There is only one temple of speed, and legendary  Monza played host to the fourth round of the AOR Pro Mazda Championship.  As a new addition to the iRacing track library, the circuit is both brand new and also well-known to racing fans around the world, providing a unique experience for all the sim-racers.  With three rounds in the books, Justin Brunner led the championship with 74 points, as he was yet to finish a race outside of the podium positions.  His nearest rival, Phil Reid of Team AOR Blue, sat on just 48 points, a gap of 26 points between them.  Brunner took pole at Monza and looked strong for the race, while defending Season One champion Kerry Knowlden once again languished in P7 on the grid (same as COTA).

At the start of the race there was an almost immediate change of position at the front as second fastest qualifier Tom van Doorn lost-out to third place starter Jamie Fluke on the long run down to Turn One (aka Variante del Rettifilo).  Not far behind, there were problems for Knowlden as he made contact with Alexander Trowbridge and was sent into a spin.  With the dense population of sim-racers just behind him, Knowlden was forced to sit in the grass and wait for everyone to go by before he could safely rejoin the circuit, leaving him in last place (but with 24 laps in the race, plenty still to play for).

Knowlden keeps still as the world moves past him.

Towards the end of the first lap, Van Doorn was struggling and had fallen to P5 from his initial second starting position.  Fourth-starting Andreas Mørch was now into third thanks to Van Doorn’s issues, but Oliver Connor saw an opportunity at Ascari and began an overtaking maneuver on Mørch that lasted until Parabolica, where he sealed the deal and took third.

Connor seals the deal at Parabolica . . . or did he?

Unfortunately for Connor, the third place position didn’t last very long as he braked much later than Mørch for Rettifilo on Lap Two and ended up running very wide.  Connor did his best to get the car slowed down and make the corner, but inevitably he was forced over the curbs and lost two positions to Mørch and Van Doorn.

Connor gets it wrong at the first chicane.

When Mørch went wide at the exit of Variante della Roggia just a couple of corners later it must have seemed like a gift from the racing gods for Van Doorn.  And when Connor got it wrong through Ascari on the very same lap and found himself in the barrier, Van Doorn must have thought a podium finish had been preordained.

Connor becomes the first major victim of Ascari.

Imagine Van Doorn’s surprise when Mørch retook the position at the start of Lap Three, only to reclaim the spot where Mørch had gone wide the previous lap.  Truly Van Doorn was becoming a pious man, and the racing gods heard his prayers once again as Mørch, much like Connor the lap prior, ploughed into the barrier at the exit of Ascari.

You win again, Ascari.

By the end of Lap Three it was becoming painfully obvious this was a two horse race with Fluke seemingly unable to challenge Brunner for the lead, and all the other sim-racers too far back to even see Brunner.  Fluke gave it the old college try at the start of Lap Four, braking as late as he dared for the first turn, only to out-brake himself in the slipstream of Brunner.  Fluke went deep and clunked over the curbs, losing precious time to Brunner in the process.

Fluke trying desperately to catch Brunner.

At the start of the sixth lap Knowlden was up to twelfth already, despite being in P24 at the end of Lap One.  Scything through literally half of the field wasn’t easy, but Knowlden did what he needed to do and found himself just behind the tenth placed Christoph Lesiter with over three quarters of the race remaining.  Ahead of him, Jamie Hall was defending from Leister, and their side-by-side battling meant that Knowlden had the slipstream advantage on the run down to Variante della Roggia.  Knowlden positioned himself perfectly and actually overtook both of them at the same time on Lap Six.

Knowlden gets a two-fer on Lap Six.

By the halfway point of the race the top three seemed to have etched their names in stone with sizeable gaps between first, second, third, and fourth.  Once again Ascari would play a heavy hand in the race as Fluke caught too much curb at the entrance for the high speed series of corners.  He got a bit of oversteer before a sudden snap of grip put him in the gravel and shot him toward the barrier.  As a result, Fluke lost positions to both Van Doorn and also Stephan Chantal, while also incurring minor mechanical damage which would force him into the pits at the end of the lap (where a long repair time would drop him thoroughly out of the top ten).

Okay, Ascari. We get it.

Thanks to Fluke’s mistake Knowlden gained yet another position.  On Lap 16 Nigel Speers was Knowlden’s victim with an overtake on the approach to Ascari, while some more cars fell by the wayside in the pit stop phase.  On Lap 20 Knowlden found himself in fourth, and not far behind Chantal in third.  By the end of the lap he was right on Chantal’s gearbox and used the slipstream coming out of Parabolica to go side-by-side with Chantal, taking the inside line for Variante del Rettifilo and third place along with it.

Knowlden’s long journey to the top lands him back on the podium.

After the 24 laps it was Brunner who took his first win, becoming the fourth different winner in four races.  As a result, his championship lead continues to grow with a now whopping 105 points to Reid’s 62 markers.  Van Doorn finished where he’d started: second place, although you wouldn’t know it by the amount of overtakes he was part of.  Biggest surprise of all though, was Knowlden’s fight back from last position to an impressive podium finish, proving he’d lost none of his Season One pace.

The championship standings after four races.

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