It was the toughest qualifying session ever for Mitchell Cheah and Hafizh Syahrin competing against the best-of-the-best Touring Car drivers and champions, while both drivers set impressive times the competition proved to be too strong. Despite being just 2-3 seconds off, they did not manage to break the top 12 to challenge for Q2.
Both drivers are carrying 20kg ballast in their Hyundai i30 N TCR, an added weight carried by wildcard entries, and are experiencing the Hyundai for the first time, a challenge which they have taken in stride. Kurt Treml, Sport & Marketing Director for Hyundai Team Engstler had only positives from the results, “For sure if you look at the ranking, you will not see what we see. Both Mitch and Hafizh have done an impressive job and the qualifying times that they have done were very good.
“We must realise that the challenge is in the World Touring Car Championship racing against the best touring car champions in the world. It is the first time for both of them to join a WTCR race so I think the time is ok and they are both consistent with their pace and improving every time they are out there.
“We had a slight advantage in the first Free Practice this morning because we did not have used tyres from any previous events so we started with new tyres, this was why we were higher in the total ranking. For me what they have done today is good. They did not make any mistakes and we are happy with them and wish them luck for Sunday.”
While Treml looked at the positives, Cheah was unhappy with his pace, saying,
“it was a disappointing qualifying session. There was so much rubber laid down on the track and I did not improvise or adapt fast enough to manage to get a good rhythm of the track in such good conditions. I was still stuck and did not drive to my fullest potential but now that it’s over I will definitely have a look at it and see where we can improve in such good conditions around this track.”
The mistake will not deter Cheah from looking forward to the races.
“We are looking forward to Sunday’s three races and we definitely have the pace to fight with the midfield pack so we will try our best to gain as many positions as possible on Sunday.”
The hardest working driver, Syahrin is looking at this experience as a great learning curve and refusing to accept the result as a negative
“yes, it’s not the best position but what I can say is we improved but we know it is a bit far from the top, it is a matter of the experience and also the confidence with the car. For sure I have confidence but only one week in this car.
“As a bike rider, I am very happy driving the car for the first time and to only be 3 seconds off the top driver. The race will be a different pace, what I did was a race pace so we will see what we can do and I hope I can at least race with some drivers and try to stay on wheel, not make any mistakes or spin and for sure the top guys will be fighting like crazy and maybe will make some mistake, but we will see” he ended.
The three back-to-back races will be held on Sunday, 15th December 2019, beginning with Race 1 (9 laps) at 3.15pm local time, Race 2 (9 laps) at 6.15pm and the night time Race 3 (12 laps) at 8.10pm.