for the TITC A-Mains later today at RC Addict In Thailand as a P2 in the final qualifier this morning bumped Alexander Hagberg up two spots to start second behind team-mate & Top Qualifier Bruno Coelho. Having wrapped up the overall TQ in the fourth round of qualifying yesterday, Coelho would complete a clean sweep of qualifying, again topping the times in the sixth & final round this morning. Behind the Xray duo, the attack is set to come from Infinity with Naoto Matsukura third ahead of team-mates Akio Sobue and Marc Rheinard with 2017 race contender Jilles Groskamp also making the grid for the team albeit in 10th spot. For last year’s podium finishers Nicholas Lee and Ronald Volker, its been a tough event with both finding themselves in the B-Main with Meen Vejrak Yokomo’s top hope staring 6th on the grid ahead of team-mate Naoki Akiyama.
Commenting firstly on his Q6 performance, Coelho said, ‘I had a mistake at the beginning. I was on 2-wheels in the front chicane but I was able to recover’. Looking to the finals, the drivers getting 2-new sets of the race’s controlled Ride tyre, he said, ‘now we glue new tyres for the finals which I hope are not a different batch to what they sell us before but I think they should be the same’. With the majority of drivers conceding that Coelho will successfully complete the hat-trick of TITC titles such has been his advantage from the opening practice, the Portuguese driver concluded that for the finals he will, ‘leave the car the same and continue what we are doing’.
‘My car was good, even better than yesterday’, was Hagberg’s reaction after Q6. The Swede continued, ‘It was fast from the middle to the end so I could finish 2nd and I’m happy with that’. Looking to the opening A-Main he said, ‘My car doesn’t start as well as the other but finishes good which could be an advantage because it doesn’t drop off as much as the others’. He concluded, ‘I will try my best to fight for a podium in the finals’.
With modified the first class to run on the track this morning, Matsukura said, ‘the track grip was low but after 2-minutes my car started to understeer and get loose so I could make consistent laps’. Despite spinning out on the last lap and knocking the rear shock off his car resulting in a 26-second lap he would still get a P5 but he needed to finish ahead of Hagberg. Dropping from the second position he held overnight in the provisional qualification ranking to third as a result, on the finals he said, ‘It will be super difficult to win but I will try. I need to get by Alex as quick as possible’. Asked about his car set-up for the final, he replied, ‘I think what we can do to the car but the track should be better than this morning’.
Sobue would also struggle with the lower traction of Q6. Ending up 3rd quickest in the final qualifier, the Japanese Champion said, ‘the pace of my car was not too good. At the start it felt pretty good but after 1-minute it had a big drop off.’ Agreeing the real battle was going to be against Hagberg he admitted, ‘Bruno is too fast’ adding, ‘but we never give up so I will push hard for a good result for the team’. In terms of his car set-up for A1 he said, ‘I will make just small changes for the first final because the track will be better’.
Completing the top half of the grid, Rheinard was lost as to how he could improve for the finals. Posting the fourth fastest time in the concluding qualifier, the multiple World Champion said, ‘I changed the diff, shock position and the rear toe but it was still the same. It was loose at the end. I really have no idea what else I can do’. He continued, ‘Now it is an Xray 1-2 and normally if Naoto was second he could maybe attack Bruno. We know Alex is not the best at the start so maybe Naoto can get by but for me I just have to wait and see what happens’. He concluded, ‘We have four in the Main which is still good’.
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.