November 9, 2022

Matsukura hits the top at Worlds to take third qualifier

The first day of qualifying at the 1:10 Nitro Touring Car World Championship has provided plenty of variety with the opening three rounds of qualifying seeing as many different drivers post TQ runs, the latest being the reigning World Champion Naoto Matsukura. Kicking off his title defence with a P4 in Q1 and a second in Q2, the Infinity driver hit the top on his third attempt ahead of team-mate Dario Balestri who was able to shadow in the final stages of the 7-minute qualifier. Behind, Tadahiko Sahashi would complete the Top 3.  Having TQ’d the previous round, Dominic Greiner would suffer a DNF after the rear belt came off just after the German ace left the pit lane following his fuel stop.  Having started the day with a flawless Q1 run to top the times, Jilles Groskamp again flipped and needed marshalling in Q3 but somehow still managed to get a 6th for the round.  Jesse Davis continued his strong form from the second fastest heat as he set the fourth fastest ahead of Serpent’s Bryce Butterfield.

Celebrating his perfect finish to Day 1 of qualifying with a beer, a very pleased looking Matsukura said, ‘my car was pretty easy to drive.  Before I had understeer but the traction came up so now I had good steering and still no flip.  The car and the set-up is good’.  Finishing only 7/10th up on Balestri at the end of the 7-minutes, he said, ‘It was good having Dario just ahead of me (on the track) cause I could manage my pace’.  Already locked into at least a Semi Final starting position, and officially the provisional overnight TQ holder, he said, ‘I made safe points today so tomorrow we can try improve on this.  The team did a good job today’.

Looking a lot happier than he did at the start of the day, Balestri described his run to the second fastest time as ‘not bad’.  A multiple European Champion of the class, he said, ‘again I just tried to survive, if I push I flip.  It really is a lottery and I think this shows because every round we have a new fastest driver’.  Sitting second at the half way point in the qualification rankings, despite not posting a TQ run, he said he went into Q3, ‘thinking points and no mistakes’.  Now that he said he has the option ‘to push tomorrow or at least try to’.

‘It was a safe drive to make sure I had no flip’, was how Sahashi summed up his best round of the day.  The former 1:8 World Champion continued, ‘the car is now very nice’ to drive, a statement that was backed up by him recording the fastest lap of the day and the only driver to go sub 15-seconds with a time of 14.9.  A driver who yesterday excelled in the morning’s seeding conditions, he plans to revert to the set-up used on that occasion.

Having managed to salvage a P5 in Q2 despite breaking a shock tower, Davis summed up his latest run with, ‘no mistake that one, it was a safe run’.  Running in the second fastest heat, he added, ‘I think it was a little cooler for the top heat so it was faster but I think I have a pretty good finals car’.  Looking to tomorrow he said, ‘I’ll work on cleaning up my driving so I am more consistent’.

Ending his day with a Top 5 run, 20-year-old Butterfield said the run was ‘very good’.  After a mistake in Q1, when he bounced off the wall exit following his fuel stop, he said it ‘hurt it enough’ that it caused him to flip.  Q2 was ‘pretty solid with just a small mistake’ and he netted a P9 from that.  On his effort in the third round he said ‘was driving better and starting to trust the car again’.  Feeling his car is ‘where it needs to be’, the newly crowned ROAR National Champion plans to keep working on improving his driving.

‘The day started good but the track didn’t like me that last one’, was how Groskamp summed up Q3, team-mate Balestri interjecting to say ‘the track has never like me’.  Top Qualifier at the 2008 World Championship and still a contender for title, the former ISTC World Champion continued, ‘some drivers are going faster, some are going slower, which just shows how much the track changes’.  Considering some changes to his car in the area of shock springs and oil, he said his corner speed is gone since the sun disappeared as ‘the traction has come up a lot’.  ‘Sixth with a flip at the World Championship is crazy and I am already secure in the Semi Final’.  He concluded, ‘tomorrow is a new game’.

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