Japanese virtual rally driver Kazunokota fought back from fourth overall to win Rally Germany, the opening round of Jon Armstrong’s Thrustmaster eRally Series, by a slender 1.5 seconds. Kazunokota snatched the lead on the penultimate stage after setting fastest times on Stages 11 and 12 in his Volkswagen Polo R5.
Over 1000 people entered the 12-stage event which ran on the famous asphalt roads around Germany’s Baumholder military range.
The first day of the rally was dominated by Nicolo Ardizzone who won all six stages to build a 6.5-second advantage over Malagasy driver Andritiana. Kazunokota finished the day in third a further 1.3 seconds behind.
Championship organiser Armstrong battled through some small technical issues to finish the day in seventh, 14 seconds off the lead.
Armstrong responded brilliantly on the rally’s second day by winning the first two stages. The fastest times brought the Northern Irishman to within touching distance of the rally’s top three drivers who remained in the same order.
Although Armstrong’s fightback was to come to an end on one of Stage 10’s chicanes. He clipped the first round bale to send his Polo R5 head-on into the next set of bales.
The same Oberstein stage marked the end of rally-leader Ardizzone’s dominance on the event as he lost six seconds to Kazunokota. Ardizzone forgot to put a new set of tyres on his Polo R5 during the rally’s penultimate service. In total, he lost 12 seconds to Kazunokota over the loop’s two stages.
Kazunokota maximised on his rival’s mistake, taking his only stage wins in Germany, to lead by 2.6 seconds over Andritiana going into the final stage.
The 10.8-kilometre Hammerstein stage offered a chance for Andriatiana and Ardrizzone to reel in the Japanese leader but their brave efforts weren’t enough to depose Kazunokota.
A quick service before the final stage allowed Ardizzone to replace his shot tyres but he was left to rue his earlier mistake as he set his seventh fastest stage time on Hammerstein to finish third within two seconds of rally victory. Andriatiana pulled one second back on Kazunokota but he had to settle for runner-up on the championship’s first round.
Armstrong finished a further four seconds back in fourth while Swedish driver Robban and Ewan Tindall rounded out the top six.
Germany’s challenging stages caught out its fair share of drivers including the talented Esports driver, Yannis Greekman, whose rally ended early after sliding off the road on the first stage.
Round 2 preview:
The JA Thrustmaster series continues on Rally Poland this week with the gravel stages representing a completely different challenge to those in Germany.
The second round of the championship will feature plenty of Poland’s notoriously fast and committed jumps. The sandy road surface is prone to get muddy in wet conditions.
Drivers will need to pay attention to ruts and the brief asphalt sections will test their abilities to drive with a compromised set-up.
Photo: Timothy Mabbutt