Tyrelli World RX of Canada, Day One - Qualifying
The seventh round of the ARX Championship began under the scorching July sun here in Trois-Rivieres, with throngs of spectators packing the stands on this holiday weekend here in Canada. Many drivers were excited for the series’ first non-European stop on the calendar, with of the teams looking to start the second half of the season with a statement race.
The first heat set the tone for the rest of the session, with lots of close, hard-fought racing. Team NARUTO Selestat’s Eric Meistermann took the top time in the first heat, blazing off the start line and not looking back the whole race. Not far behind, though, was Kevin Michaels’ KMC Arrotare RX, only two seconds back of Meistermann, and in something of a battle himself with championship hopeful Bandit Borgwarnerson’s Flamarbol. Phornsawan Sirisuk glanced his SBA Rosales off the inside wall on Lap 2, knocking the car out of alignment, necessitating some repairs in the paddock before Q2 began.
The second heat saw ARxT’s Ashlynn Morganstern take the top time, the young Canadian fighting off a late charge from Maki Taninawa’s Sakura to hold on to the heat win, thrilling the assembled crowds as their local heroine crossed the line on top. Behind Taninawa, a wild battle ensued between Astelli’s Craig March and Okul’s Einar Poogen, with positions swapping back and forth seemingly every lap between the two, until Poogen ran wide on his joker lap, which allowed March to slip past and hold off Poogen for the last half lap of the heat. Championship leader Hsiu-Yinn Lim too found herself with all she could handle, with LATOY’s Timo Virtanen giving the Armada driver everything he could muster and then some.
Pablo Sanchez romped to victory in the third heat, Keeping Deer and Hunt Racing’s Hammond Hunter in the Shromet’s rear-view mirrors the entire race with ease. Alexander John Sierra struggled with grip on the dusty paved sections, finding himself well back in third place, and needing to race very defensively against Laurent Faust’s Zenshi Nimessa. Marika Kazan started strong in the JHW Lynx, but ran wide and damaged her car on Lap 2, spoiling the handling of her machine and letting a potentially excellent finish slip from her fingers.
The fourth heat saw a wild battle for the win, with Sylvester Landon in the #21 Isami and Yuki Fujishima in the #96 Kitanishi Develo going wheel-to-wheel into the first corner. Landon held on for the win after Fujishima ran wide on the first lap, letting NPV’s Mason Olsen slip past for second place shortly thereafter. Eino Vatanen finished eight-tenths behind in fourth place, holding off a hard-charging Maria Ramirez, who found that her Geschenk did not handle particularly well on the very tight and slippery joker section, to her chagrin.
Miguel Gonzalez of NEMW took the top spot in the final heat, and indeed the best time in the entire session, winning easily over TOBB’s Declan Slater after an accident felled much of the field on Lap 2. Pekka Heikkinen spun his Pepperbomb going into the second sector of the lap, and left Tom Powell and Joey Rogers nowhere to go but into the side of the Finn’s red hatchback. Battered and bruised, all three cars limped around to finish the race, with Heikkinen definitely taking the worst of it. Quentin LeTheou somehow managed to avoid the carnage and slipped past, finishing a cagey third in the heat.
Team Red Cock Energy wasted no time or effort getting Pekka Heikkinen’s Pepperbomb back into fighting form, the bright red car scarred and battered like an aged boxer as it lined up on the grid for the first heat of Q2. Not that it had any effect on the car’s performance, as Heikkinen put in a dazzling performance to win the heat easily, finishing a full ten seconds ahead of Tom Powell’s still-not-quite-fixed Seydel-GNG. Quentin LeTheou put considerable pressure on Powell ahead of him, though in the end the Flamers just wasn’t quite fast enough to get past the Seydel machine.
Phornsawan Sirisuk blasted out to the lead in the second heat, grabbing the top spot and not relinquishing it for the race, putting Bandit Borgwarnerson to shame nearly four seconds behind in second place. Marika Kazan drove a brilliant recovery race to third place in the heat, the difficulties of Q1 long since forgotten it seems, with a big gap between the JHW and Robert Field in fourth place.
Hsiu-Yinn Lim looked to be in top form finally after a rough Q1, the Chinese driver putting the #16 Armada on the top of the timesheet and absolutely dominating Alexander John Sierra’s Merciel Pixi, who finished second nearly ten seconds down on Lim. The HallFords Merciel driver had his hands more than full holding off Timo Virtanen’s LATOY, the Finn driving to a gutsy third place, a mere three-tenths of a second ahead of Kevin Michaels and Einar Poogen. Michaels and Poogen battled hard, with the KMC driver capitalising on Poogen’s first lap mistake to grab and hold the position for the rest of the heat.
Eric Meistermann built off of his decent Q1 showing, putting the #24 FAAL Coupe on the top of the timesheets for both heat and session, pipping Hsiu-Yinn Lim’s time by a mere two-tenths of a second. Maria Ramirez was grateful for an excellent start in the #129 Geschenk, as it proved to be what kept her out of an absolute dogfight for third place, as Craig March, Eino Vatanen and Hammond Hunter all scrambled to overtake one another from wire to wire.
Pablo Sanchez put the #52 Shromet on the top of the final heat, seven seconds ahead of second-place Sylvester Landon, who in a wild exchange of positions on the final lap, saw the Isami driver lose and then retake second place to NEMW’s Miguel Gonzalez. Mason Olsen, on the other hand, was not so lucky, with a last-minute mistake costing him fourth place as Ashlynn Morganstern sailed past the NPV with only a couple of corners left. Yuki Fujishima had a spectacular crash on Lap 3, spinning off the track while trying to put a move on Sylvester Landon, damaging the car and sending the Kitanishi Develo to the back of the pack.
Jaimz Scooby took the top spot in the first heat of Q3 easily over Jorg Ambuhl’s Abula R4, while Yuki Fujishima’s Kitanishi struggled with lingering suspension damage right at the back of the pack. Fujishima was disappointed with themselves after the heat, saying they spoiled an otherwise excellent race car by simply by trying to overdrive the car in Q2, and that they would have to think about their choice going forward.
Tom Powell put his battered but otherwise serviceable Seydel-GNG on the top of the second heat, good for P8 in the session in a reasonably competent recovery drive, finishing nearly ten seconds up on Albatross’ Joey Rogers and Oblong Wheels’ Robert Field, who held Rogers behind him all race until overrunning one of his braking points on his joker lap, allowing the American to slip past and take the place.
Craig March found himself at the top of the timesheet from the third heat, blowing off Timo Virtanen and Eino Vatanen, the Finnish duo battling hard for second place in the heat, which was won after Vatanen blundered on the final lap, allowing Virtanen’s LATOY to slip past and snatch the spot away from the Delta Motorsports driver. Einar Poogen held off Declan Slater for fourth in the heat, after Slater ran too wide on the final lap and let the Okul driver through.
Maria Ramirez shook off some of the difficulties she had in the first two rounds, putting together an excellent race to win the fourth heat in the Geschenk, five seconds ahead of a pitched battle that saw Alexander John Sierra roar past Sylvester Landon on the final lap to take second place by the narrowest of margins after the Isami driver’s front suspension partially collapse on the third lap. By the final lap, Miguel Gonzalez was challenging Landon ahead of him, and were the race even half a lap longer, the NEMW driver would have taken the spot easily.
Pekka Heikkinen showed why he is considered by many to be the class of the field in the final heat, winning in absolutely dominant fashion over Flamarbol’s Bandit Borgwarnerson, with a margin of nearly eight seconds at the line. Borgwarnerson and Shromet’s Pablo Sanchez thrilled the crowd, as the Flamarbol ran wide out of the second to last corner, and Sanchez got a tremendously good run out of the same corner, the two drivers in a frantic foot race to the finish, with Borgwarnerson holding on by a mere four-thousandths of a second. Hsiu-Yinn Lim slotted into fifth place in the heat, behind Eric Meistermann’s FAAL Coupe by a margin of six-tenths of a second.
The clouds began to build as the fourth and final session of the first day began, with large anvil clouds looming in the distance, the rumble of thunder competing with the roar of the engines. In what must have been a bittersweet reminder of what should have been today, Yuki Fujishima absolutely monstered the field in the first heat, finishing eleven seconds up on Mason Olsen to take the best time, a time that stood as the best in the session until the final heat. Alexander Krebs found himself second in the Likar Tixref, three seconds ahead of Clive Baker’s Westward in third place.
Robert Field avoided chaos in the second heat, slipping past a stalled-out Quentin LeTheou and a crashing Maki Taninawa to take the win, six seconds ahead of Jorg Ambuhl and good enough for a respectable P15 in the session. Joey Rogers gave chase to Ambhul ahead of him, but a mistake on Lap 3 sealed the spot for Ambuhl, and put the Albatross driver into the sights of Jaimz Scooby and Laurent Faust, who found themselves suddenly within striking distance of the American. Fortunately for Rogers, he put together a solid joker lap and retained his spot in the end.
The third heat saw Eino Vatanen run an absolutely tremendous race, getting out to an excellent start and not looking back for the remainder of the heat, fully eight seconds up on Ashlynn Morganstern’s Ars Eligos. The Canadian driver had a huge battle on her hands, with Kevin Michaels leading Morganstern after a disasterous joker lap on Lap 2, only to give that position back after a couple of inconsistent laps to close the race by the KMC driver. Einar Poogen and Timo Virtanen had a bit of a coming together on the third lap, damaging both cars slightly, in what can only be considered a forgettable weekend for the Okul team, which saw the usually consistent Okul NX fall into the 17th and final berth into the semi-finals tomorrow.
Phornsawan Sirisuk showed the rest of the field their potential in the fourth heat, winning easily over second-place Hsiu-Yinn Lim, the Chinese driver relaxed and largely unconcerned about her seeming lack of pace on the first day of the event. Sylvester Landon made a late charge on the final lap, getting to within half a second of Lim’s Armada, but in the end his car just wasn’t quite fast enough to do much more than that, settling for third place in the heat. Alexander John Sierra took full advantage when Miguel Gonzalez’s NEMW Nashoba ran wide on its joker lap, seemingly steered off the racing line by a tire rut, zipping past on the final lap and taking fourth place from the Puerto Rican driver, much to the chagrin of the hundreds of assembled NEMW employees and supporters.
Pekka Heikkinen made it two in a row, winning the final heat in dominant fashion over Bandit Borgwarnerson by a nearly ten-second margin. Pablo Sanchez’s Shromet matched the Flamarbol blow for blow, finishing only half a second behind the New Zealander in third place, while Eric Meistermann couldn’t put the power down on the final lap well enough to hold off Sanchez as he stormed through to take the spot away from the Frenchman. Craig March lost out on fifth place after a brutal mistake on his joker lap cost the Brit nearly a full second off his expected lap time, allowing Maria Ramirez to glide past with ease, relegating the Astelli Leopard to last place in the heat, but still finishing P10 overall.
Just as the final heat was ending, the skies opened up and absolutely deluged the track with rain, with the teams and fans alike scrambling for cover as a massive thunderstorm rolled through. As with the storm, the constant and remorseless pounding today saw Eric Meistermann take the top spot in the intermediate standings, putting the French driver in excellent stead for tomorrow.
However, a big cold front is forecast to roll through the area overnight, bringing with it cooler temperatures and a considerable amount of rain…and with the FAAL being notoriously tricky to drive in the wet, will Meistermann be able to hold on to win tomorrow, or will Pablo Sanchez take his first win of the season? Will either of the three championship leaders recover from disappointing showings on the first day to stand on the top step of the podium tomorrow afternoon?