Akio Sobue has topped seeding at the TITC, with the Infinity driver quickest from Yokomo’s Souta Goto over 3-consecutive laps of this year’s high speed layout at the Infinity Addict Circuit. In the first of the two controlled practice runs, the 2018 Champion was fastest from team-mate Naoto Matsukura but rocket round conditions for the second round produced a big improvement in times as Sobue went almost half a second clear, this time ahead of Goto who was placed in the slowest of the much depleted Modified field. Jilles Groskamp completed the Top 3 ahead of Viktor Wilck, while Matsukura, unable to better his opening time, dropped to fifth with Atsushi Hara completing the Top 6. Unfortunately the coronavirus has impacted hugely on the international entry at the 18th running of Asia’s most famous RC. Concerns over the health of their drivers in travelling to Asia means multiple champions Xray are not in attendance meaning we wont get the opportunity to watch Alexander Hagberg attempt to defend the title he won here last year. Also missing from the entry are TITC regulars and World Champions Bruno Coelho, Ronald Volker and Marc Rheinard.
The first big race for the IF14-II, Sobue was quick to compliment the Japanese manufacturer’s progress with the new car saying, ‘the new car is very good, the first lap is good and 5-minutes is good, the balance of the car is really good. I was happy with the car in practice all week so today I just made small changes which improved the balance even more’. Asked about this year’s track layout, he replied, ‘It’s not a difficult layout. It is super high speed so tyre management is important. It is always difficult here but now it’s even more challenging to make sure the tyres don’t get too hot’. With 4 rounds of qualifying on the schedule over the next two days, looking to tomorrow’s opening qualifier, Sobue is confident he is ‘ready to go’.
Making his TITC debut, Goto is pleased with his pace over 3-laps but feels there is improvement to come from his driving. Heading the early Yokomo challenge, with team-mate Meen Vejrak their next best placed driver in 7th after seeding, the 19-year-old said, ‘I’m happy with the car set-up. I am running the car very much like how I run it in Japan just with a few tweaks for the layout. The layout is high speed which is what I like’. Vejrak who will be joined in the top heat of qualifying by team-mate Nicholas Lee who was 10th fastest, has ended the day running a car borrowed from the 2017 Vice Champion. A speedo shut down saw the Thai driver hit the barrier in the middle of the track launching it rocket style to a spectacular vertical height, the impact destroying his race car.
Summing up his P3 in seeding, Groskamp said, ‘The rocket round was not as fast as I expected and I was on used tyres. I tried them in free practice yesterday and they felt better but today they were not better and I pulled in after 2-minutes’. The Dutch driver who once used to call Bangkok is home continued, ‘with the rocket round its always scary that some guys might get 3-laps and push you out of the top heat but the gap with our new car over the other teams is quite big which is nice’. Happy with his car, he said the biggest challenge for qualifying is going to be the track, ‘conditions are different every time so you don’t always know how it is going to work’.
Commenting on his practice pace, Wilck said, ‘It’s OK. It is not super fast over 3-laps but 5-minutes is pretty good’. The Swede added, ‘I tried a set-up change in the last round which caused the car to spin out sometimes so I will go back for Q1. On the track he echoed the general feeling about the layout, saying, ‘the layout is a little more easy this year but it’s fun to drive. You use a lot more power. It’s fast’.
Last year’s runner-up, Matsukura said his second seeding run was hampered by a lack of traction in the first laps with him explaining, ‘I had no traction the first minute. I don’t know why. I did make a set-up change but this should not have caused this. After the the first minutes it was good’. Describing the chassis on his car as ‘old’, he said, ‘I think this might be causing it to flex too much so I will fit a new chassis for tomorrow’.
Asked about his P6 in seeding, Hara said, ‘this is my first time racing the HB Racing Project and Zero Tribe is helping me with the development. So 50% of the car is from him’. Having taken up a sales role with HB Racing, and therefore racing less, the RC Racing legend said, ‘before the race I tested the car but couldn’t get a set-up. I need to figure out the current situation for touring car. It’s been a long time that I don’t race touring car’. With the car, internal code named the Pro XX, now fitted with a Zero Tribe mid motor conversation, Hara said he has already designed the next stage in the car’s development but didn’t have the time to get it ready for the race’. On his own performance, given his lack of competitive action, ‘I have Top 10 pace so I am happy, I just need to figure out small details now’.