Akio Sobue is the Top Qualifier at the 2020 TITC, the Infinity driver locking up pole position at the 18th running of Asia’s premiere touring car event when he opened Day 2 of qualifying with yet another TQ run. The 2018 Champion, who took that victory from 4th on the grid, made it three from three in the penultimate round of qualifying at the Infinity Addict Circuit, this time ahead of team-mate Naoto Matsukura. The only other driver to complete 20-laps in the much hotter afternoon conditions, the former World Champion was over 3-seconds back despite a less than perfect 5-minutes from Sobue. Viktor Wilck completed the Top 3 for the round by just 2/10ths of a second from Jilles Groskamp while Yokomo’s Meen Vejrak enjoyed his best qualifying result so far to breaking up an all Infinity Top 6 with P5. Behind the Thai driver TITC debutant Ryosuke Yamamoto set the sixth fastest time ahead of the Yokomo’s of Nicholas Lee and Hayato Ishioka.
Reacting to his first TITC TQ, Akio said, ‘I’m really happy that on our first race with the IF14-II we are putting in a good showing for the new car’. He continued, ‘the conditions (for Q3) meant lower traction but the balance of my car was still good. After 3-minutes again everyone dropped off but my car was good for 5-minutes. The only problem I had was that I had an overshoot a few times’. Asked about the fourth & final qualifier, the Japanese driver said, ‘I will freshen up the car for Q4 and make a small set-up change, it will be a really small change I want to try’.
Summing up his latest qualifying attempt, Matsukura said, ‘I changed a little the set-up because today the traction is not so good and it is a little windy but I still found my car a little loose to drive’. With the chance to TQ gone, last year’s runner-up behind the absent Alexander Hagberg continued, ‘I will now chase P2 on the grid. In the points I am showing 3rd but if I can get a second with a faster time then I can take second from Jilles. The next qualifying is at five forty something so for sure there will be more traction and it will be rocket round. I will make a set-up change to suit the conditions’.
‘I changed the set-up but it was too stable’, was Wilck’s view of his Q3 time. The Swede continued, ‘the change meant the drop off was not so bad now but overall I didn’t have enough speed. At the beginning it was too slow’. Currently holding P4 on the grid, for the final qualifying round he will ‘try something more with the set-up’ concluding, ‘Akio is out in front but me, Jilles and Naoto are very close so there is plenty to fight for’.
Groskamp explained, ‘I changed a lot on the set-up because I had a 2nd in the first one and another 2nd in the second one’. He continued, ‘today is a similar time to when the finals will run so I tried harder suspension arms that are optionals for the car and a stiffer top deck. It made the car stable but also created too much push. This is the same as Akio is running but his set-up is different. I will stay with the harder arms as they suit hotter conditions but I think I will go with the softer top deck to get more steering. I know the last round will be cooler but I still want to test this set-up. I hope Akio TQ’s all four so I can hold my second. Akio has the set-up and is driving very good this week but Viktor, Naoto and me are all together’.
Commenting on his marked improvement today, Vejrak said, ‘I think we made a good start today and this result will get me into the A-Main’. The same track where he won his Nitro Touring World Championship title in 2012, he said, ‘today the grip is quite low but the car works better today. It was going good until I made a mistake and lost 1-second. This cost me 2nd or 3rd position for the round’. Asked what changes he had made to his BD10, the 2018 podium finisher said, ‘I didn’t change anything. I just freshened up the car and today it had more steering. I’m not sure if it just the conditions suit the car more or if the car is better’. Hoping to improve the P7 on the grid he currently holds, asked about the remaining qualifier he said, ‘I need to try something with the car. I don’t have a feeling of good speed and I want to make less heat in the tyres’.
Chassis – Infinity IF14 II Motor – ORCA Modtreme 4.5T ESC – ORCA OE1 Battery – ORCA 6000mAh Super LCG Tires (handout) – Sweep Radio/Servos – Sanwa Body – Xtreme Twister
Remarks – Setting the pace in practice and continuing it on into qualifying here at the TITC, Akio Sobue is running the new IF14 II from Infinity. Using the final production ready car, the main difference over its predecessor is the central location of the spur gear which like in other competition cars helps give a more equalised balance between front and rear, however with the motor not having changed position the car continues to maintain a high level of rear traction. The other main change is the focus on ease of use and adjustment, with the front and rear shock towers, steering plate and lower arms all using a neat insert system that allows for repeatable fine tuning of the setup. For Akio himself, he said that he had managed to find a good balance early on in the event and has only had to make some small fine adjustments since.
Chassis – Yokomo BD10 Motor – Dash RTune V2 4.5T ESC – Dash AI Pro Battery – Racing Performer 5500mAh SLCG Tires (handout) – Sweep Radio/Servos – Sanwa Body – Xtreme Twister
Remarks – Young Japanese driver Souta Goto is making his TITC debut here this weekend driving the new BD10 from Yokomo. Performing very well in seeding, Goto is using essentially a basic car but with Yokomo aluminium outdrives front and rear and Axon aluminium screws and turnbuckles.
Akio Sobue remains firmly in control at the TITC with the Infinity driver posting another TQ run for a perfect first day of qualifying at the Thai event. Having taken the opening qualifier from team-mate Jilles Groskamp, the top seed was again quickest from the Dutch driver in the second of the day’s two qualifiers but this time with an even bigger margin of 3.1-seconds. Having crashed out in the opening qualifier, Naoto Matsukura would complete the Top 3 after a mistake from team-mate Viktor Wilck on the final lap. An all Infinity Top 6, the coronavirus having seen a lot of the race’s regular title contenders opting not to travel this year, Atsushi Hara took the top honours for the others setting the 7th fastest time with his HB Racing project car ahead of the Yokomo’s of Charlee Phutiyotin and Nicholas Lee.
‘The car is perfect I think’, was Sobue’s reaction after going 2-seconds quicker than he had in Q1. Having suffered with his car wanting to spin out on the opening lap of the first qualifier, he continued, ‘I had no problem this time on the opening lap but I was still a little careful at the same corner the first time but I had more steering and could go fast’. With the time schedule meaning the remaining two qualifiers will be run in the afternoon/evening tomorrow, the opposite to today, Akio said, ‘Maybe the track conditions will change but in both the day time and the evening my car has good balance so I think I will keep it the same. I see no reason to change it’.
Describing his Q2 effort as ‘not bad’, Groskamp said, ‘I tried a little different saucing and it started off better than before and I could keep with Akio at the start but then it went off. I think maybe I used too much sauce’. He continued, ‘Overall I am still happy because Akio is in a little different zone to everyone. He is trying some different stuff with his set-up and now that I have two good results I might try some of them in tomorrow’s qualifiers’.
Explaining his Q1 crash, Matsukura said, ‘I normally drive down the middle of the straight but this time I was on the outside and the car spun and I crashed. I think possibly some wind caused it’. On his Q2 performance, the former Touring Car World Champion said, ‘the feeling was good but I had a little understeer so I could not catch Akio’. Looking to Day 2 of qualifying and the change of timing of the runs, the Japanese driver was excited that it presented him with an opportunity to challenge his team-mate for the honour of Top Qualifier. He said, ‘the first one should have the same traction as today but the 2nd one is in the best condition. It will be the rocket round so the TQ is still on. I just need to try find some more steering in the set-up but overall the new IF14-II is working very good. I am also happy with my ORCA Speedo, the power deliver is very smooth’.
Summing up his second run, Wilck said, ‘the first 1, 2-minutes was OK but then I think I overheated my tyres’. He continued on the last lap I had a mistake and that let Naoto by. With the tyres overheating I jumped the curb in the middle chicane’. On his team-mate Akio’s advantage, the Swede said, ‘Akio is really good to the end because he don’t over heat his tyres. In the beginning me, Jilles and Akio are almost the same’.
Despite improving his car between rounds Jin Sawada was again 5th fastest ahead of fellow countryman Ryosuke Yamamoto. Having had an impressive opening qualifier in which he was fourth fastest, Yamamoto felt the pressure of that result saying he was ‘quite nervous’ during Q2.