ATCC: Sepang: Qualifying notes

Potenciano rules in the rain, Coulthard red hot in the dry. Qualifying for rounds 5 and 6 of the Asian Formula 2000 Series, which was interrupted by light showers, resulted in an interesting arrangement of the top six drivers on the grid for ...

Potenciano rules in the rain, Coulthard red hot in the dry.

Qualifying for rounds 5 and 6 of the Asian Formula 2000 Series, which was interrupted by light showers, resulted in an interesting arrangement of the top six drivers on the grid for tomorrow's races.

Filipino ace Mike Potenciano made the best of a wet track to claim pole position, almost a second clear of his nearest challenger in the first qualifying session at the 5.54km Sepang International Circuit.

The ZEP-San Miguel Beer-MP Turbo driver clocked 2min:33.922s at an average speed of 124.64km/h in unexpected light showers to start from pole position for Round 5, while newcomer Fabian Coulthard, cousin of Formula 1 star David Coulthard, charged through a dry afternoon session to grab pole for Round 6.

Sharing the front row of the grid for Round 5 will be Singaporean Dennis Lian, while third fastest was Malaysian driver Zarith Alfian Zainal. Coulthard clocked fourth fastest ahead of current series leader Indonesian Meckel Ali.

In the second qualifying session held in more pleasant dry conditions, Coulthard recorded a lap time of 2:14.801, just 0.40 quicker than Japanese lady driver Keiko Ihara, while Potenciano will start from third. Fourth fastest was Lian while Ali retains fifth spot on the grid.

Commented Potenciano, after setting the quickest time to take pole on the final lap of qualifying for Round 5, "It was unexpected honestly, considering we came out of the pit very late. We had to change cylinder heads the night before and that was the cause of the slight delay,"

"Lian slowed down on his last lap just before the chequered flag and, just as I was on my final stint, the track had began to dry. I really couldn't believe it. But wet or dry in the race, I'm going to have a lot of good drivers behind me and that's a lot of hard work."

Lian dominated much of the first qualifying session and will be aiming at a victory in Sepang to make

up for not scoring a single championship point over the last two rounds in Johor.

"It was very, very slippery out there...I was already on pole position over several laps but I made the mistake of slowing down on my last lap thinking it was enough. At that point the track had begun to dry a bit and Potenciano had a good run that just blew me away," said Lian.

The dry afternoon session proved more to the advantage of Coulthard who struggled to fourth on the grid in the first damp qualifying session.

Commented Coulthard, "It just makes it feel that the last few days (of practice) have been a complete waste of time, doesn't it? The dry session was far better. Fourth place in the wet however, wasn't that bad considering this is my first time at Sepang as well as driving the car. It's basically a lack of experience both in the car and around the circuit."

Meanwhile, Ali, starting from fifth for both races, was clearly disappointed with his performance in the first session, struggling to find a better combination of the set-up of his car and his driving.

"To be honest, I was struggling in the wet," said the 22-year-old. "We can definitely improve on the balance of the car as well as my driving. In the rain, it's extremely slippery out there. The competition will also be very hard this weekend with Potenciano, Lian, Zarith and Coulthard."

Team PanGlobal EZI Malaysia's Zarith Alfian made the most of local track knowledge and experience to position himself on the second row of the grid with a time of 2:34.957. In the dry afternoon qualifying, he finished seventh.

"What will be important in tomorrow's race is to get off to a good start," said Zarith, adding that the characteristics of the track change drastically when it rains in Sepang. In the previous day's dry unofficial practice sessions, his fastest lap time was almost 18 seconds quicker than today's qualifying.

"There's plenty of water puddles to look out for in the wet and there is a high risk of aquaplaning. Having said that, the car does find a lot of grip in the wet but you have to get on the power progressively. If it does rain in tomorrow's race, I believe Potenciano will be the man to beat."

Team mates Fahrizal Hassan and Faizal Hakimi Jaafar could only manage seventh and ninth on the grid respectively for round 5, and will start from 10th and ninth respectively for round 6.

Rounds 5 and 6 of the Asian Formula 2000 Series will begin at 10:50 and 15:05 respectively tomorrow, July 21.

-afos-

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Series General
Drivers David Coulthard , Fabian Coulthard , Keiko Ihara