Fujisaki Tires RX of South Africa, Day One - Qualifying
Qualifying began under sunny skies here at the Killarney Raceway, with rallycross fans packing into the stands to witness what should be an exciting and dramatic finish to the ARX Championship. The first heat got the race weekend off to a thrilling start, with Kitanishi’s Yuki Fujishima taking a very narrow victory over Hammond Hunter and Alexander Krebs, with Hunter running an excellent joker lap and Krebs closing the gap to Fujishima over the final lap. William Cunningham and Clive Baker followed close behind, while Tom Powell and Declan Slater tangled with one another to bring up the rear of the group.
Maria Ramirez was on a mission to prove her doubters wrong this weekend, putting the #129 Geschenk on the top of the charts for the second heat, and into second place for the entire session, after an absolutely stellar drive. Championship leader Bandit Borgwarnerson finished second, well back of Ramirez, seemingly struggling to get pace out of his Flamarbol. Quentin LeTheou finished third after a very strong joker lap saw the Flamers driver leapfrog SBA Boonigan’s Phornsawan Sirisuk on the last lap, while Jaimz Scooby made a couple of big mistakes in his opening laps, finishing well back in fourth place. Ashlynn Morganstern and Kevin Michaels finished at the back of the pack, after the Canadian driver made a mistake on the first lap that nearly took both drivers out of the race.
Maria Ramirez’s glory was short-lived, however, as Pekka Heikkinen took the top spot in the third heat and indeed the whole of the first qualifying session, winning easily over Eino Vatanen and pipping Ramirez by eight tenths of a second. Shromet’s Pablo Sanchez finished third, a poor joker lap consigning the American to the middle of the pack, with Eric Meistermann suffering largely the same fate in fourth place, the Frenchman having nearly lost the place to Joey Rogers behind him on Lap 3. Alexander John Sierra spun on his joker lap, nearly collecting Rudolfs Jansons in the process.
Maki Taninawa took the top spot in heat number four, crossing the line three seconds ahead of NEMW’s Miguel Gonzalez, who got the best of JHW’s Marika Kazan on the first lap and never looked back. Einar Poogen drove a careful and uneventful race to come home in fourth place, while the same could not be said for Armada’s Hsiu-Yinn Lim. Lim and Sylvester Landon both got off to excellent starts, but as the two drivers approached the first corner, neither yielded to the other, with Lim punting Landon into the barriers at speed after trying a very aggressive overtake. Lim got away with only very minor damage, but Landon’s Isami was very heavily damaged, to the point the team was unsure if they would be able to continue their weekend.
Astelli Racing’s Craig March took the top spot in the final heat, beating hometown hero Robert Field’s TCC 1450 by just under three seconds at the line. Timo Virtanen had Field in his sights by the end of the race, but was unable to close the gap significantly, while Mason Olsen struggled on this challenging track, finishing just ahead of ZMD’s Laurent Faust. Jorg Ambuhl rounded out the field, his Abula R4 struggling to run consistently good lap times.
Times tumbled in the second qualifying round as conditions improved between sessions, with some of the drivers finding as much as four seconds a lap with their cars now dialled in on the long, challenging track here in Cape Town. First out of the chute in the first heat was NPV’s Mason Olsen, who shook off his rather disappointing Q1 result by taking an easy win here in Q2, beating ARxT’s Ashlynn Morganstern by nearly twelve seconds. Kevin Michaels renewed his battle with the Canadian, although this time Morganstern had the KMC driver’s number by all of a tenth of a second. Jorg Ambuhl found some decent pace from his Abula R4, beating Laurent Faust for fifth place, with Schwarzburg’s Rudolfs Jansons not far behind both drivers. Sylvester Landon was indeed able to make the grid for Q2, finishing well back of the pack, but still determined to make the best of a difficult situation.
Alexander John Sierra took the top spot in the second heat, easily beating Seydel-GNG’s Tom Powell, the gap between the two Brits nearly seven seconds at the flag. Jaimz Scooby’s excellent joker lap proved to be the difference between him and Quentin LeTheou, with Takumi Fujiwara not far behind in fourth place. Phornsawan Sirisuk got squeezed between Powell and Sierra at the start, leaving the young Thai driver nowhere to go but into the wall, damaging his SBA Rosales and spoiling his race. Declan Slater too found the barriers at the south end of the track, smashing his Antti Special hard on Lap 3, putting him at the back of the field.
Hsiu-Yinn Lim turned it up for the third heat, putting up four excellent laps to finish four seconds ahead of Eric Meistermann’s FAAL Coupe, while Bandit Borgwarnerson finished the race with an abundance of caution, well back in third place. Joey Rogers finished an uneventful fourth in the heat, while LATOY’s Timo Virtanen capitalised on a sloppy race by Clive Baker, getting past the Westward driver and not looking back all race. William Cunningham ran into an unspecified mechanical problem on Lap 3, and was able to limp the car home, albeit in last place.
Yuki Fujishima took the top time in the fourth heat, easily beating Pablo Sanchez for the top spot after the Shromet driver made a couple of mistakes on the second and final laps, having somewhat overdriven the #52 Appalachian. Einar Poogen showed a bit of his old form as well, finishing third ahead of a thrilling battle between Marika Kazan and Robert Field. Field was able to jump on a mistake made by Kazan on her final lap, closing up until he was right on the Lynx’s bumper and threatening to overtake Kazan on the final lap. Alexander Krebs finished in fifth place after a rather quiet race, while Hammond Hunter found himself not really able to improve his performance appreciably between the first and second qualifying sessions.
Pekka Heikkinen proved once again that the combination of Pepperbomb and Heikkinen were arguably the class of the field, taking the top time in the final heat and beating the rest of the field by nearly three seconds. Maria Ramirez overcame a mistake on her third lap to finish in second place, ahead of Delta Motorsports’ Eino Vatanen, while Craig March and Miguel Gonzalez traded paint and bumps in a thrilling race, which saw March edge out Gonzalez by less than a car length. Maki Taninawa brought up the rear, having struggled to match the rest of the final heat on pace, only made worse by a couple of critical mistakes early in her race.
Sylvester Landon came roaring back in the first heat of Q3, with only a single misstep on Lap 3 putting him behind the heat winner, Phornsawan Sirisuk. Landon knew very well that if was to have any chance at the semi-finals, he would need to finish in the top five or better in the last two Q sessions; a lofty challenge indeed, considering the caliber of the field. Well back of Sirisuk and Landon, Jorg Ambuhl finished third, beating Declan Slater and Laurent Faust by a second after those two drivers tussled all race long. Rudolfs Jansons had a scare on his final lap, losing a considerable amount of time on the joker section and allowing Takumi Fujiwara to close up right to the Schwarzburg’s bumper.
Hammond Hunter found a bit more time in the #10 Deer and Hunt in the second heat, taking the top spot easily over KMC’s Kevin Michaels, who slipped into second place after Jaimz Scooby and Ashlynn Morganstern ran themselves off the track while fighting for position, and leaving Morganstern in a desperate drag race to the finish line with Westward’s Clive Baker, who would have snatched the spot from Morganstern had the track been but fifty metres longer. William Cunningham and Quentin LeTheou had a coming together on the first lap, damaging both cars slightly as they tried to fit both cars into a space on track large enough for one only.
Tom Powell was the class of the field in the third heat, taking the top spot after a near-perfectly executed drive. Timo Virtanen was challenging Powell to pass him early, but he missed a braking point and ran very wide into the north end complex, losing a considerable amount of time to the Seydel-GNG driver, and putting his spot in direct threat by Marika Kazan behind. The Finn held his own, fighting off every move by Kazan to hold on to his second-place finish. Robert Field blitzed past Maki Taninawa on the last lap to take fourth place away from the Sakura driver, while Alexander Krebs held off a late challenge by Joey Rogers to round out the field.
Pablo Sanchez drove a textbook wire-to-wire finish in the fourth heat, showing everyone why he is considered to be one of the best starters in the entire championship with his scarely believable 3.635-second dash to the start line. Bandit Borgwarnerson slingshot past Craig March and Maria Ramirez coming out of the north end complex on the last lap, holding off the challenge through the last few corners to cement his second-place finish. Miguel Gonzalez made a daring pass to see off Einar Poogen at the start of the final lap, while Eino Vatanen crashed out of second place after a momentary lapse of judgement going into the south end complex, missing his braking point badly and skidding into the barriers.
Yuki Fujishima took the top time in the final heat, following a rare mistake by Pekka Heikkinen on the first lap, which saw the Pepperbomb spin off the track in the south-end complex, taking the Finn from first place to last place in the span of a few seconds. Heikkinen clawed his way back through the field, putting a brilliant overtake on Eric Meistermann on Lap 3 to seal his second-place finish. Hsiu-Yinn Lim took the conservative approach to the race, finishing a safe fourth place after avoiding much of the chaos ahead of her, while still easily beating Mason Olsen and Alexander John Sierra, the latter making a mistake on his final lap and opening up a window for Olsen to get past.
Declan Slater took the top time in the first heat of the final qualifying session of the season, running a nearly-textbook race to finish six seconds ahead of Laurent Faust. Faust had a decent race in and of itself, having put a brilliant move on Takumi Fujiwara to take second place away from the Fuji driver on the final lap. Quentin LeTheou finished in third place ahead of William Cunningham, the Flamers driver having reeled in the American on the final lap and overtaking him into the south end complex. Rudolfs Jansons struggles continued behind, while Eino Vatanen limped the stricken Delta Motorsports machine home, a disappointing end to a season so full of potential.
Alexander Krebs topped the sheets in the second qualifying heat, taking the top time easily over Kevin Michaels, who was gifted second place after a moment of inattention by Joey Rogers allowed the KMC driver through on the last lap. Ashlynn Morganstern came out on top of a furious battle for position between the Canadian and both Jaimz Scooby and Clive Barker, with Morganstern just holding on through a messy final lap to come out ahead of the other two drivers. Jorg Ambuhl rounded out the field, having run a fairly quiet and uneventful race.
Marika Kazan topped the timesheets in a messy third heat, which saw LATOY’s Timo Virtanen spoil Robert Field’s excellent weekend by accidentally forcing the #66 TCC off the track and into the barriers, relegating the South African to the back of the pack. Maki Taninawa got caught up in the fracas as well, putting her Sakura off the track while avoiding Field’s out-of-control car. Einar Poogen took advantage of the chaos, getting past Miguel Gonzalez on the last lap, while Hammond Hunter stayed the course behind both, having decided to run a more defensive race than normal to preserve his spot in the semi-finals.
Maria Ramirez ran a brilliant race to take the top time in the fourth heat, putting a brilliant overtake on Hsiu-Yinn Lim going into the first corner and staying there. Having witnessed the carnage of the previous heat, Lim quite smartly decided to back off a bit, having all but sealed her appearance in the semi-finals already, opting instead to try and keep ahead of Bandit Borgwarnerson as her primary objective. Borgwarnerson, on the other hand, needed to drive very defensively, having both Sylvester Landon and Alexander John Sierra behind him, the former having mounted a desperate campaign to try and reach the semi-finals. In the end, Landon and Sierra had to settle for fourth and fifth respectively, with Landon gutted after failing to reach his objective. Craig March found himself on the outside looking in at this group of drivers ahead of him, taking the safe option to avoid jeopardising the rest of his weekend, as did Mason Olsen, who rounded out the field in the heat.
Pekka Heikkinen found himself at the top of the sheets for the final qualifying heat, putting together yet another dominant performance to beat Eric Meistermann by six and a half seconds at the flag. Meistermann managed to slip past Pablo Sanchez for second place in the heat, the Shromet driver having overdriven his car into the tricky south end complex and losing valuable time trying to get back on the racing line. Phornsawan Sirisuk edged out Yuki Fujishima in a drag race heading into the final lap, a position which he was able to stick, while Tom Powell rounded out the field behind, in sight of both Sirisuk and Fujishima ahead.
Once again, we find Pekka Heikkinen and Team Red Cock Energy Liquid at the top of the charts following Day One action, though perhaps not as dominant as we are used to seeing the Finn after a couple of decidedly uncharacteristic mistakes by the driver. With Heikkinen needing ten more points than Bandit Borgwarnerson and eleven more than Hsiu-Yinn Lim to win the championship today, could it be that the pressure is finally getting to the Unflappable Finn? Could it also be, with their poor performances here today as well, that his two rivals are finally feeling the pressure as well? Only the final races tomorrow can tell, and with heavy rains forecast to lash Killarney Raceway overnight and into tomorrow, we can only wait to see who we will crown champion…