After two years of enjoying our reign as World Champions, the time had come around to defend that crown. Having lifted the title in France, defending champion Dario was immediately at home with the battle ground for the 22nd running of the IFMAR 1:8 Onroad World Championships describing the track as 'maybe one of the most beautiful I have driven on'. Steel City RC Speedway in Fontana, California, with its very distinctive red coloured infield was a true 1:8 track and immediately drew praise from all competitors but it wasn't without its challenges. Traction and the unusual complaint of having 'too much' was a somewhat welcomed issue for drivers to have to deal with.
With cars stiffened up to suit the super high traction levels, over the two days of free practice on Sunday and Monday the IF18 made its mark topping 9 of the 10 rounds with Dario, Jesse and Teemu all laying down fastest 3-consecutive lap runs. The final free practice was the fastest, Dario recording a time of 43.211 but it wasn't until Tuesday that times started to really count over the four rounds of seeding practice.
Picking up where he left off the day before, Dario set the benchmark but the opening run wasn't perfect. Not happy with his own driving, and with traction higher than the previous day, he traction rolled and chunked a tyre forcing him pull off six and a half minutes into the 8-minute run. Round 2 was a repeat with Dario staying at the top just marginally quicker than Shimo despite a slightly slipping clutch. Having suffered a heavy crash in the previous run, Naoto finally forced a change at the top of the time sheets in the third round with a new outright fastest time. Trying a change on his car that wasn't to his liking Dario still managed 3rd wth Jesse making it three cars in the Top 5. With his car back to how he liked it for the final practice, Dario was back on top and he would go into qualifying as the top seed. Naoto, Tadahiko, Shimo and Francesco also made the top heat.
After a wild night of high winds that rattled the hotel windows, everyone headed to the track on Wednesday morning set for the first day of qualifying but the winds were still gusting and trying their best to take off with the very large tent in which everyone was pitting. With concerns over safety, the decision was made to cancel Wednesday's action. While this allowed some to attend 'Formula 1 Live' on Hollywood Boulevard that evening, it unfortunately meant the qualifiers would be cut not in number but in time. The reduction to 4-minutes took away one of the World Championship's unique challenges but that was how it was going to be for the six rounds and what an interested qualifying it was to be.
24-hours later than scheduled, qualifying got underway with Dario leading from Naoto for 95% of the heat but on the final lap Dario started to run out of fuel on the last run down the main straight allowing Naoto to TQ. A much colder morning that the previous days, Dario had gone too safe and run the engine rich meaning he had to push much harder to be quick resulting in him being caught short on fuel. Despite this, with Jesse putting in the third fastest it was an Infinity 1-2-3. Q2 would again see Dario have issues with engine tuning with it going rich in the middle of the heat. This caused late shifting into second gear leading to a mistake and the second fastest time. Despite 'many mistakes' Naoto would run the fourth fastest time with Jesse 6th quickest. With another P2 in Q2 just ahead of Jesse, Dario would finally hit the top in the final qualifier of the day with Francesco and Jeffrey ending the day with their best runs of 5th and 6th respectively.
With the first day of qualifying producing four different TQ drivers, it meant it was still all to play for on Friday morning for the remaining two rounds. Naoto would be the first to double up capitalising on a small error from Dario. Jesse continued his good showing with a P5. Now the decider had arrived and four drivers had a change at becoming the overall Top Qualifier. Dario was ready for the challenge and following a mistake from Naoto, he was able to deliver a second TQ run to take his fourth consecutive World Championship pole position. With a P3 for the round, Jesse would join Naoto in Super Pole just like in France two years earlier.
As the fifth place qualifier, Jesse would be the first to run Super Pole but making an engine change for the 6-lap shoot out it wasn't as good as expected and his time was bettered by the next to go Dominic Greiner. The last to go Naoto knew what he needed to beat the time of Simon Kurzbuch and in only his second 1:8 Worlds Super Pole he took just 3-laps to book his starting position in the final. With the first of the finals taking up the second half of Friday's timetable, the TQ and Super Pole success from earlier was topped off by Kenji bumping up from his 1/32 Final to progress to racing on Saturday's big title deciding day.
The 8 drivers that would join Dario and Naoto in the 1-hour Main would be decided in the Semi Finals and we had 10 drivers in contention. In the first of the 30-minute Semis there was huge frustration for Lamberto who was looking well on target to make the final for the first time since he won the last of his 9-titles. With 3-minutes to go he cruelly suffered a flame out and his event was done. Also in that race, unfortunately Jilles would retire while Rick V had a number of flame outs that ended his 2019 Worlds. In the second Semi encounter, Jesse drove a very solid race to secure his first Worlds Final appearance and joining him from the same race would be Shimo and Carmine.
So the moment had arrived, 60-minutes stood between the drivers and the crowning of the 2019 World Champion. A clean start up front allowed Dario to lead from Naoto as they pulled clear with Jesse in third. All going to plan. With the first round of fuel stops out of the way it was the second stop in which the race dealt its first blow. Coming in for his stop having taken charge of the race, Dario hit the poorly released car of Dominic Greiner in the pitlane. Damaging the body shell, it also effected the engine tuning as the pipe no longer lined up with the side hole in the body. Dario's misfortune allowed Naoto to take over control of the race. Having suffered the heartbreak of battery failure while leading on his nitro Worlds debut in France, it looked like this was his time going to be his day. Unfortunately to quote former Offroad World Champion Jared Tebo, 'To win you have to have so many things go right, to loose you only have to have one thing go wrong' and once again that was the case for Naoto. With 12-minutes to go and him just clocking off the laps well clear of second place, the rear pulley stripped. So close to making nitro racing history as the holder of both the 1:10 and 1:8 titles at the same time, his race was done. In the end Shimo would be our top finishing with second behind new champion Shoki Takahata as Dario recovered to complete the podium. A cruel end to an otherwise perfect team effort. Our preparations for Japan 2021 are already underway.