ATCC: Sepang: Qualifying notes

Ruokonen takes his sixth pole position in six rounds. Staking claim to his sixth consecutive pole position of the season, Finnish driver Toni Ruokonen will be the man to beat in rounds 5 and 6 of the Asian Touring Car Series at Sepang ...

Ruokonen takes his sixth pole position in six rounds.

Staking claim to his sixth consecutive pole position of the season, Finnish driver Toni Ruokonen will be the man to beat in rounds 5 and 6 of the Asian Touring Car Series at Sepang International Circuit tomorrow.

The WK Longman Racing driver was clearly a second faster than the competition, blazing around the track in his Peugeot 206 to record 2min:28.407s in the first qualifying session, and later shaving that time down to 2:28.303 in the second and afternoon qualifying stint.

Second in division 1 in both sessions was Australian team mate David Auger almost two seconds adrift, while in third was Lei Cheong Seng in the Honda Civic a further seven to eight seconds down the order.

"We managed a very strong session and I was amazed at just how slow the track dries up," said the 28-year-old Ruokonen, who endured a slightly damp session in the morning before taking to contrasting dry bitumen in the afternoon's second qualifying session.

"Looking at the qualifying times, there is a slightly bigger gap between the two-litre and the 1600cc cars that would normally be as quick on the shorter circuits. Sepang however, because of the long straights, will definitely be to the advantage of the divisions 1 and 2 cars.

"A very fast track, but the straights are just a little too long for my liking."

Converting four pole positions into victories over the last four rounds in Subic Bay (the Philippines) and Johor, current championship leader Ruokonen remained modest about extending his dominance.

"We'll just have to wait and see...You can never take motor-racing for granted! Looking at the qualifying times, it appears to be an easy race tomorrow but we must prepare ourselves for the worst."

Fastest of the 1600cc cars in division 3 throughout the two sessions was Hong Kong driver Lo Ka Fai in the Honda Civic who was just a second off the pace set by Ruokonen. His brother Lo Ka Chun was also quickest amongst the division 2 contenders with a time of 2:30.290.

Clearly a contender in division 3 will be Team Petronas' Michael Briggs who qualified second for both races, while team mate and local driver Mohd Fariqe Hairuman could only manage to qualify fourth for round 5. Mohd Fariqe will start from 11th and last on the grid for round 6.

"We've got a good car and a good package and it's just trying to stay away from any trouble tomorrow," said 35-year-old Briggs.

"The standard of competition is very high indeed and it has the making of a very close race this weekend. I also expect Mohd Fariqe to do well and possibly finish on the podium, given his local track knowledge and his sheer determination," he continued.

Veteran driver Danny Stacy Chau meanwhile, was third fastest throughout both qualifying sessions.

"Lo (Ka Fai) is definitely on the charge, and I also expect the Team Petronas drivers to be quick around their home circuit," said Chau.

"Having said that, all the top six drivers in the championship have been to Sepang over the last three years and that, theoretically, means that we're all level. As far as I am concerned, my objective is to consistently collect championship points and to retain my current lead in the overall points standings."

Rounds 5 and 6 of the Asian Touring Car Series will take place tomorrow (July 21) at 12:30 and 16:45 respectively.

-afos-

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Series General
Drivers Toni Ruokonen