Lime Rock Park played host to the grand opening of the Skip Barber Premier Series with the 1.53 mile road course serving as the stage for exciting online racing in three different time slots on Wednesday.  The warm temperatures accompanying Spring’s early arrival in New England weren’t a major factor for the 194 sim-racers vying for the series’ top prize — a seat in a 3 day Skip Barber Racing School.  With two virtually perfect performances, however, a red hot Christian Aranha blazed his way to the top of the points standings.

The morning online races (10:00 GMT) were a clear example of sim racers testing the waters. The first split saw Aranha winning in a dominant fashion.  The Floridian not only started on the pole, but led all 35 laps en route to a seven second margin of victory over Jan Niesiolowski who slotted into second at the start and remained there the whole race.  Aranha’s win was worth 125 points, while Niesiolowski, who raced in all three races throughout the day, enjoyed a payout of 114 with third-placed Alan Canler collecting 104 points despite being 55 seconds back from Aranha.

Christian Aranha three wheels it into Big Bend en route to one of his two wins in the opening round of the Skip Barber Premier Series. (Tyler A King image)

The second split of the morning saw Tim Adcock win by a mere 1.3 seconds over Xavier Busoms. Adcock led the final 10 laps of the race after overtaking Marco Corti, who slipped to third after leading the opening 25 laps. The Strength of Field for the race was 2119, making it the second highest split of the morning, and netted Adcock 130 points which puts him in the thick of the points race for the start of the season.

The top split of the morning saw the first six positions swept by Club Australia/New Zealand.  Like Aranha in the first split, Madison Down lead all 35 laps and collected 133 points for his win in the 2135 Strength of Field event. Just shy of three seconds back, Ben Taylor edged-out Ian Bevan for second position by a scant .075s and collected 124 points.  Although Bevan was forced to settle for third, he still received 115 points for his efforts.

The afternoon events (20:00 GMT) provided higher strength of field races and even more excitement as drivers seemingly developed a feel for the racing at Lime Rock. The first split saw Grand Prix World Championship Series regular David Williams take the checkers over Corti, a man growing familiar with podium finishes. Williams led the final 24 laps after grabbing the lead from Niesiolowski on Lap 12 with Corti coming through as well.  Although Niesiolowski spun on the following lap, he was able to maintain third position to the finish. Williams collected 135 points for his win.

The second split unfolded in similar fashion with polesitter Duncan Coppedge leading the first 11 laps until a crash knocked him out of contention. Stuart Adcock capitalized on Coppedge’s misfortune, taking the win by more than six seconds over runner-up place Alain Tessier. Club Iberia’s Alexandre Del Rio grabbed the final podium spot in the 2121 Strength of Field split.

King and Thomas Schmidt got side-by-side at Lime Rock. (Tyler A King image)

The third split of the afternoon saw some of the closest racing of the week, as Connor Clifford and George Streetley exchanged blows for the lead. Clifford ultimately prevailed, by just over eight tenths of a second with Luca Zanetti crossing the stripe just ten seconds back to round-out the podium. Clifford totaled 135 points in the 2122 Strength of Field split.

The highest strength of field event of the day went to the winner of the lowest strength of field split of the morning. Aranha rolled the dice again and got lucky, striking gold with a Strength of Field of 2135. He started on the pole and did not look back until he crossed the stripe, nearly 19 seconds clear of Tyler A King with Janne Kyok solidify third, some 28 seconds back from the winner. The win was worth 136 points for Aranha, who thus “dropped” his morning’s 125 point victory and now enjoys with a one point lead over the afternoon’s other winners.

“Two perfect races for me this week,” offered Aranha. “Lapped traffic has been amazing. I have not had problems with one person.  We did have a damaged car running around the track in  the 3PM race for some reason but he didn’t give me any trouble. I’m happy with my points right now, but it will be interesting to see how things pan out for the rest of the season as far as points go.”

“Two perfect races for me this week.” — Christian Aranha

The night races (2:00 GMT) generally produced weaker Strength of Field races, flirting with the high 1900s and lower 2000s. The first split saw Ahmjed Yamin of Texas leading the final circuits before taking his win and 128 points. Coppedge posted a very solid and consistent second place finish, erasing his crash earlier in the afternoon race. Rounding out the top three of the 2013 Strength of Field split was Thorleif Lunde, who clawed his way to the podium from ninth on the grid.

Split two of the third installment was a nail biter, with Kurt Krumm of Club Atlantic inching his Skip Barber F2000  to the win by just over a tenth of a second over Gary Teall with Joseph Peak coming home third, nearly half a minute behind the battle for first.  Given the relatively low SoF (1987) Unfortunately, given the relatively low SoF (1987) Krumm’s win only earned him 126 points, placing him 10 markers behind Aranha in the championship standings.

Split three was the lowest split of the week in terms of Strength of Field (1968). Curtis Fung, who edged Aranha and Down for week’s fastest qualifying time, led the race from start to finish ahead of Kevin Vaughn and Andrea Ventura.  Vaughn and Ventura battled down to the wire, with Vaughn capturing the runner-up spot by a mere .7s.

Like Fung, Jim Shedlick led every lap of the final split on the way to winning by more than half a minute over Flavien Vidal, with Mayur Gowravaram an additional four seconds back in third spot.  Shedlick collected 131 points for his flawless run, with Vidal and Gowravaram netting 124 and 118 points respectively.

What's better than two wide? How about three wide into Big Bend? (image Reino Tanni)

With the inaugural week of the the Skip Barber Premier Series  in the books, Aranha holds a narrow one point lead with 136 points over Clifford, Stuart Adcock and Williams, with Down, Shedlick, King, Tim Adcock, Tessier and Corti completing the top ten.

Many drivers this week were very vocal about concerns with the “snake split system,” which organizes drivers in relatively equal strength of fields in efforts to order to distribute series points as equally as possible. Like the snake system or not, the next 23 weeks are going to be a challenge for these drivers as they strive to deliver consistent finishes while adapting to the new faces who will inevitably join the series in the coming weeks.

From the virtual woodlands of northwestern Connecticut, the Skip Barber Premier Series heads west to lovely Monterey, California and challenging Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in two week’s time.  Will Aranha maintain his razor-thin margin at the top of the totem pole, or will one of the other top scorers at Lime Rock displace him? Or will some new road course ringer stake his claim in the series? Only time will tell as head into Week 2 of the Skip Barber Premier Series.

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