The inaugural race of the Australian Grand Prix Series took off at Montreal with a massive 27 car field. 2 of the cars were fielded by 2 of our Australian Academy drivers with Daniel Benefield and Scott Newton taking to the grid. After 9 and a half hours of pre-qualifying, it came down deep into the last session in a qualifying duel between Ben Smith and Daniel Benefield. Smith beat Daniel’s early pole time by just 2 hundredths posting a 1:14.266. The pressure went straight onto Dan with less than an hour to go. Feeling the pressure Dan kept trying to pull the lap time down but couldn’t until he perfected a lap with a 1:14.105 in the last 15 minutes of the session to grab pole position. Ben couldn’t respond and had to settle for second on the grid. Joseph Fabian, Marcello Rivera and Stephan Altena rounding out the top 5. Scott Newton qualified 7th in the second Academy car with a 1:15.006.
Off the start, both Academy sim racers perfected their starts. As a result Dan pulled clear of the field heading into turn 1. Scott wasn’t able to utilise his start in the short run into the first turn. As a result, Scott made contact with Stephan Altena sending Altena around. It was an unlucky early accident for both drivers as Stephan’s ping was high on the Australian server causing a netcode. An incident later on in the lap saw the first safety car at the end of lap 1. Under the safety car, 2nd place Ben Smith took the opportunity to pit. Many others followed include Scott who had damage from the turn 2 incident.
On the restart Daniel got another good jump on the field ahead of Marcello Rivera and Mitchell McLeod. Scott was buried in the field and spent most of his time stuck behind Dylan Shepherd. Dan used the clear track to his advantage and slowly increased his lead over Rivera. However, coming to the end of lap 10, the safety car was once again released. This killed Dan’s advantage and very much put Ben Smith as the favourite to win.
On the second restart, Daniel, once again, got a good jump on the field ahead of Rivera and Smith however Rivera makes a mistake heading into turn 3 handing second place to his Evolution Racing Australia teammate. Scott also got pass Dylan Shepherd into turn 6 right after the restart and turned his sights on trying to stay with the leaders ahead. Dan had the pressure once again and pulled qualifying lap after qualifying lap out of his at one stage doing 4 1:15.2 laps back to back. However it wasn’t enough and when he pitted on lap 23, Ben Smith took over the lead. Scott had pitted the lap before Dan and re-joined in 7th. A minor issue for Scott however in the closing laps as he taps the wall coming out of turn 4 damaging his front wing. He continued being so close to the finish as he would have lost more time pitting than staying out.
With just 4 laps to go however, Joseph Fabian crashed into the wall out of turn 4 cause the safety car to come out. It’s exactly what Dan needed to give him a chance at taking the win away from Ben Smith. The race restarted for a one lap dash and Ben Smith getting loose on the exit of the final chicane giving Dan a huge run coming down into turn 1. Smith covered the inside, forcing Dan to go to the outside. Dan drove right around the Evolution Racing Australia Williams-Toyota FW31 to take the lead. Scott also gained a place on the restart after Martin Carroll also got loose coming out of the chicane putting Scott into 5th.
Up at the front, Mitchell McLeod and Ben Smith try going into turn 3 side by side but make contact sending Smith up and over across the grass. All the drivers behind managed to avoid the carnage including Scott who had been handed 4th place with James Scanlan right on his tail. By this point however Daniel had driven away from the field and ended up winning the first race of the season. A battling Mitchell McLeod held on to 2nd just ahead of Marcello Rivera. Likewise for Scott who managed to hold on to 4th ahead of James Scanlan in 5th. Dan also scored the fastest lap of the race with a 1:15.212 as well as leading the most laps.
Being the first round of the championship, the championship standings mirror that of the race results with Dan leading with 100 points from Mitchell McLeod with 90, Marcello Rivera with 80, Scott Newton with 70 and James Scanlan rounding the top 5 with 60 points. For round 2, the series heads to Brands Hatch on the 12th of July where Dan will look to protect his championship lead and Scott looking to out run Marcello and Mitchell.