The iRacing Star Mazda championship headed over to Japan for Round 3 of the season; the world famous Suzuka International Racing Course would be the track that the drivers will have to navigate on this third week of racing. With most of the drivers adjusting well to the new qualifying procedure they knew it was essential to not throw away an all-important lap during the 15 minute session, with a track like Suzuka it was never going to be easy to nail a perfect lap, but Kerry Knowlden (UK&I) once again did a tremendous job at qualifying his Star Mazda on the pole position for the race with a qualifying time of 1.55.071, he was just under a tenth ahead of Riku Alatalo (Finland) who joined the British driver on the front row.

The drivers would have to navigate 15 laps around the 3.609 mile circuit, but it wasn’t going to be an easy task for any of them; they had to survive lap one and the treacherous esses… on cold tires. The race got off to a respectful start with drivers showing respect for one another in the early going, even though this was the case an early casualty occurred at the notoriously hard ‘Spoon Curve’. Matthew Odonnell (California) had the rear check out on him under heavy braking and caused Harley Lewis (Canada) to hit the rear of his vehicle and flip him over and away. Unfortunately for Matt, his day was done quite early.

Big issues for Odonnell on lap 1.

Take nothing for granted at Spoon Curve…

One thing that was easy to tell from the early going of the race was that draft down the long straights was certainly going to be prominent. For the pole sitter, Knowlden, he was eager to get back past Alatalo heading down in to turn one; the attempted move was unsuccessful and led to a huge amount of time and position loss, which ultimately put Knowlden out of any running for a solid result. What this did allow was Colin Cunniffe (UK&I) to take the reins of second position and have the joys of being pulled away from the chasing pack by a flying Finn! The chasing pack was soon left in their wake and it was ultimately a battle for third position.

Once again the pack had separated to an extent where it was single file running and no gains could be made. The leading driver of the pack who had no draft was effectively quicker than the cars behind, but the draft effect allowed the vehicles directly behind the leading drivers within a 1-1.5 second window to stick in and attempt to hassle him for the position. Whilst this is happening it doesn’t lead to any gains in the corners, but then it goes back to square one on the straights and it’s a repeated cycle unless any small mistake occurs. The competitors of this race were keeping their Star Mazda’s intact, as they knew any good result that could be on the cards can be wiped away with any small bit of contact.

A last lap dash doesn’t always end succesfully; just ask Yefanov.

The jostling for position began to hot up with 5 laps remaining. Patrick White (UK&I) was hassling Maksym Yefanov (Central-Eastern Europe) for fourth position on the track. White had managed to keep Yefanov behind since overtaking him, but Yefanov saw his opportunity in to turn one on the final lap of the race. The move didn’t end well, Yefanov went in to the corner too hot and in doing so the rear changed ends on him. White was innocently caught up in this mishap but managed to soldier on to the end of the race. Joeri Steinmetz (Benelux) picked up the pieces to the crash and scampered through in to fourth place.

Alatalo secured a well-deserved victory in his Glacier Racing Star Mazda; Friction racing’s Cunniffe came home in a solid second position with overall fastest lap of the race. The final podium position went to Lars Bargmann (Scandinavia).

Alatalo secures the 3339 SOF victory.

The next round will be at Road Atlanta; and if last season’s Road Atlanta week is anything to go by, it sure is going to be an entertaining week with plenty to reflect on. The shorter track will ensure of close racing and a lot of action throughout the field from the green light.

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