Fujisaki Tires RX of South Africa, Day One (Qualifying Rounds)
Cloudy skies were on order for the penultimate round of the ARXL Championship here at Killarney Raceway in South Africa, a very light drizzle just lightly dampening the track. The drizzle did nothing to dampen the spirits of the fans and competitors alike, with all three championships very much undecided at the start of Day One.
A thrilling race to begin the Premier League action in Q1, with Haapala’s Aatto Virtanen making an excellent start, and a solid final lap to beat Shromet’s Pablo Sanchez to the top time by less than a second. Defending champion Hsiu-Yinn Lim got caught behind Marie-Claire Allemand after a very poor start, and a difficult first lap for the Chinese driver. Lim was only able to get ahead - and stay ahead - of Allemand on the final lap, finishing a mere one hundredth of a second ahead.
Championship leader Matt Sierra romped to the top time in the second heat, finishing some two seconds ahead of KMC’s Kevin Michaels in second place. Michaels made an awful start, but recovered commendably to take second place over Pekka Heikkinen in the #80 Team Red Cock Pepperbomb. Jaimz Marshall had a stumble on the start and never quite recovered from it, to finish in fourth place.
Yuki Fujishima took the top mark in the final heat, sneaking past Charlie LeClair’s Kuma on Lap 3 to take, and ultimately hold, the lead in the heat. Eino Vatanen had an excellent race, save for one big mistake on his joker lap that cost him dearly; the Delta Motorsports driver was leading the pack at the time, but running wide allowed both LeClair and Fujishima through for position.
Eino Vatanen, still stinging from his difficult Q1 race, stormed to the top of the sheets in the first heat of Q2, finishing some seven seconds ahead of Hsiu-Yinn Lim, the Armada driver struggling on the greasy track with traction issues. In spite of this, Lim still managed to stay well ahead of FMR’s Jaimz Marshall, who struggled to find pace all race long, with Marie-Claire Allemand bringing up the rear, having had a bit of a bump on Lap 3 to damage the #707 Hwa Vigil.
Yuki Fujishima took the top time once again in the second race, setting the high water mark well clear of Pekka Heikkinen in second place. Heikkinen looked a lot sharper in this session, starting decisively and sailing past Charlie LeClair easily, then continuing to put up four solid laps to finish second. LeClair had a difficult joker lap, overcooking the hairpin corner a little bit and running wide, causing the French driver to lose precious time to Heikkinen ahead. Pablo Sanchez had a difficult race, brushing the barriers on a careless first lap and damaging the #52 Shromet slightly, dashing his hopes of a top time in the heat.
Matt Sierra ran away with the final heat, finishing some nine seconds ahead of Aatto Virtanen in second place, and just missing out on Fujishima’s time from the previous heat for the top overall. Virtanen made an excellent start but ran into trouble shortly after on his joker lap, dashing his hopes of catching Sierra ahead. Kevin Michaels struggled on the start, spinning his wheels on the greasy surface and finding himself at the back of the pack, with seemingly no answers to the pace of his fellow competitors.
Pablo Sanchez mounted a commendable recovery from two difficult results prior in the first heat of Q3, making a strong start and four clean laps to easily take the top time in the heat. Jaimz Marshall finished second, some nine seconds back, pulling away sharply from Kevin Michaels on the final lap to cement his position. Marie-Claire Allemand rounded out the field, well back in fourth place.
Pekka Heikkinen showed his enormous skill i nthe second race, the first driver to dive under three minutes in a qualifying heat this weekend, putting the #80 Pepperbomb far out of reach of second-place Charlie LeClair. LeClair had a commendable race, recovering from a bit of a difficult start to walk past Haapala’s Aatto Virtanen easily on the first lap, then stretch the gap over the Finn each subsequent lap with some stellar driving. Hsiu-Yinn Lim languished behind Virtanen all race, the struggles continuing in the #1 Armada Pint as Lim battled lack of traction and the very experienced Virtanen alike, making overtaking a very difficult proposition indeed for the Chinese star.
Matt Sierra was the very model of consistency in the final heat, making a clean start to begin his race and never looking back, taking the top time easily over Yuki Fujishima and Eino Vatanen. Vatanen battled ferociously with Fujishima, trading places several times over the four laps. Ultimately Fujishima found her edge on the first couple of laps, where the Kitanishi was just a little bit faster than the Delta Motors Leopard was.
Hsiu-Yinn Lim, no doubt feeling her championship defense slipping away with each heat this weekend, drove the race of her life to top the times in the first heat of Q4, walking away from Jaimz Marshall in second place easily. Marshall had a difficult race of his own, finding the greasy track to be a particular challenge for his first two laps, making several mistakes that put him far behind Lim. Marie-Claire Allemand finished third, some ways behind Marshall, after squandering an excellent start. Kevin Michaels rounded out the field in fourth place, having run into trouble on his first couple of laps as well.
Eino Vatanen took the top time in the second heat easily, some four seconds ahead of SCH minMAX’s Charlie LeClair in an incident-filled heat. Vatanen and LeClair ran relatively cleanly, but both Haapala’s Aatto Virtanen and Yuki Fujishima found the barriers - twice in the case of Fujishima - to put a dent in their races respectively. Ultimately Virtanen finished third, well ahead of Fujishima’s battered Kitanishi, the result somewhat irrelevant in the end, both drivers virtually being guaranteed a spot in Day Two.
Pekka Heikkinen made it two in a row, nearly matching his time from the previous session to take the easy top time in the final heat. Matt Sierra got a tremendously good start, but was unable to hold the Finn back with Heikkinen dipping into the fourty-two second range for his main laps, a pace that neither Sierra nor third-place Pablo Sanchez could hope to follow.
Daylily’s Saki Mochizuki threw down the gauntlet in the first heat, putting together a spectacular race to finish top of the timesheets. Ace Racing’s Reiko Nagase had no answer to Mochizuki’s incredible pace ahead, finishing some two seconds back in second place. A messy joker lap didn’t do anything to hamper William Cunningham in third place, still managing to squeak out the position ahead of Autodelta’s Job Van Uitert in fourth. Elin Arbez had a tough race in fifth place, the current points leader struggling to make any kind of progress overtaking the crafty Van Uitert, every advance by Arbez quickly and deftly brushed off by the crafty Dutchman. Riley Phillips had a race to forget in sixth place, a rough start followed by a very difficult first lap, the small mistakes adding up to a huge difference in the standings.
Duncan Duff erased the tough memories of Germany with an excellent start to his weekend in the second heat, topping the timesheets ahead of Mikah Jameson, some three seconds behind. Jameson was embroiled in a spectacular race with Harry Davies, the two drivers swapping places a couple of times during the race. A bit of a wobble on the final lap by Jameson had Davies smelling blood, closing rapidly on Jameson in the final dash to the line. In the end, Jameson took the position by a mere twelve thousandths of a second, in a thrilling finish. Rena Hayami hung back in fourth place, feeling safety might be the best course of action as she watched Jameson and Davies duke it out ahead. Martin Bayer languished in fifth place in the heat, the German opting for a cautious approach to the first heat along with Gnoo Dadsport’s Alison Wondersley, close behind in sixth.
Mulle Meck surprised with the top time in the third heat, the #777 Shinrin looking strong as he finished a full second ahead of Feihong Luo in the #26 Huangdou Sprite. Kenji Nishida largely kept to himself in third place, opting for a cautious strategy to try to ensure a spot in Day Two, while Markus Hutter finished fourth, languishing well back of Nishida as the Swiss driver struggled to keep up. Sabine Weber had to deal with a slow puncture, slowing the #55 Motorpop considerably and relegating her to the back of the pack.
Dominic Andrew-Scott gave Southark Racing something to cheer about, taking the top time in the fourth heat after a wild four-way battle for position. OBRSO’s Stefan Banach and Gus Block got the jump on the rest of the field at the start, but a clever call by Andrew-Scott to take his joker on the first lap gave him clear track to thunder ahead, building up a third of a second on the rest of the field, a margin that wouldn’t fully be realised until the final lap. Amanda Huuginkis ran a solid race right up until the final lap, where the Yinzer driver ran wide in one corner, allowing Banach through immediately, followed shortly by Block, who won the drag race to the finish line by the narrowest of margins. Elaine Eisenberg got punted by Nagase on their joker lap, upsetting the #598 EFI Soma and putting her half a second back of Huuginkis, seemingly an eternity in this very close race.
A thrilling race in the first heat of Q2 saw Alison Wondersley overcome a rather poor start to beat Martin Bayer by a fraction of a second at the line. Bayer looked like he had the measure of Wondersley for the first lap, but a sloppy joker lap negated much of the advantage he held, a trend that continued for final two laps. Wondersley emerged from her joker a couple of car lengths ahead of Bayer, an advantage she held to the end. Riley Phillips took third in the heat, capitalising on a big mistake by Rena Hayami on her final lap to snatch the position for himself. Sabine Weber too smelled blood in the water on the final lap, putting the #55 Motorpop right on the rear bumper of Hayami for the last half of the final lap. Markus Hutter had a difficult race, struggling to keep up with the rest of the field, finishing well back in sixth place.
Elin Arbez recovered from an uncharacteristically weak Q1 showing, taking the top time in the second heat as she once again showed the pace befitting the championship leader. Mikah Jameson emerged the best of a fierce battle between Elaine Eisenberg and Job Van Uitert; Jameson was the fastest of the three, but a big mistake on his joker lap completely negated his advantage over Eisenberg and Van Uitert, who had virtually nothing between them. William Cunningham followed shortly thereafter, not quite up to the measure of the frontrunners in the race, while Harry Davies brought up the rear, struggling to keep up with the rest.
Stefan Banach romped to the top time in the third heat, some ten seconds ahead of Gus Block in second place. Reiko Nagase and Amanda Huuginkis had coming-together on their first lap as they fought for position going into the first corner, damaging both cars and dashing their hopes of a heat victory in this round at least, while Sparkling Machine’s Kenji Nishida languished at the back of the pack, unable to capitalise on the issues of the drivers ahead of him.
Mulle Meck made it an improbable two for two, beating Dominic Andrew-Scott in the final heat by a hefty margin. Saki Mochizuki came out of a gaggle of cars to take third place, slipping past both Feihong Luo and Duncan Duff as both drivers got tangled up with one another in their joker lap, allowing the Daylily driver to sail through uncontested to take the position. Luo finished fourth, recovering nicely, while Duff crossed the line fifth, right on Luo’s rear bumper.
Reiko Nagase stormed to the top time in the first heat of Q3, easily beating the rest of the competitors in the race with her. Duncan Duff and Amanda Huuginkis continued their battles from the prior race, with Duff getting the best of Huuginkis on the last lap with an absolutely flawless lap, leaving the Yinzer driver dumbfounded as to how to keep up. Harry Davies beat Kenji Nishida in a chaotic battle for fourth place, with Nishida leading the pair into the final lap, only to run wide at Turn 4, letting Davies through easily. Davies then had a wobble on the final corner, letting Nishida back into the race and making the final dash to the finish a wild drag race, with Nishida just missing out on taking the position by mere metres. Markus Hutter rounded out the field in sixth place, two seconds back of Nishida.
Elaine Eisenberg ran a mostly clean race to mop up the field in the second heat, a big off-track excursion on her final lap being the only serious blemish on the race for the Swiss driver. Feihong Luo had no real answers to Eisenberg’s pace, plus he had to contend with a rear-view mirror full of Saki Mochizuki’s Daylily as well. Only on the last lap, where Mochizuki had a bit of a rough joker, did Luo finally get some breathing room behind him. Gus Block and Job Van Uitert were right behind Luo at the line, after struggling with the deceptive nature of the tricky joker section; both Block and Van Uitert were well ahead of Luo before spinning or running very wide. William Cunningham rounded out the field in sixth place, some three seconds back from Van Uitert.
Dominic Andrew-Scott had a fantastic race in the third heat, putting the #91 Bramhall four and a half seconds clear of Riley Phillips in the #94 Zephorus. Phillips and Mikah Jameson had a tough race against each other, with Phillips working his way past Jameson on the second lap, following a tremendous start by the Kazuki driver. Phillips also kept his cool under pressure by Jameson, trying to force the overtake right up until he ran wide on his final lap. Rena Hayami was close behind Phillips and Jameson, but wasn’t much of an overtaking threat to either, the Wade Racing driver settling in for a close fourth place. Sabine Weber had a difficult race, spinning on her final lap, and generally overdriving the car too much, putting the #55 Motorpop in fifth place.
Elin Arbez had a tremendous race to put the #62 Morton Teo on top in the final heat, running just fast enough to be well clear of a wild battle between Martin Bayer, Alison Wondersley and Stefan Banach. Banach and Bayer got away cleanly at the start, while Wondersley bogged down, finding herself dead last at the start of the first lap. As she often does in these situations, Wondersley got to work, driving the metaphorical wheels off the #7 Gnoo Goblin to overtake Mulle Meck - who faded rapidly after a good start to finish fifth - and Stefan Banach shortly thereafter, putting her car right on the rear bumper of Bayer in front. Unfortunately the race was just a lap too short for Wondersley, unable to get past Bayer by the line.
Amanda Huuginkis took the top time in the first heat of Q4, finishing some twelve seconds ahead of William Cunningham in second place. Cunningham was the best of the rest of the field, closely bunched together at the line; barely two seconds separated Cunningham in second from Markus Hutter in sixth place. Harry Davies overcame a bit of a rough start to finish third in the heat, passing Kenji Nishida on the final lap, leaving the Sparkling Machine driver just a bit short at the line in spite of an excellent final lap. Markus Hutter lost out to Duncan Duff on their joker lap, the SWISSRA driver running just a little wide and letting Duff through for fifth place.
Job Van Uitert shook off his struggles of the first three qualifying sessions, topping the charts in the second heat easily over Gus Block, the Dutchman nearly two seconds ahead at the line. Feihong Luo recovered from a rough start to finish third, while Sabine Weber just pipped Mulle Meck to take fourth place. Weber had a bit of a moment on her final lap, letting Meck get very close indeed, eight thousandths of a second separating the two drivers at the line. Saki Mochizuki hit the barriers on Lap 3, damaging her car significantly and putting her well back in fifth place, dashing Daylily Motorsports’ hopes of a Day Two berth.
Riley Phillips topped the timesheets in the third heat, after a nail-biting race with Mikah Jameson in second place. Jameson had more pace than Phillips for the entire race, but Phillips was the more consistent driver, a point driven home on Lap 3 when Jameson had an off on his joker lap, letting Phillips through for the position. Stefan Banach had a bit of an off race, getting stuck behind Rena Hayami for most of the race and not finding away past until the final lap, where Hayami became the latest victim of the tricky joker section. Elaine Eisenberg’s luck was not with her in this race, damaging her car on the start and limping home, a distant fifth.
Elin Arbez made a statement in the final heat, finishing some eight seconds clear of Martin Bayer in second place. Bayer was once again deep into a big battle with Alison Wondersley and Reiko Nagase. Wondersley again overcame a poor start with four excellent laps, but again ended up falling just short of Bayer on the final lap. Reiko Nagase tried to make it interesting on the last lap with a very good, clean lap, but it wasn’t quite enough to catch Wondersley ahead, but it was enough to pull clear of Dominic Andrew-Scott in fifth place.
Ken Visser made a strong statement in the first qualifying heat, taking the top time easily over Carina Flannagan. Flannagan made a stronger start than Visser did, but the joker lap was not kind to the New Zealander, a wobble from Flannagan putting her behind Visser for the rest of the race. Chizuru Mizuhara ran an uneventful race behind in third, while Riku Jokinen rounded out the field some ways back, having brushed the barriers on his first lap.
Charlie Martin took the top time in the second heat, the race a little bit on the slow side following Martin’s rather defensive driving style. Tsubasa Arima and Bruce Mooseview followed in second and third place, both drivers struggling to get even so much as a sniff against Martin ahead, while Karina Meister suffered suspension damage on the start after bumping Mooseview, slowing the progress of the #3 Evgenis.
The issues Karina Meister ended up with following her collision in Q1 were minor, the German topping the timesheets in the first heat easily, a second and a half up on Tsubasa Arima in second place. Arima ran a clean race without much difficulty, just down on pace, while Bruce Mooseview and Riku Jokinen suffered from some lingering issues from their Q1 incidents still, with Mooseview just trailing Jokinen in third.
Charlie Martin ran a clean, largely uncontested race in the second heat, outlasting Carina Flannagan in the first lap to take the lead and steadily walk away with it. Ken Visser had a bit of a rough start, and some minor mistakes to follow in his race, finishing third ahead of Chizuru Mizuhara, the #599 Kadett driver struggling to put down consistent laptimes.
Bruce Mooseview edged out the rest of the field to take the top time in the first heat of Q3, a big mess occurring on the final lap when everyone in the heat was forced to take the joker lap. None of the jokers were particularly clean, with Mooseview’s being the best of the lot and being the difference maker for the #32 FABEL. Chizuru Mizuhara finished a very close second to Mooseview, with Ken Visser bump-drafting Mizuhara’s Kadett across the line in a wild finish. Riku Jokinen fumbled from the start and did not recover, crossing the line nearly a full second behind Visser in fourth.
Charlie Martin made an enormous start in the second heat, monstering the rest of the grid into the first lap, and gaining a lead he would not relinquish, finishing a half a second ahead of Karina Meister. Tsubasa Arima also started well, but a nasty moment on her joker lap put her behind Meister in third, with the #63 Evgenis of Carina Flannagan breathing down her neck in fourth.
Chizuru Mizurhara returned the favour to Ken Visser in the first heat of the final qualifying session, keeping a hard-charging Bruce Mooseview out of the way on the first lap and letting the Dutchman build a lead freely to ultimately win the heat, with Mizuhara coming in second. Mooseview fell back considerably on Lap 3, the latest in the long line of drivers making mistakes on the joker section. Riku Jokinen did not, however, make a mistake on the joker, instead finding the #74 Evgenis to be well off the pace instead.
Karina Meister took the top time in the final heat, snapping up the lead on Lap 3 from Charlie Martin, then holding on for dear life as Martin pressured Meister immensely to try and force the error, which never happened ultimately. Carina Flannagan finished third, a second and a half back from Martin, having taken the place from Tsubasa Arima on the final lap. Arima ran strong until her joker, where she too made a mistake and ran wide, letting Flannagan slip past for third place.