MALAYSIA’S wildcard drivers Mitchell Cheah, Hafizh Syahrin Abdullah and Douglas Khoo all found the going tough in the opening qualifying session at the season-ending leg of the World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) yesterday.
Mitchell (2:15.357s) and Hafizh (2:16.746s), who are both driving Team Engstler Hyundai i30 N TCRs, settled for 25th and 29th respectively, while Douglas (Viper Niza Racing) clocked 2:19.365s in a Cupra TCR for 30th at the Sepang Circuit.
Championship leader Norbert Michelisz (BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse) topped the timesheet on 2:13.748s and will start race one from pole.
Mitchell said he was caught off guard by the pace in qualifying.
To be fair to the trio, all wildcard drivers are forced to carry a 20kg ballast which significantly hampers their performance.
“I was quite surprised with the pace these guys were doing in qualifying but then again this is the world championship,” said Mitchell, who competed as a full-season driver in TCR Germany this year.
“It is going to be tough to keep pace with them as we have to carry a 20kg ballast but if we can find the right setup and feel comfortable with the car, then we will have a better chance.”
Hafizh, whose only prior car-racing experience was at the Sepang 1000 kilometres last month, said his lack of experience saw him being left behind in qualifying.
“Qualifying was tough for me. All the other drivers were in a train (formation), so they all got a good (aerodynamic) tow but I did not have the experience to do that,” said Hafizh, who has spent the last two seasons in MotoGP.
“There are certain corners I need to improve on. I will take things step-by-step and try not to make any mistakes.”
All three WTCR races will be held tomorrow.