‘Perfect’ start as Kurzbuch opens title defence with TQ run
Reigning 1:8 Onroad World Champion Simon Kurzbuch has got his title defence off to the perfect start by TQ’ing the opening round of qualifying this morning in Monteux, France. The Shepherd driver put in an error free round, capitalising on mistakes from both top seed Naoto Matsukura and Bruno Coelho to top the times from free practice pace setter Dario Balestri. Having put his Xray on the grass while in pursuit of Matsukura’s Infinity, Coelho would recover to get a third while Matsukura stopped the clocks with the fourth fastest time despite his heavy impact with the fencing at the start of the straight.
‘Perfect’ was Kurzbuch’s reaction to his TQ run. He added, ‘Our goal was to just try and have a clean run and have a look where we end up. Some crashed and we won this one. It is the best start we could wish for and now we can improve the details and try to take the (overall) TQ’. Second fastest in seeding, when asked why he took the start behind third seed Coelho, he said, ‘In the warm-up laps Bruno was a little faster so I decided to let him go rather than have to open up after a few laps to let him by but actually once the tyres came in my car was really good’ – as was confirmed by him posting the fastest lap of Q1. The Swiss driver expressed him concerns over the ‘short’ 2-minute warm-up time saying it was the absolute minimum amount of time needed to get the engines tuned for the qualifier describing the amount of time available to adjust the engine as ‘on the limit’.
‘Safe but I did push’, was how Balestri summed up the opening qualifier. After a troubled day yesterday in controlled practice with him ending up 9th in seeding having been the benchmark over the two days of free practice, the Infinity driver added ‘we come back today’. An error free 7-minute run, the Italian said his only issue was in the pits with there some confusion over positioning between his pitman and that of Robert Pietsch which lost him around 1-second. While also having to deal with traffic, impressively carving his way through a group of four cars, he said for sure it would have been better to not have to pass other cars but the time lost was negligible. Pleased with his car he will leave it unchanged for the second of today’s 3 schedule qualifiers.
Reacting to his opening qualifying performance, Coelho said, ‘It was almost perfect’. The Portuguese driver said, ‘I was pulling away from Simon and was close to Naoto but touched the curb and went into the grass. I had to force a lot to get the car back onto the track and for the next lap I had dirt on the tyres. It was a stupid mistake I was not even forcing just trying to get the points’. He continued, ‘I end up 3rd but without the mistake I think it would have been first. We improved a lot my lap times’.
‘Big mistake’, that was Matsukura’s choice of words to describing his costly error. He said, ‘my car was pretty good but I went inside the corner too much coming onto the straight and it launched the car and I hit the wall. I lost around 5-seconds but still finished 4th which is not too bad a start’. Looking to Q2, the Japanese driver said, ‘the only thing I must do is try is make to make no mistake. I have a good car so no need to change anything’.
The surprise of Q1 would come courtesy of French driver Romain Picard who would post the 5th fastest time. The Mugen driver was 10th fastest in controlled practice but found himself seeded in the second fastest heat having been replaced in Heat 15 by German Toni Gruber. Asked why the switch he replied, ‘I don’t know. I think it was something to do with a better total time for Toni’. Having the advantage of leading out the heat rather than being at the back in the top heat, Picard said, ‘I think I can drive better but I’m really happy. It was more than expected’. A previous French Cup race winner here at the RC Circuit Jean Nougier, the Parisienne had ‘just one little mistake’ but concluded, ‘the car is really easy and nice to drive’ and he will leave it unchanged as he did throughout controlled practice yesterday.
Completing the Top 6 would be new 2017 Shepherd signing Lars Hoppe. The ENS podium finisher said, ‘I’m very happy. 6th place is a perfect start’. Only 27th in seeding he added, ‘each practice we improved the car. It might not be so good for three laps but we knew it was good for longs runs’. Running in the third fastest heat as a result of his seeding, he suffered one mistake over the qualifier which cost him ‘around 1 second’. Feeling his car his better in hotter conditions he will leave his Velox V8 unchanged for Q2.
Running in the heat before Hoppe, multiple Worlds Finalist Jilles Groskamp would post the 7th fastest time but afterwards came close to his event coming to a premature end. Out to marshal the next heat, he was attending to Infinity team-mate Teemu Leino who had run off the track at the end of the straight. At the corner after Leino had gone off, Lamberto Collari would hit the curbing launching his car back across the track with it crashing into Groskamp’s hand as he placed Leino’s car back onto the track. Thankfully while cut and bruised, the former EP Touring Car World Champion stick radio user said both his thumbs are functional so he is good to continue although we suspect he might feel a bit uncomfortable as the day goes on. In terms of his run, the Dutch driver said, ‘Running in a lower heat you just have to go flat out because you don’t know the pace. My engine was a little too lean and I lost a bit of bottom end power but we changed the set-up from practice and the car was more easy to drive. In the uphill left left section it was super good. I’m really happy how the car is. It is super consistent’.
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