In 2015 Paul Bonhomme won in Chiba on his way to claim his third World Championship title, here he reviews the pilots who competed there last month. In part one we look at the bottom half of the results table...
14th Yoshi Muroya
In their quest to reduce drag, Team Falken fitted a new tail prior to Chiba but it also changed the handling qualities of the aircraft. In other words it felt different to fly. With the new tail, Quali run 1 was good but problems started in Gate 5 of Quali run 2 when Yoshi took action to avoid a chicane pylon and then got a "too low in gate" penalty. That disturbed his set-up in the all-important 6-7-8 section and Quali run 2 was off the pace (even without the penalty). The new tail seemed to be affecting the accuracy and Yoshi decided to change back to the old tail for race day. Was it this late change that disturbed Yoshi's seemingly unbeatable form in Japan and encouraged the over-G at Gate 3 in the Round of 14? Or was it the blistering run that Matt Hall set which tipped the psychological balance and pushed Yoshi too hard? Either way, it was a blow for the Japanese fans...
13th Kirby Chambliss
This was another mixed weekend for the Texan. He qualified second with a clean, controlled run on Saturday. On Sunday in the Round of 14, in his attempt at the big 'S' turn between Gate 6 and 7, he pushed slightly too hard and was late getting level for Gate 7. The two seconds of penalty sent him out and down into 13th place. Finishing the weekend 8th in the standings with just nine points to show for three races was not what we expected at the start of the year. There is still time for a recovery, but Kirby can't leave it too long.
12th Nicolas Ivanoff
Nicolas flew really well in Qualifying and it was encouraging to see smooth flying with no incorrect levels. Once again the aeroplane seems to slow in the last quarter of a run and I guess the team are wondering what they have to do to catch up aerodynamically with the others. The clean flying from Nicolas will go someway to balance the mystery of why the aeroplane slows down in the track. His Round of 14 time, 57.671s, against Matthias Dolderer was disciplined but a second off the pace.
11th Ben Murphy
Ben was unable to set a clean time in his Quali session and finished bottom of the timesheet. This saw him up against Mike Goulian for the second race in a row. He put in a clean, smooth run in the Round of 14, but he was up against Goulian who is in the form of his career and was more than a second faster than the Brit. As we said at the start of the season, there is a lot to learn. Either way, he set a really solid R14 time which will carry him to Budapest with some confidence.
10th Cristian Bolton
I hope Cristian is not disheartened by his tenth place. If you finished according to your smooth controlled flying, he would have finished much higher up the table. Two clean runs in Quali preceded a tidy 57.003s in the Round of 14. He opted to simplify the track from Gate 6 to 7 (avoiding the big 'S' turn) which is why his turn from 7 to 8 added time to the total but no mistakes in the big runs over the weekend is a good result in my book and when they find the tweaks to make the aeroplane go faster and have the confidence to fly with "on the limit" tactics, the Chilean pilot will get some better results.
9th Petr Kopfstein
Kopfstein is not far from a really good result. His flying is smooth, fast and clean and he rarely makes a mistake in the track. And generally he only loses a heat by a small margin. He lost to Mika Brageot in the Round of 14 by 0.171s of a second... I wonder if he should try tweaking the tactics a little, just a little, to raise the risk of a penalty but increase the chances of some winning heats. It's a tricky question to answer because I was a big fan of always flying clean (even in training) and a mistake can knock your confidence. Whatever happens, he must keep the precise flying: smooth precise flying but aggressive tactics. I reckon another podium is not far away...
8th Matthias Dolderer
Matthias was another pilot experiencing changes of form. Quali 1 was good and got him a 4th place on the Saturday. Quali 2 was not so good, he got blown onto chicane pylon 3 on the first pass and sensibly pulled out of the track to avoid having a pylon strike. Back to form for the Round of 14, he posted a mid-56s run against Ivanoff and the flying looked smooth. As far as I could see, he was being really smooth in the VTM pull ups all week until his Round of 8 flight where he changed tactics and pulled harder much earlier. Something went askew because he did not make it down to Gate 4 in time (high in gate, equals two seconds of penalties) and that started the ball rolling and an error at Gate 6 added two more seconds of penalties to an otherwise quick run. It was home-time for the German. Proof that consistency is so so important.
Check back on Friday when we'll be posting The Bonhomme Report on the pilots that finished 7th-1st!