Robert Pietsch is Top Qualifier for tomorrow’s 1:8 A-Main at Round 2 of the Euro Nitro Series in Austria. The Mugen driver claimed only his second ever ENS TQ when he topped the fifth & final round of qualifying at Aigen-Schlägl track ahead of a much improved Dario Balestri. Unfortunately for reigning champion Simon Kurzbuch, engine issues in the final two qualifiers meant he was unable to maintain his early dominant form and the Team Shepherd driver will start second on grid in the 45-minute final. Behind last year’s title rivals, Lars Hoppe will start his first ENS outing of the season from 3rd on the grid ahead of ENS Italy Top Qualifier and race runner-up Dario Balestri.
After a poor result at the season opener in Bologna, which he hopes will turn out to be his dropped round, Pietsch was pleased to get the bonus TQ championship point. The Mugen designer said the final qualifier was not as easy as it looked. While he knew Kurzbuch was out he said running close to Balestri he could see the Capricorn driver had improved a lot and he was going to have a tough fight with him. Pietsch’s observation in the warm-up was correct, the separation at the end of the 4-minutes just 0.030 of a second. Asked about the finals the 2011 World Champion said he planned to test a different chassis on his MRX-5 which he feels will better suit the low grip conditions over the longer race. Asked about tyre strategy the German said he didn’t think it would be as important as fuel strategy due to high tyre wear as everyone would have to change and it was ‘impossible to go long enough to save 1-tyre stop’. Describing the run time from his Picco engine as ‘very good’ he said this is were the advantage would be gained over the race.
‘Unlucky Dario didn’t get it’, that was Kurzbuch’s reaction after the final qualifier. Had Balestri pipped Pietsch it would have handed the Swiss ace the overall TQ but looking to the final Kurzbuch said ‘it is going to be a very exciting race’. Complimenting both Shepherd and Novarossi for giving him the pace to TQ two of the five qualifiers, he said in the end ‘I just had some bad luck and we missed out on the (overall) TQ’ but he is happy going into the final knowing he has the speed to race for the win. Having run the set-up on his Velox V8 unchanged throughout qualifying and most of practice, he said he would continue with this for the final highlighting that he would even continue with the same ride height.
Hoppe was very happy with his P3 starting position. His first big nitro race with ARC, he used the last qualifier to test for the final saying afterwards ‘I think we will have a great car and it should be a nice fight’. Feeling they are ‘perfectly prepared for the final’ in terms of tyre & fuel strategy he said his Reds Racing engine is very strong having both good power & run time. Of the 10 direct qualifiers, with the Top 2 from the B-Main set to bump up, ARC are the best represented car with Hoppe being joined by Shasa Lackner in P6, new signing Silivo Hachler P7 and last year’s race winner John Ermen P10.
Having looked somewhat dejected for most of the day, Balestri was rejuvenated after his Q5 performance. Having struggled to get his Capricorn to react to any set-up changes, raising the ride height of his C802 had transformed the car for the final qualifier with him posting the fastest lap. An ENS race winner in 1:10, he said the ride height he had been running was what he normally runs everywhere but the bumpy nature of the track here meant the suspension didn’t have enough travel. While the break through has come late, he said he was happy to know what the problem was adding tomorrow is a new day. One thing clear from the Italian’s body language was that its now game on in terms of challenging for the win tomorrow.
Having not made the final at the season opener in Bologna, Ielasi was ‘super happy’ with fifth on the grid especially the fact this is also his first race with his new WRC team. Posting the 3rd fastest time in Q4, a performance he put down to having his shocks rebuilt by HB’s Teemu Leino, the former 200mm World Champion said a change for Q5 was not so good. Planning to revert back to his previous set-up he said tyre tactics would be key to the final, the Italian adding ‘the wear is extreme’. Completing the direct A-Main qualifiers Serpent’s Merlin Depta will start 8th just ahead of the similar 977 of Tobias Kerler.