July 17th, 2017 by Wayne Strout
Round 5 of the 60+ Racing Adventures League for drivers age 60 and older ran Wednesday, July 12 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and featured the Pro Mazda. 25 sim racers participated in an event that was broadcast live and memorialized on YouTube by RaceSpot.TV. The stars of the day were Portugal’s Antonio Reis and Canada’s Bill Lawrence while the two leaders of the Drivers’ Points Championship, Canada’s Steven Carkner and the Netherland’s Jos van de Ven, both struggled.
The man from beautiful Aveiro, Portugal, the 60 year old Antonio Reis is fast with an iRating of 4071, the highest iRating of all the 60PLUS Racing Adventures drivers. In the Group 1 race, the Portuguese James Bond set the fastest qualifying lap of 1:17.7 nis #007 car. Starting from the pole position, a bit like he did at Brands Hatch, Reis overestimated the grip on “cold” tires on the first lap and lost control in the infamous “Corkscrew,” despite an early warning of a loose race car in Turn 2 where he was able to recover. Unable to catch the spin at The Corkscrew, Reis turned the lead over to Steven Carkner.
Canada’s Steven Carkner, leader in Drivers’ points standing going into the race, maintained the lead until lap 14 when downshifting on the entry to the Andretti Hairpin, he blew his engine. While this is not a common occurrence, it is easy to overrev the Pro Mazda during fast downshifts—especially when downshifting from 6th to 2nd gear under heavy braking. The last downshift to 2nd often needs to occur while turning and it is easy to downshift a split second too early—leading to a race-ending engine failure.
With Carkner’s demise the lead was inherited for a short time by Jos van de Ven. But, like many sim racers here, van de Ven spun in Turn 6 leading to the Rahal Straight. Gifted with the lead, Bill Lawrence went on to win the first Group 1 race. Below, Lawrence leads on the last lap thru the Corkscrew. The shot (below) shows the dramatic elevation change thru this iconic corner. Lawrence was joined on the Podium by UK’s Andrew Fidler and Florida’s John Morgan.
There were quite a few spins during this event. The League Organizer and Fixed Setup Engineer, Donald Strout was on vacation and missed this event, but he did issue this warning: “In order to keep the fastest drivers in our League challenged, we are running setups with lower downforce. The cars no longer have significant ‘extra’ rear downforce and require very precise steering and very accurate throttle modulation—sometimes referred to as ‘maintenance’ throttle. In this state, the car can be very loose—this is fast but dangerous.”
This “fast but dangerous” scenario played-out in several corners but was nowhere as apparent as Turn 6.
Turn 6 leading onto the Rahal Straight is taken in the Pro Mazda at around 106-110 mph. Some drivers slow more and use 4th gear, while others are able to use 5th. In either case, the left wheel must be precisely placed at the apex with a perfect line to the far right track-out point. Here Steven Carkner and Jos van de Ven show almost perfect execution. (Actually, they could have placed the car about 6 inches closer to the red “sausage” curb.)
But, if the driver misses the apex, going too “wide” while not driving slow enough to have some “reserve” grip, the required lift or extra steering input will lead to a spin as unwittingly demonstrated by experienced by highly talented Jos van de Ven, more than once. So, when you have highly talented drivers pushing the limits of control while competing with a low grip setup, even small mistakes lead to a loss of control.
After blowing his engine in the first race, Carkner experienced more frustration in the second race, spinning at the exit of Turn 3. His spin resulted from the same sort of phenomenon as in Turn 6—lift or add steering to avoid tracking out too far here and you get a spin. John Unsbee was unable to avoid contact and suffered wing damage, but was able to finish second in the Group 2 race.
Not every incident results in a spin, however. In some instances, the challenge of threshold braking leading to the Corkscrew locks-up the front brakes and the car just sort of runs off to the outside like Wayne Galloway demonstrates below. (Shortcuts are not allowed – although a certain Alex Zanardi may take issue with that!)
It was noteworthy Florida’s Mark Robertson, was the only driver to run a complete race with zero incidents here. After a 21st finish in the Group 1 race, he drove a conservative “Second Chance” race moving up from 21st at the start to finish in P8.
The Group 2 “Second Chance” race was dominated by Antonio Reis. He earned the pole (as he did in the first race.) and led every lap.
Reis not only sat on the pole for both races, he set the fastest lap in both races with a 1:17.2 in the first race and a 1:17.4 in the second race and won the second race with a margin of victory of 9+ seconds over John Unsbee.
Perhaps the next most remarkable performance of the day was by Canada’s Bruce Poole, who in the second race moved up from P9 at the start to finish on the podium in third behind Unsbee. Below is a shot of Poole skillfully powering through the highly banked Turn 10. Note the suspension compression with the left side pod almost touching the pavement.
After five events, the Team #1 of Carkner, Lawrence and Robertson still have a substantial lead over the Team #6 of Unsbee, Jim Oliver, Michael Key and P J Salley. Not far behind in third place in the Team Championship is the Team #3 of van de Ven, Rolf Just, Mark Lison and Gerard Florissen. Team #7 of Bruce Poole, Joel Martin and Jay Freels remain in fourth while Team #4 of Remigio di Pasqua, Campodonico and Reis had advanced to fifth place.
The series maintains a Driver Championship and a Team Championship. Team assignments are determined by the League Organizer to group three or four drivers together who have a “fair” chance compared to other teams. In other words, less experienced or accomplished drivers are paired with the more experienced so each team is deemed to have a “fair” chance to win the Team Championship that pays $100 to the winners, $50 to the runners up and $25 to the third place team for the season.
Carkner and van de Ven swapped the lead in the Drivers’ Championship at Laguna, with van de Ven reclaiming back the top spot. Lawrence jumped into third place with his win in the Group 2 race, but Fidler and Morgan are very close behind, tied for fourth.
The next event for the 60+ guys is at Japan’s Suzuka International.