Coma RallyX de Espana, Day One (Qualifying Rounds)
ARXL sheds its parkas and mittens for warmer climes in sunny Catalunya, the pleasant, sunny weather a welcome relief to the drivers and teams alike after a hard weekend in the forests of Finland. With the fine weather forecast to continue all weekend long, the competitors are eager to prove that they have the pace to win the championship, while others are out to prove that the result in the first round was more than just a fluke.
The first round of qualifying began with a hell of a race, with Shromet’s Pablo Sanchez doing battle with Team Red Cock Energy’s Pekka Heikkinen for the top spot of the heat. Heikkinen had an excellent start, with Sanchez struggling to get the #52 Appalacian off the line, though with each successive lap, Sanchez closed the gap, but not enough in the end, the Finn taking the top spot by a tenth in a thrilling finish. Kevin Michaels led Jaimz Marshall off the line and through the first lap, but a sloppy joker cost him third place, allowing Marshall through for third place in the heat.
Heat two saw Merciel’s Matt Sierra romp to an easy victory over Yuki Fujishima in the #96 Kitanishi, the Brit ending the race with three-second margin over his Japanese rival. Aatto Virtanen initially had the edge over Fujishima, but a couple of sloppy errors cost the Finn a couple of seconds, finishing in third, well ahead of Marie-Claire Allemand, whose good form in Finland didn’t seem to be as evident here in Spain.
Charlie LeClair took the top spot in the final heat, just missing out on the high-water mark set by Heikkinen in the first heat by four-thousandths of a second. Delta Motorsports’ Eino Vatanen stormed to the lead on the start, but a succession of errors, combined with excellent race pace from LeClair saw the Frenchman reel in and overtake Vatanen on Lap 2, followed shortly by Hsiu-Yinn Lim in the #1 Armada, who seemed determined to prove that her ills in Finland were not representative of the rest of her season.
Yuki Fujishima put the #96 Kitanishi on the top spot of the timesheets in the first heat, snatching the top spot away from Aatto Virtanen in the #7 Haapala on the final lap, with good, consistent lapping and determination. Kevin Michaels tangled with Marie-Claire Allemand on the first lap, damaging his #63 machine in the process, and found himself not competitive in third, well ahead of Allemand bringing up the rear.
Hsiu-Yinn Limm stormed to an easy victory in the second heat, putting the #1 Armada at the top of the board for this session, fully three and a half seconds ahead of the #36 Merciel of Matt Sierra. Lim made an uncharacteristically good start, and never looked back, showing the true pace of the Pint to all. Jaimz Marshall squandered an excellent start with two messy laps to start the heat, finishing well back of Sierra in third, while Eino Vatanen contacted the wall on his joker lap, damaging the #4 Leopard RX and putting it out of contention in the heat.
Pekka Heikkinen got caught napping by Charlie LeClair on the final lap of the last heat, the Frenchman cheekily barging his way through to the heat win, seventeen-hundredths of a second ahead of the Finn at the line. A sloppy start by Pablo Sanchez in the Shromet proved to be the decisive margin for him, putting the American behind the other two right from the start, an outcome that didn’t unfortunately did not improve for the rest of the heat.
Eino Vatanen recovered from his messy second qualifying session, putting the Delta Motorsports machine to the top of the chart in the first heat of Q3, three seconds ahead of his fellow Finn Aatto Virtanen in the #7 Haapala. Virtanen looked strong from the start and through the first two laps, but inconsistent driving in the final two laps allowed Vatanen to slip past on his joker. Kevin Michaels found himself well off the pace, though still strong enough to finish ahead of the struggling Marie-Claire Allemand, the Monegasque finding the #707 Hwa Vigil to be lacking in pace overall.
Pablo Sanchez battled hard with Matt Sierra in the second race, overcoming a poor start with four nearly flawless laps to take the lead at the line, finishing half a second up on his British rival. Sierra ran out to an early lead, but trouble on his joker lap hobbled the #36 Merciel’s pace for the remainder of the heat. Yuki Fujishima made contact with Jaimz Marshall on the first lap, though while no damage was done to either car, the drivers were sufficiently rattled as to knock them off their game, finishing third and fourth respectively in the heat.
The final heat was one to remember, with a wild battle between Hsiu-Yinn Lim, Charlie LeClair and Pekka Heikkinen, all three cars trading paint and bashing doors in a wild affair that saw virtually nothing between the three. Though the racing was hard, it was generally clean, with everyone giving the others enough room to race and not a millimetre more. Ultimately it came down to a drag race out of the final corner, with the #1 Armada getting ever-so-slightly better traction to edge ahead of LeClair, finishing eight-hundredths up on the young Frenchman, and a tenth up on Pekka Heikkinen.
Jaimz Marshall took the top spot in the first heat, just squeaking the FMR HiWay into Day 2 by the narrowest of margins. Aatto Virtanen in the Haapala started strong, but found himself in trouble again on the tricky joker lap, damaging his car and spoiling is race. In spite of this, Virtanen still managed to keep ahead of Kevin Michaels, keeping his slim semi-finals hopes alive in doing so. Marie-Claire Allemand brought up the rear of the heat, frustrated that her Hwa just wasn’t up to the measure of the others.
Matt Sierra made an explosive start in the second heat, recording the best start time of the entire session to propel him to the top of the charts over Pablo Sanchez, who struggled on his joker lap and ran inconsistently after that, to finish well back of the Merciel in second place. Contact between Eino Vatanen and Yuki Fujishima spoiled Vatanen’s race, the Finn complaining of a severe tire rub after having his rear quarter panel buckled by the impact from the #96 Kitanishi.
Hsiu-Yinn Lim put the #1 Armada on the top of the timing sheets once again, the defending champion looking ever more like a contender once again with a stellar final heat, finishing well clear of Pekka Heikkinen in second place, and a sloppy Charlie LeClair in third, the Frenchman never quite finding the rhythm needed to keep up with either of the other two cars in the heat.
The first qualifying session of League One began with an explosive performance by Gnoo Dadspeed’s Alison Wondersley, the Brit absolutely dominating the first race with a ten-second margin of victory over Reiko Nagase in second place. Nagase overcame a poor start and tentative first lap to edge out the #73 Roundhaas Racing entry of Amanda Huuginkis. Job Van Uitert had a race to forget, getting hit hard by Huuginkis from behind on Lap 2, damaging the #83 Autodelta Hinde and putting it out of contention in the heat, just behind Kazuki’s Mikah Jameson, but well ahead of Kenji Nishida’s Hana Raiden.
Riley Phillips recovered from his Finnish “weekend to forget” in the second heat, putting the #94 ZRD Prototype right at the top of the timesheets, and indeed ahead of everyone else in the field save Wondersley with a nearly flawless drive. Motorpop’s Sabine Weber found second place in the heat, in spite of a poor start and a couple of errors to boot, keeping Rena Hayami almost two seconds behind at the line, after the Wade Racing driver struggled to find consistent pace in her #76 Monster. Mulle Meck and William Cunningham made it an exciting race between them, the American overcoming a poor start to place himself a tenth behind the #777 Skog Sport at the line, while Gus Block found the going very challenging indeed, the pace he wanted from his car just not there this first race.
Stefan Banach took the top time in the third heat, starting strong over My Heart Is Racing’s Elaine Eisenberg and never looking back the entire race. After a ferocious battle the entire race, Daylily’s Saki Mochizuki took second in the heat over Dominic Andrew-Scott’s Bramhall, the two drivers swapping places several times, and finishing a mere four-thousandths of a second apart at the chequered flag! Duncan Duff damaged the suspension in his #404 Mons on the first lap, putting him well behind the rest of the field.
The final heat of Q1 saw Elin Arbez battle Martin Bayer for the top spot in the heat, with the New Zealander just edging into the top spot, after Bayer struggled to make up time following a somewhat lacklustre start. Round 1 winner Feihong Luo also struggled on the start, the #26 Huangdou bogging down hard and never really recovering from such a poor start. Markus Hutter and Harry Davies traded paint on the start, knocking wheels and damaging suspension parts in the process, slowing their cars considerably and falling well out of contention.
William Cunningham found himself at the front of the field in the first heat, nearly two seconds ahead of a roaring battle between Mulle Meck and Gus Block, the Swede overcoming a lacking start in the #777 Skog Sport Shinrin to overtake Block on Lap 3, after the American driver ran wide and let Meck through for second place. Kenji Nishida drove a sparkling joker, which proved to be the margin over Markus Hutter behind him, while Harry Davies continued to struggle with a car that was just not quite right in the handling department, placing the #34 Knightwick at the back of the pack.
Job Van Uitert regained his lost form from Q1, putting the Autodelta at the top of the timesheet for the second heat, three seconds clear of Saki Mochizuki. The Japanese driver once again found themselves in a feverish battle with Southark Racing’s Dominic Andrew-Scott, again only a nose separating the two drivers at the finish line, to the delight of the assembled crowds here in Barcelona. Rena Hayami found themselves in the fray as well, but a couple of mistakes put a couple of car lengths between the #91 Bramhall and the #76 Wade Monster. Duncan Duff’s car was fixed in time for Q2, and he put on a show to beat out Mikah Jameson, overcoming a poor start to beat the Brit by three quarters of a second.
Elaine Eisenberg took the best time of the third heat, finishing a second and a half up on Motorpop’s Sabine Weber. Reiko Nagase took third in the heat, holding off a hard-charging Feihong Luo, who drove hard to close the gap between the #10 Nagase and the #26 Huangdou, but the poor start from Luo was just too much to overcome in the four laps. Yinzer’s Amanda Huuginkis ran wide on the first lap while attempting to overtake Luo, damaging her car in the process and relgating the #73 Lamprey to the back of the pack.
Elin Arbez took the top spot in the final heat, and indeed the session, after a thrilling race, a mere second and a half separating Arbez in first, to Martin Bayer at the rear of the pack. Alison Wondersley and Riley Philips roared out to the front of the pack, but Arbez’s gamble to take the joker on the first lap proved to be the right one, giving her clear air to run as hard as she could for the rest of the race, and giving her most of the half-second advantage she enjoyed over Wondersley at the chequered flag. Stefan Banach showed glimpses of his considerable pace, but was inconsistent on Lap 2 and 4, making a couple of costly errors that might have ended up taking him down a position or two, and finishing just inches ahead of Martin Bayer, the cool and collected German always in waiting to capitalise on any mistakes his rivals might make.
Mikah Jameson found both pace and inspiration in quantity during the first heat of Q3, starting strong and never looking back to take the best time of the heat, fully five seconds ahead of Mulle Meck’s Shinrin. the #77 of Kenji Nishida and the #34 of Harry Davies traded paint with SWISSRA’s Markus Hutter, with Nishida just edging out the other two for the third-best time of the heat. Gus Block started strong, but a sloppy joker lap cost him precious seconds, putting him at the back of the pack in the first heat.
Rena Hayami took the top time in the second heat, running a nearly-perfect race in the #76 Wade Racing machine, to finish a second and a half up on Amanda Huuginkis. Dominic Andrew-Scott came third in the #91 Bramhall Vixen, his usual sparring partner in the form of Saki Mochizuki getting caught up in an incident at the start involving the #404 of Duncan Duff, the Japanese driver finishing a car length behind William Cunningham, and with Duff rounding out the rear of the field.
Elaine Eisenberg made it two in a row in the third heat, winning easily over the pair of Job Van Uitert and Sabine Weber, the Dutchman eking out second place over the German by three-thousandths of a second, in a thrilling, but incident-free race, that had the crowd standing in anticipation of the result. Feihong Luo and Reiko Nagase found themselves playing mind games with one another, the two drivers less than impressed with each other in the paddock after the race ended, each accusing the other of driving dirty. Though no contact was made, it remains to be seen what happens between these two in the final session…
The final heat of Q3 once again proved to be a thriller, with Elin Arbez taking the top spot once again, this time with only a bumper ahead of Gnoo’s Alison Wondersley. One has to wonder, how hard these two have been racing all weekend, just how long it can stay clean between them? Riley Phillips decided that prudence was the best course of action here, and hung back a ways from the two front-runners in the hope of a mistake, which never really materialised. Stefan Banach, however, made that mistake, a clean race in the #42 OBRSO squandered on the joker lap, which let both Phillips through as well as Martin Bayer’s Cisalpina, the Polish driver scrambling to try and regain places to no avail.
Gus Block took the top time in the first heat, even after a somewhat lackluster start put him fourth in the group. Duncan Duff edged out Mulle Meck on the final lap, with a spectacular pass going into the first corner to take second in the heat, while contact on the start between Markus Hutter and Harry Davies spoiled their respective races, Hutter finishing in fourth and Davies in sixth. Kenji Nishida finished fifth in the heat, a somewhat disappointing result for the Sparkling Machine Plus team all in all.
Saki Mochizuki took the top time in the second heat, after contact on the first lap spoiled the races of Rena Hayami, Dominic Andrew-Scott and Mika Jameson, all three drivers getting tangled up in an incident that thankfully was nowhere near as bad as it could have been. Amanda Huuginkis avoided the drama entirely, driving a clean race enroute to a second-place finish in the heat.
Elaine Eisenberg took the top spot in race three once again, securing her spot in the semi-finals easily, and finishing well clear of the pitched battle between the #55 Motorpop of Sabine Weber and the #83 Autodelta of Job Van Uitert, who finished again within a fraction of a second of one another. Feihong Luo was again plagued by a poor start, and once recovered found themselves held up by a slow-moving Reiko Nagase. Only after taking the joker on the final lap was the Huangdou finally free to run at speed, putting almost a second on the Nagase in doing so.
Alison Wondersley denied both Riley Phillips and Elin Arbez the chance at the best time of the session, after another absolutely scintillating drive, the #7 Gnoo finishing nearly half a second ahead of its two very close rivals. Arbez kept Phillips honest on the last lap, when the young Brit ran a bit wide and lost crucial tenths to the New Zealander behind, just holding on by the narrowest of margins to finish second. Martin Bayer and Stefan Banach this time were the vultures, playing the waiting game behind the front-runners in the hopes of capitalising on a mistake that, unfortunately for them, just didn’t happen; the German finishing fourth, and the Pole in fifth.
The two Carinas - Meister and Flannagan - dominated the first heat of the first qualifying session, the German starting strong and overcoming a sloppy second lap, putting the #3 Evgenis Valkyrie on the top of the timesheet in the heat - and indeed the session - three tenths up on Carina Flannagan in the #63 Valkyrie. Contact between Kenneth Visser and Tsubasa Arima on the final lap spoiled their races, the young Japanese driver being knocked well off line by the Dutchman and putting her a distant fourth.
Bruce Mooseview led for most of the second heat in the #32 FABEL, but a sloppy joker lap spoiled his race, with the #599 Kadett of Chizuru Mizuhara able to power past and take the win by a quarter of a second. Ralliheart’s Riku Jokinen struggled with consistency in third place, while contact with the wall on his joker lap spoiled an excellent start by Charlie Martin in the #84 Autodelta Kadett.
Kenneth Visser overcame an atrocious start in the first heat, putting together four flawless laps to just edge out Charlie Martin at the line by a quarter of a second, the Dutchman looking in fine form after being a little lost in his Q1 performance. Tsubasa Arima struggled with handling issues in the #47 Kadett, while Riku Jokinen had a race to forget, having to take evasive action on the start and struggling to regain their composure for the rest of the race.
Karina Meister made it two for two in qualifying, topping the charts again with an excellent drive in the #3 OHO Racing Evgenis. Two inconsistent laps spoiled Carina Flannagan’s race, being the margin of victory and then some for Meister ahead, while Bruce Mooseview in third place found himself doing everything he could to defend against the faster Chizuru Mizuhara behind him, only letting up after the #599 driver made a mistake on the joker and lost a critical amount of time in doing so.
Chizuru Mizuhara took the top honour in the first heat of Q3, the young Japanese driver happy with putting together their best race to date, keeping Charlie Martin and Tsubasa Arima behind them easily. Arima again looked inconsistent in their race, seemingly a little unhappy with their car, while Riku Jokinen squandered an excellent start with sloppy driving, finishing well back in fourth.
Kaina Meister proved to be the master of the timesheets once again, finishing just ahead of Carina Flannagan once again, the margin for victory being no more than a bumper at the line. Kenneth Visser stalled out on the starting line, but was able to recover with four excellent laps, though by that point the damage was done, with the Dutchman unable to finally reel in Bruce Mooseview’s FABEL by the chequered flag.
Bruce Mooseview made an excellent start in the first heat, nosing ahead of Tsubasa Arima and staying there the entire race, the #32 FABEL finally showing its pace after three inconsistent sessions. Kenneth Visser again struggled at the start, but made a go of it once again on Arima, the Dutchman sure to have taken second place from the #47 Kadett, were only the finish line another hundred metres down the track. Ralliheart’s Riku Jokinen looked to be in better form as well, putting together a decent start and four reasonably consistent laps, though still finding themselves a bit off the pace.
Karina Meister ran the table in qualifying, finishing top of the heap once again in a thrilling battle with Carina Flannagan, the Buy 2 Get 1 Free driver only making a mistake on the first lap, which was sadly enough to put her P2 once again behind the German phenom. Chizuru Mizuhara looked sharp in her race, putting pressure on the two front runners continuously, while Charlie Martin had a big off on Lap 2, rattling the confidence of the young Brit, putting him three quarters of a second behind Mizuhara to bring up the rear.