Fernando RallyX de Portugal, Day One - Qualifying Rounds
Qualifying began this morrning under wet conditions, a cold front blowing through the night before and soaking the track thoroughly. With the track wet but drying steadily, it had a major effect on how the teams approached the early rounds of qualifying.
Round 1 winner Bandit Borgwarnerson set the pace for Q1, roaring out to a decisive victory in the first heat, finishing a full eight seconds ahead of Joey Rogers in the Albatross and Pablo Sanchez in the in the Shromet, the two American drivers locked in a pitched battle for second and third in their heat, with the Albatross ahead at the end by a nose. Robert Field in the TCC tangled on the first lap with Pekka Heikkinen in the Pepperbomb, both drivers damaging their cars and finishing well back of the heat leader.
Alexander Krebs in the #35 Likar Tixref took the victory in the second heat, the young German finding a good rhythm on the muddy track to finish a second ahead of Sylvester Landon in the Isami. Alexander-John Sierra struggled to find his form in Q1, squandering an excellent start to finish third in the Merciel Pixi, well ahead of fourth-place Declan Slater, who stalled out on the start and never really recovered from his mistake. Yuki Fujishima ran wide and damaged the Kitanishi’s suspension in the process, limping the car around to a distant fifth-place finish.
Jaimz Scooby in the #6 FMR Stadia and Rudolfs Jansons in the #13 Schwarzburg fought a pitched battle in the third heat, with Jansons running a storming fast joker lap to more than make up for his rather poor start, finishing only fifteen one-hundredths of a second behind the FMR for second place. Tom Powell in the Seydel-GNG and Marika Kazan in the JHW traded places throughout the heat, with a mistake by Kazan on her joker lap costing her the third-place finish in the end.
Clive Barker and Team WRT Racing took the top spot in the thrilling fourth heat, making up for a very poor start by monstering the course here at Circuit Montalegre, slipping past Einar Poogen in the #88 Okul on Lap 2, and then outrunning the #95 Astelli Racing Leopard driven by Craig March on his joker lap to take the top spot in the heat. Mason Olsen in the #86 NPV and Hammond Hunter in the #10 Deer and Hunt both struggled for grip on the slippery surfaces, finishing well back of the top three runners.
Maki Taninawa in the #545 Sakura Ronin took the top spot in the final heat, running a brilliant race in the challenging conditions, in spite of her being on record as “not being particularly fond of wet racing.” Maria Ramirez and Phornsawan Sirisuk took second and third in a thrilling finish, the young Thai driver only a tenth behind the #129 Geschenk car at the finish, and a tenth up on Tsiu-Yinn Lim, who never really looked comfortable with the Armada at any point of the race.
After running wide and damaging their car in Q1, Team NARUTO Selestat was able to repair Eric Meistermann’s stricken FAAL in time for Q2, and Meistermann took no prisoners in the first heat, finishing top in that heat, far ahead of Timo Virtanen’s LATOY. Kevin Michaels in the #63 KMC Racing machine recovered some of the lost ground from Q1, finishing two seconds behind the LATOY for the sixteenth-best time of the session, in spite of bogging down on the start.
Yuki Fujishima found their footing in Q2, the #96 car back to full health once again, taking the top spot in the second heat, four seconds ahead of Heikkinen in the Pepperbomb, the Finn still dealing with the after-effects of his accident in Q1 and only just holding out against the hard-charging Marika Kazan in the JHW machine. Declan Slater and Ashlynn Morganstern fought a pitched battle for fifth and sixth spot behind Tom Powell in the Seydel-GNG, but an aggressive move by Morganstern sent both her and Slater wide on the first lap, costing them both time in the end.
Sylvester Landon took top spot overall in Q2 in a dominant showing in the third heat, finishing a full six seconds ahead of Alexander-John Sierra in second place. Rudolfs Jansons and Jaimz Scooby continued their battle from Q1, but both drivers ended up colliding going into the second sector, damaging both cars and slowing them down considerably for the rest of the heat.
Pablo Sanchez started strong in the fourth heat and never looked back, leaving Hsiu-Yinn Lim behind in a distant second-place finish. Sirisuk in the #55 SBA Rosales was lucky to avoid any mishaps, after mistakes on both their first and second laps nearly ended the race weekend for the team, with Sirisuk left dissappointed with their carelessness following the race. Joey Rogers and Alexander Krebs found themselves nearly caught up in one of Sirisuk’s mistakes, both drivers scattering to avoid colliding with the wayward SBA machine.
Craig March started strong and never let up in the final heat, taking the top spot over Bandit Borgwarnerson by two full seconds, the Kiwi having made up for a below-average start with a stonking quick first lap to put himself ahead of Maria Ramirez in the Geschenk, where he stayed for the rest of the race. Maki Taninawa crashed on her joker lap, bumping the wall as she ran wide, damaging her car and causing Clive Baker to nearly come to a complete stop to avoid hitting the Sakura.
WIth the track now fully dried out, lap times began to fall, as evidenced by Robert Field in the TCC 1450 running a 2:37.166 to win the first heat of Q3; while this time would have been good enough for a top-five finish in Q2, it was unfortunately only good enough for P22 in Q3. In spite of this, Field ran a gutsy race, making up for a very poor start by clawing back more and more lap time from both second-place Jorg Ambuhl and third-place Jaimz Scooby to take the top spot back by the final lap.
The second heat saw Mason Olsen return to his usually fine form, taking the top spot by nearly three seconds over Einar Poogen in the Okul and Miguel Gonzalez in the NEMW, those two drivers locked in a epic but cleanly-fought battle for second place in the heat. In the end, Poogen held out by a mere two-tenths to finish second in the heat.
Tom Powell and the #888 Seydel-GNG took top spot in the third heat, cruising to an easy, three-second victory over Eino Vatanen in the #4 Delta Motorsport car. Kevin Michaels, Ashlynn Morganstern and Joey Rogers rounded out the rest of the top five, with scarcely more than a second between the three cars in the end. Quentin LeTheou and Declan Slater both suffered very poor starts and never really recovered from them, finishing last and second-to-last respectively.
Tsiu-Yinn Lim found an extra gear, so to speak, taking an easy victory in the fourth heat, six seconds ahead of Pekka Heikkinen and Phornsawan Sirisuk, who were engaged in a thrilling “will he or won’t he?” battle through the race, as the gathered crowds watched on the edges of their seats to see if Heikkinen’s decision to run the joker lap first would pay off versus Sirisuk, who ran their joker lap on the final lap. In the end, Heikkinen prevailed, by a mere quarter of a second, with Sirisuk slotting in just ahead of the Geschenk and the JHW.
Eric Meistermann found his footing in a big way in the final heat, taking an easy victory over Bandit Borgwarnerson, who had to contend with a hard fight put on by Sylvester Landon in the Isami all race long. Pablo Sanchez and Craig March traded paint and positions several times, but a misjudged braking point by the Astelli Racing driver on the last lap ended his charge and relegated him to fifth place in the heat. Yuki Fujishima, strong in the first two qualifying rounds, found herself in big trouble following a minor off on the first lap, the suspension of the Kitanishi Develo sufficently damaged such that all she could do was salvage a last-place finish, good for P14 in the session.
Quentin LeTheou recovered form his bruising race in Q3 to take the top spot in the first heat of Q4, finishing well ahead of Jorg Ambuhl and Rudolfs Jansons. Takumi Fujiwara suffered a big crash on the first lap, severely damaging his car and ending any hope of Fuji Motorsports finishing higher than last place overall.
Maki Taninawa ran a strong race in the #545 Sakura Ronin, finishing first in heat number two, well ahead of Hammond Hunter in the stadium truck and Joey Rogers in the #37 Albatross. Robert Field threatened a few times at the heels of Alexander Krebs in the Likar, but in the end was unable to overcome his dreadful start and found himself just behind the German driver.
Yuki Fujishima won the third heat, in spite of her car being bodged together just enough to get it running for the final session. A strong start, combined with Miguel Gonzalez stalling out, gave her all the margin she needed to hold off the hard-charging American driver, finishing a second ahead at the finish and guaranteeing her a spot in the semi-finals.
Phornsawan Sirisuk and the #55 SBA Rosales ran a textbook race from start to finish, making a strong start and no mistakes whatsoever to take not only the top spot of the heat, but also narrowly edging out Pablo Sanchez for the top spot overall in Q4. Pekka Heikkinen and Alexander-John Sierra had no real answer for the Thai driver’s scorching pace, with the #80 Pepperbomb just holding out over Sierra’s Merciel Pixi. Maria Ramirez had a big off in the #129 Geschenk on her joker lap, limping the car around to finish, but far behind the entire field. Much work looms ahead to prepare the stricken car for tomorrow’s semi-finals and finals.
In the final heat, Sanchez took the top spot of course, with Borgwarnerson struggling with a mechanical issue of some kind, the Flamarbol Beryl never really looking all that comfortable in this session. In spite of the difficulty, Borgwarnerson was still able to hold off Hsiu-Yinn Lim, who seemed to come out of their shell a little bit in this final session, having generally looked uncomfortable with the track and the conditions all weekend long. Eric Meistermann went wide and damaged his car after a botched overtaking attempt on the first lap against Lim, though he was still able to post the ninth-best time of the session, in spite of finishing last in the final heat.
With more weather forecast for tonight and tomorrow, we are expecting very wet conditions for both the semi-finals and the final, with a strong likelihood that the conditions will only deteriorate even further as the day wears on. Will Bandit Borgwarnerson, winner in Spain, be able to make it two for two, or will his new-found struggles continue and a new winner found?