Eight years on from TQ’ing in Brazil on en-route to becoming the 2015 World title, Mugen Seiki driver Simon Kurzbuch is again the Top Qualifier at the IFMAR 1:8 Onroad World Championship. Four drivers, all World Champions, went into the sixth & final round of qualifying at the Infinity International RC Speedway in Japan with a chance of the overall TQ. Q1 winner Dario Balestri was the first driver to go by the wayside, his car coming to stop half way through the qualifier. Next it was Q2 pace setter Toni Gruber who came to a halt a minute later. That left just Kurzbuch and Shoki Takahata in the battle although the later wasn’t on a good run. All the while 17-year-old World Championship debutant Kouki Kato surprised them all snatching the TQ for the round ahead of Kurzbuch but with two TQ runs to go with his P2 it was the Swiss ace who goes into the history books as the Top Qualifier of the 23rd running of the sport’s original World Championship. With his TQ run, him being the fifth different driver to do so over the six rounds, Offroad racer Kato put his Infinity into the Super Pole. This was duly won by Dario Balestri who denied defending World Champion Takahata a direct spot in the final alongside Kurzbuch. First to go the Mugen driver ran a best lap of 13.633 which neither Kato or Toni Gruber could better but last to go Balestri needed just three laps to produce a 13.518 to win a feat he also achieved at the 1:10 World Championship in Thailand 12-months ago.
‘After 8 years to again take the TQ is a great feeling’, was Kurzbuch’s reaction to the conclusion of thrilling 2 days of qualifying. The Swiss ace continued, ‘It was a great day. We were very focused and could achieve what we thought was possible. It’s a huge relief because we were under pressure every round today after the day we had yesterday. I have to thank my father and Alex for the great work and all my sponsors for the great products’. With tomorrow to prepare his car for Saturday’s final, Friday’s schedule is the lower finals up to 1/16 Finals, asked about any changes for the longer distance the 31-year-old replied, ‘I will change the engine but the car is already good for the final. We try to do the best in the final and see where we end up. For this evening we will relax after the pressure of today’.
Summing up his final qualifier, Balestri said, ‘I told you I was going to try something because I was going all in. It didn’t work!’. On his impressive Super Pole effect, even veteran of the sport Michael Salven calling the effort and engine power battle ‘crazy’, he said, ‘I went back to my previous set and changed to a body that was more to the front and better for just a fast lap. And I changed engine. Thanks to Max (Massimo Fantini of Max Power engine) for this one’. Asked his thoughts on the final the 2017 World Champion said, ‘A lot will depend on the temperatures. The engines are already under a lot of stress and the bigger tyres are going to stretch them even more. Also it depends on what tyre strategy because we use a lot of tyre on the right side’.
Having won the Super Pole three weeks ago in Australia on his way to becoming the 1:8 GT World Champion, Gruber was not happy with his effort here in Japan. The German said, ‘It was just a bad performance on everyone’s part. Me as the driver and in the pits from my pit crew. It was not the level of performance you need to win Super Pole’. Asked about his final qualifier, he said, ‘I knew what we need to do to beat Simon and everything was going to plan but then the glow plug broke, the engine was just a little too lean’. Needing to work his way through from the Semi Finals, for which he feels he has a good car & engine package, asked about tyre wear he said, ‘I don’t think we can do the Semi on one set of tyres but we need to think about our plans for this’.
Getting a P6 from the final round of qualifying, Takahata summed up his car as having ‘not a good feeling’ on the run. Having TQ’d Q3 yesterday which ran similar time of the day, Takahata said it was the best he could as he ended up on mismatched tyres. Describing his own performance in the Super Pole as ‘so, so’ he had a half spin when he was on what was looking to be on a really good lap. Having come through the Semi finals when he finished 2nd sandwiched between Dominic Greiner and Gruber in the US in 2019, he said his approach for the Semi here would be to go with a safe run to progress to the main event. He will once again race with the two Germans as he starts 2nd in the Odd Semi behind Gruber and in front of Greiner.
Having shown his potential speed in Q2 when he finished second fastest to Gruber, Kato said his opening two qualifiers today were hampered by his engine being too lean. Adding the Japanese 1:8 Buggy National Championship title to his CV just last month, with a new engine in his IF18 and used tyres for Q6 he had a ‘very good feeling’ with the car which he was able to convert into a TQ run that booked him into Super Pole on his very first 1:8 Onroad World Championship appearance. Second to go in the running order he acquitted himself well in front of the large crowd of onlookers but couldn’t match the sheer pace of the three World Champions but still finds himself on pole position for the Semi Final.