Akio Sobue has claimed a second TITC title, this time round the Infinity driver doing so in much more dominant fashion to his spectacular win over Alexander Hagberg in 2018. While concerns of the Coronavirus depleted the international entry for the 18th running of Asia’s most famous annual touring car event, the Infinity driver still faced stiff competition, most of which came from within his own team. With the race marking the international race debut of the Japanese company’s IF14-II, Jilles Groskamp would keep Sobue honest in the finals. A crash in A1 caused by his pinion coming undone, gave Groskamp the win in A1 meaning it would all go down to A3 after Sobue got the job done in A2. Having been the closest to matching Sobue’s pace at the Infinity Addict Circuit throughout qualifying, Groskamp wasn’t going to let the opportunity to go for the overall win pass in A3 and putting in a good fight kept the pressure on the Top Qualifier for the entire 5-minutes, the first time anyone had been able to do so all weekend. Still Sobue resisted the challenge to take back the title that he had lost last year to the absent Hagberg. Having finished runner-up last year, Naoto Matsukura again was on the podium this time in 3rd after winning a battle with Viktor Wilck for that position. Finishing off what was a tough TITC weekend for the Yokomo team, local hero Meen Vejrak would get a P3 in the third A-Main to secure 5th place as the best placed non-Infinity driver.
‘I’m super happy’, was Sobue’s reaction to his win before adding, ‘but it was a big surprise that Jilles now had good pace for the full 5-minutes. I expected him to drop but he didn’t. It was good to have a battle with a driver like Jilles’. The launch event for the second generation of Infinity’s first entry into the electric touring car scene, he continued, ‘This a great result for the Infinity team and I hope we can keep this form for the Worlds. This is a very positive start for the new car and a good way to start a World Championship year’ – the IFMAR World Championships taking place in The Netherlands in July.
‘I’m not the youngest guy anymore so I really happy to be competitive this year’, was how a very pleased Groskamp summed up his second place adding, ‘A few times before I have finished 2nd here but that was a long time ago. I’m super happy for the team’. On his improved A3 pace, the Dutchman said, ‘I matched my tyres for A3 to have them all medium, not too hard or not too soft and I sauced them a little shorter time that time. I’m very happy I could fight with Akio for the win and I think I put on a good show’. Even holding an impressive drift after running wide in the sweeper towards the end of the race, he said, ‘finally I could match Akio but he deserved the win today. He was fast from the start of the event and all the way through’.
Commenting on his A3 performance, Matsukura said, ‘the last round my car was a little loose but I still ended up on the podium so I am happy’. The former World Champion continued, ‘Infinity came here with a new car that will go on sale next month and we showed it is very good. It’s a World’s year and this is a great way to start off the season’. Having only just signed with ORCA, he added that he was also happy with the performance of his new electronics package saying, ‘for the last A-Main I tested new firmware and the braking feels very good, it’s also smooth, I am looking forward to the rest of the 2020 season’.
Summing up his 6th in A3 having started off the Mains with a second, Wilck said, ‘I worked my through the pack. I got by Ryosuke (Yamamoto) on the first lap. The car felt good in the beginning. Then Naoto spun out and I was third. I was driving normal lines and suddenly it just spun out. Anyway it was a good result for the team and I will try to build on this for the rest of the season’.
Having finished on the podium at his home race in 2018, on a track where he won his Nitro Touring Car World title, Vejrak never really threatened for a top spot this year but the Thai driver was pleased with his finish to a challenging weekend. He said, ‘I had good pace the last one and 3rd helped me to move up one place on my qualifying position’. He continued, ‘The car was a little loose in the rear (in A3) but it was the same for Viktor and Naoto. I gave Viktor space to fight Yamamoto. They made mistakes and I could get by and have a good fight with Naoto. The BD10 is a new car and this was first race with it and in the end I could find a good set-up so I am happy about this’.
In Open Brushless, Dominic Vogl helped Awesomatix retain their title they won last year with fellow European Max Machler. Summing up his big win, the Austrian said, ‘I’m really happy and I need to thank Ryan (Maker) for the car after I destroyed my own in Q3. It’s a European win again’. With the overall win wide open between three drivers going into A3, the Top Qualifier said the start was difficult as he hit a bump in the infield section which pushed him to the outside allowing Kriengsak Suttiprawat the opportunity get on his inside before the two touched and the Thai crashed collecting third placed Trin T. After this Vogl said he ‘just stayed safe to the end’. While Suttiprawat recovered to second ahead of Trin in A3, Trin’s win in A1, when Suttiprawat hit Vogl in the sweeper on the opening lap, was enough to give the Infinity driver second with Suttiprawat third.
After crashing out in the opening A-Main due to his pinion coming undone, Akio Sobue resumed his control over the TITC to take the A2 win by a comfortable margin. The Infinity driver once again came under some early pressure from team-mate Jilles Groskamp before the Japanese driver was able to pull clear, showing the form that saw the Top Qualifier take all four rounds of qualifying. Behind, Naoto Matsukura completed the Top 3 never really posing any treat to his team-mates up front. With Ryosuke Yamamoto completing the Top 4, the only change to the starting order came when Meen Vrejak got by Viktor Wilck for 5th position in the opening laps of the race.
‘Much better’, was Sobue’s reaction to his win, the 2018 TITC Winner adding, ‘thankfully the car felt the same as it did before the crash but I had the feeling of more traction than before’. Explaining his race, he said, ‘I knew Jilles would try to overtake me in the beginning but I kept claim and drove my own race cause I knew I would have a stronger car in the second part of the race. In the end I could really open up a gap’. Needing to win A3, to claim the TITC for a second time, he is confident he can deliver another win saying, ‘everything is now the same as qualifying so I have the advantage of being a little quicker than the others’.
Summing up his A2, Groskamp said, ‘I was again quick at the beginning but I can’t attack so there was no point making a crazy move. I just followed him and hope he made a mistake but he didn’t’. The Dutch driver continued, ‘I will attack harder the next one but he’s my team-mate and I don’t want to take him out. I will try a crazy tyre strategy in the last one and maybe it works out but I’m already happy as I am secure on the podium. I’m happy for the team and our car. This is a good showing for Infinity and I’m confident we are going to have a good season with the new car’.
Suffering a spin at the end of the straight in A1 that saw him finish 5th, Naoto was happy to hold position in the second final. The former World Champion said, ‘the first two laps the car is too difficult and I lost almost 1-second to the leaders. After that it is OK and I can catch them but the chances of battling for the win are already over. I will make a little set-up change for the last one so hopefully I can get a better start and have more of a chance to race at the front. If Akio makes no mistake I think he will take an easy win but I want a podium. It’s between me and Viktor so I need one more good result’.
In Open Brushless, Dominic Vogl managed to put the A1 dramas behind him to take an easy win over Kriengsak Suttiprawat, who took him out on the opening lap in A1, and Trin T. The Awesomatix driver said, ‘I was really pissed but these things can happen. It was just that nobody said anything because the race has no referee. Anyway, the second race was super good. It was a little loose at the beginning but then I was able to pull a gap’. With the Top 3 qualifiers in contention for the overall win going into the deciding race which will take place in the evening, the Austrian said, ‘Suttiprawat is super fast in the cool conditions. My car still good but his car gets better. I have already locked up a podium finish so I just need to keep cool in the last one and see what the race brings’.