After a four year wait the IFMAR 1:8 Onroad World Championship was back and what a final we would witness at Infinity International RC Speedway in Japan. Following more than a week of action on track it was Infinity’s Dario Balestri who came out on top winning the World title for a second time and in doing so became only the second driver in the history of IFMAR’s original category to be a repeat winner. In terms of manufacturers it was great to see three different manufacturers represented on the podium. During our coverage of the race we managed to photograph 15 cars from 8 different manufacturers and have compiled them all in our latest Chassis Focus index.
Infinity’s Dario Balestri is back on top of the World after taking victory at the 1:8 Onroad World Championship in Japan. Having relinquished the title to Mugen Seiki’s Shoki Takahata in the USA in 2019, after a forced 4-year-old wait, the Italian took the title back today and becomes one of the greats of the sport. Having often been referred to as the fastest onroad nitro driver in the World without a World Title before he finally got his breakthrough win in France in 2017, today’s win see him join legendary 9-time World Champion Lamberto Collari as the only other driver to hold the title more than once in the 23 editions of IFMAR’s original World Championship class. Unfortunately for Takahata after a brilliant Semi final win that put him 3rd on the grid, his title defence came to a very premature end in the final when his engine broke after just two and a half minutes. Having enjoyed a good stint as leader of the race, Capricorn’s Toni Gruber would finish 2nd just 7.5-seconds behind Balestri after the one hour of intense racing. Top Qualifier Simon Kurzbuch, who lead for the first 10-minutes until his first tyre stop, would complete the podium for Mugen in a dramatic end of race battle with Infinity’s Jesse Davis that led to a long delay in the prize presentations as it was reviewed by the officials. When the prize giving did get underway Takahata, who changed engine and finished the final, gave himself a better reason to remember his home World Championship by using the opportunity to propose to his girlfriend and she said yes.
Commenting on his second World Championship win, Balestri was very clear that it came down to his tyre management. Now simultaneously the World and European Champion he said, ‘the main point of this race was finding the right window with the tyres 3-times. The first 5-minutes you can’t push, you have to manage the engine on the big tyres. Then you have 10-minutes to get the best out of the tyres and you have to repeat this three times’. Asked about his tyre strategy, he said, ‘Actually we had to change it in the race. Originally we planned two but the I didn’t expect the pace to be so much. I had to push a lot to catch Toni and destroyed my tyres. So then we had to make the change to three stops’. Asked how he handles his nerves over the closing minutes of the race, his crew calling him in for an extra precautionary fuel with a minute and a half to go, he said, ‘I never think about it being a World Championship I just treat it as any other race and focus on my driving. Actually it was a really enjoyable race. It would have been easy to touch with Simon but he is such a fair driver we never touch. It was a really nice battle with him.’ A debut race for both the IF18 III and his Max Power engine, Balestri said, ‘everyone saw how fast and consistent the car and engine were. It is the best car I’ve ever driven. Thank you to Kenji and everybody who made today possible’.
‘I’m extremely happy with my performance’, was recently crowned 1:8 GT World Champion Gruber’s thoughts on his second place. Only his second 1:8 Onroad World Championship final appearance, he said, ‘I was there and on point but to catch Dario was really difficult. I think we had the fastest tyre stop so my crew was great and also on point.’ Explaining his race, the German said, ‘In the end we didn’t change anything on the car after the Semi Final. In the 10-minute warm-up we ran each of the four sets we had for the final and they all were very consistent so I think maybe what we had in the Semi was softer and that was why the car was not what I expected. Overall the car and engine were good throughout the final. Dario and Simon were in a fight for position and I was behind but I started to get closer and could see I have the pace to race with them. I didn’t ever think I could drive 1-hour this way. I’m really happy. 2023 has been a amazing season.’
Kurzbuch summed up the final with, ‘It was a tough race’. He explained, ‘We went on the safe side with the engine setting and I could not pull away. Dario was always on my back’. The 2015 Champion continued, ‘We changed the outside tyres at 10-minutes but somehow during the stop the wing moved and was lower on one side and the car was difficult after that. We adjusted it the next stop and also adjusted the engine but then I had a mistake on my side’. Having shown a return to his former form in qualifying here at the Infinity International RC Speedway, he said, ‘I feel we could have done better. I am super happy with my pit crew who did their job really well. Dario was amazing today. He was 100% on it, maybe 110%. It was well deserved. He drove an amazing race. I gave my all but know it could have been better, still I am on the Worlds podium and I’m happy for that’.
A somewhat dejected Davis said he missed out on the podium because of ‘too many mistakes by myself’. The Australian, who out on the missed third place by 0.003 of a second continued, ‘the car and engine worked really well. It was a nice fight with Tadahiko and Simon in the end with but the result is what it is. Even if everything was fine I didn’t have the pace to run with Dario and Toni. Where I finished is probably where I deserved pace wise’.
Mugen Seiki’s Shoki Takahata is to defend the 1:8 Onroad World Championship title he won in California four years ago from P3 on the grid in Japan after a near perfect Semi Final performance. Starting the second of the half hour encounters from P2 on the grid, the Japanese driver would win from the Capricorn pairing of pole sitter Toni Gruber and Dominic Greiner, the later having to start from the back of the grid after calling time in the warm-up to change engine. In the first of the Semi Finals, Jesse Davis executed a text book race to repeat his 2019 performance when he booked himself into his first World Championship final. Behind the Australian, Infinity team-mate Naoto Matsukura secured his place in the 1-hour final ahead of a delighted Francesco Tironi, the Italian having bumped up from the quarter finals. As the drivers with the fastest two race times outside of the Top 3 Semi Final finishers, 2013 World Champion Tadahiko Sahashi and 1:8 Onroad World Championship debutant Kouki Kato complete the 10 car line up that will compete for the 23rd IFMAR World Title here at Infinity International RC Speedway.
Reacting to the performance that allowed him to the join Top Qualifier Simon Kurzbuch and Super Pole winner Dario Balestri at the front of the grid, Takahata was pleased with his race saying his car & engine were both good. With an impressive tyre stop that was almost a second better than that of Gruber, he said while the pace was very fast the race went pretty much as planned. With drivers changing all four tyres after 15-minutes in the Semi, Takahata described tyre wear as ‘high’ and he expects to change them at least twice in the final.
Commenting on his race, Gruber said, ‘in the end we made it and that was the goal’. Elaborating on his race he added, ‘It was good Dominic called time so we had time to make some changes to the car set-up. It was better to drive but still not the feeling I had the other days. It’s a 1-hour final and anything can happen but we need to think about the set-up and see what we can adjust’. Set to line-up fourth on the grid, he concluded, ‘I am happy to make the final but right now it will be a difficult race if we don’t find a better set-up’.
Clearly a mentally draining 30-minutes having started from the back of the grid, 2017 1:10 World Champion Greiner said he called time in the warm-up as he broke his engine. Calmly changing engine in pit lane under the watchful eyes of all his rivals and their mechanics, something he clearly practiced, an early flip in the race added to the intensity of the challenge ahead for the German. With Thilo Diekmann and Alex Thurston crewing him, the pressure in pit lane was also palpable with Capricorn boss Patrizio Rossi looking on. Greiner explained, ‘I flipped one time at the beginning so I tried to stay calm but overtaking here is not so easy’. On his car he added, ‘we moved the wing position and adjusted the set-up before the start because the car was loose but it made the car too easy to drive so we will good back to before for the final’.
‘Perfect’ was how Davis summed up his Semi win. Finishing 7th on his Worlds final debut last time out, he continued, ‘I had it on cruise mode and then just tried to control it at the front’. With very well executed pitstops from his crew, he said, ‘they did a good job and I hope they can keep it up for the final’. On tyre wear, he said, ‘there is a lot, at 15-minutes it was hard to drive but in the Main I should be able to stretch it to 20-minutes.’
‘I’m so happy to go to the final’, was Matsukura’s reaction after his race, the Japanese driver having failed to finish any of the 6 rounds of qualifying as he ran out of fuel. The 1:12, 1:10 Electric and 1:10 Nitro Touring Car World Champion added, ‘I made a mistake in pitlane on my first stop but after that it was a pretty good race. My engine was a little off so we will change for a new one for the final’. Asked about tyre wear he said, ‘for me it was OK. I think 20-minutes is possible’.
A hugely popular result for Tironi, the Italian said, ‘I am super happy honestly’. He continued, ‘It was really close and I felt a lot of nerves but it all worked out well and we can make the final’. The Infinity driver said he was able to refuel on 4-minutes and he believes this might give him an advantage over his rival so he is feeling positive about the final.