By Aaron Waldron
Racing of any form at its highest level is exciting. The finals for both the Large Scale World Championship and Open GT World Cup in Kuala Lumpur earlier this month came down to incredible finishes, and I expect the action next week in Japan to be even more thrilling - after all, it's hard to have a runaway winner in a short five-minute sprint to the finish line.
My flight is set to leave in about 18 hours, and I haven't been able to sit still all day.
Aside from Jared Tebo’s 2WD win from TQ, the front of the pack in both classes at the 2013 IFMAR World Championships was a complete mess. Ryan Maifield finished third in 2WD from sixth on the grid. In 4WD, the battle for the title came down to the final half lap – between the sixth and eighth qualifiers.
There’s never been a World Championship final like it, and may never be again - and I wouldn't hold my breath for another stunning upset next week. There were several factors at play in 2013 that opened the door for such an incredible result:
- The track was insane. Not only did it have the largest jumps and elevation changes of any IFMAR Electric Off-Road World Championship, but the dirt had been treated with sugar to produce incredible grip. It was as “Supercross-style” as you could get, and North American drivers dominated - with 12 of 20 A-Main qualifiers and four of six podium finishers.
- Qualifying order meant nothing - half the podium finishers across both classes qualified outside the top five. The course was so difficult that there was very little passing for position. Instead, drivers simply waited for the car ahead to crash.
- It wasn’t just the style of the track that gave the Americans had a huge advantage. Not only is off-road racing on dirt increasingly rare in Europe and Asia, but just one month before the Worlds the ROAR Nationals were held at the same facility on a very similar layout. First-time 4WD finalists Ty Tessmann, Ryan Lutz, and Steven Hartson all benefitted.
- For the second Worlds in a row, rain played a role in how the week turned out.
None of that will happen at Yatabe Arena. The track will be built indoors, on a flat carpet floor that has been covered in turf and sprinkled with jumps. It will be the first time the IFMAR Electric Off-Road Worlds event has been held under a roof since 1999!
Yatabe Arena manager Hiroshi Suzuki posted a gallery of photos to his Facebook page showing of Yatabe Arena as the staff prepares the historic facility to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its last Electric Off-Road World Championship.
The fact that the race is being held on astroturf won’t likely tip the scales in favor of drivers from Europe and Asia, but it will at least level the playing field. The fastest drivers will still be in contention.
The Europeans have a leg up on the world when it comes to racing on carpet and turf. Lee Martin and Jörn Neumann have dominated the Euro Offroad Series on artificial surfaces, and Martin TQ’d and won 2WD at the Warm-Up with 2007 World Champion Neil Cragg third. Dark horse candidates from the Old World include Michal Orlowski, Martin Bayer, Bruno Coelho, David Ronnefalk, and even on-road world champ Marc Rheinard.
Of the Asian drivers, the Japanese have the clear advantage. Naoto Matsukura may be the biggest favorite heading into the event, but after the Kyosho team’s struggles in 2WD at the Warm-Up their success will largely depend on any RB6 updates that have come together since June. Young Japanese Yokomo driver Masatsugu Ido, who made the 1/12-Scale Worlds final in Florida last year, finished fourth at the warm-up in 2WD, with Matsukura seventh and Shinya Kimura ninth. Matsukura TQ’d and won 4WD at the Warm-Up, as the Kyosho buggy was easily the class of the field - he was joined on the podium by two teammates, including Yusuke Sugiura. Ido finished sixth and his Yokomo teammate Kai Kikuchi was seventh.
As for U.S. drivers, it’s anyone’s guess - especially since so few attended the Warm-Up. TLR teammates Dakotah Phend and Ryan Maifield will surely be a factor, as will two-time 4WD National Champion Ty Tessmann. Ryan Cavalieri and Carson Wernimont have the most high-profile experience on artificial surfaces; Cavalieri is a former EOS round winner (but finished eighth in both classes at the Warm-Up), and Wernimont not only has EOS experience as well but the support of the Yokomo team behind him. Defending 2WD champion Jared Tebo finished second in 4WD at the Warm-Up and has been practicing his brains out at his local carpet track. 2013 finalist Kody Numedahl finished second at the Warm-Up in 2WD, and has an outside shot at shocking the world.
Your chances of choosing a winner are about as great as my hopes of getting any sleep tonight.