ETS ROUND 5
JUNE 16-18 TRENCIN, SLOVAKIA
The Euro Touring Series travelled to Slovakia for its fifth round and while it is officially the Summer in Europe that memo appears to have never reached those in change of the weather over the city. After claiming the first international title for Infinity with his win at the Reedy Race of Champions followed by a sun holiday, Marc was in confident form despite the Hudy Arena being extra challenging given whose home track it is. Fresh from taking his first win with the team when he led a 1-2 ahead of Akio at the second round of the CETC in Xiamen the previous weekend, Naoto was also upbeat about the chances of a good result at the ETS.
After a day of testing on Wednesday in Vienna while en route to Trencin, Thursday’s free practice at the Hudy Arena would be run in sunny conditions. With 6 runs over the day, it was Marc who set the pace ahead of Bruno Coelho while Naoto completed the Top 3. With Akio in 6th it was a very encouraging start to the weekend. Going to bed having basked in the sun all day, the team would wake to a very wet morning and a day that would test their patience. Waiting for the track to dry, it taking two attempts as further rain fell, once dry enough drivers would finally get back on track with a 3-minute practice run to get the track back up to speed so qualifying could finally get underway. Getting 9 heats in the 27 of the first qualifier, the rain returned and while a second attempt was made to dry it, the track wouldn’t be suitable to race on and time was called on the day.
Saturday morning would be a repeat of the previous day with drivers having to play the waiting game once more as they arrived to a wet track but eventually qualifying would get underway. Naoto was right on it putting in an impressive run to set the second fastest time. While feeling his car was not as dialled in for the cooler conditions as it had been on Thursday, Marc, even with a mistake, was fourth fastest with Akio 10th. With the worldwide gathering of drivers happy to have finally got some meaningful driving in the books, just as the second round of qualifying started the rain was back and ultimately the day was done.
With Sunday’s weather showing dry conditions from first light, the organisers decided to get in a second round of qualifying ahead of the finals meaning an extra early start for the team. Marc would improve on Q1 with the 3rd fastest time for the round but would remain 4th on the grid. Akio also improved with the 6th fastest time for Q2 to move up to 8th on the grid, each driver’s best points finish of the two rounds determining the starting order. Having made a change to his set-up for Q2, Naoto had a difficult second qualifier but his Q1 result would give him 3rd on the grid - his best ever ETS qualifying result.
For the first of the triple finals Naoto would revert back to his Q1 set-up and come good on his starting position to find a way passed the No.2 starting Alexander Hagberg. Delighted with his 2nd and the performance of his IF14, Naoto was also a little frustrated at having been stuck behind Alexander for so long as he didn't get the opportunity to challenge Top Qualifier Bruno Coelho. Unfortunately for Marc, suffering a spin on the curbing he would be collected by Akio putting him out on the spot while thankfully Akio could continue to get 6th. A2 was looking like a similar race with Naoto piling the pressure on Alexander but with a minute to go they touched with Naoto fairing worst and dropping two places. Leaving Marc to take up the Infinity challenge, he would finish 3rd with Naoto 5th and Akio 7th.
With newly re-crowned ETS Champion Bruno able to sit out the concluding final having wrapped up the overall win in A2, it was all to play for in terms of the other podium positions. Again Naoto would run all over the rear wing of Alexander but he managed to keep the door shut for the 5-minutes. 2nd in A3 would secure Naoto 3rd overall, his first ever ETS podium finish. Delighted to be on the podium, he was quick to attribute this confidence boosting result to the input of IF14 designer & his mechanic Kotonori Fujiwara. Marc would end up fourth overall with Akio improving on his starting position to finish 7th. While mentally a challenging weekend for the drivers due to the rain delays, it was another great effort from our EP team. Rejuvenated by his performance, the season finale of the ETS cannot come quick enough for Naoto. He will use the 6-week gap before the championship makes its first visit to Ettlingen in Germany to test & build on his new found confidence within the team and with the IF14.