It was a great welcome back to two of the category’s finest drivers in multiple series champion Madison Down and the 2014 Premier Series Champion Richard Hamstead for Round 5 of the official iRacing.com V8 Supercar Series championship at the Circuit of the Americas – West circuit.
A hot clear day confronted the field at the tight COTA track. The 12 minute qualifying session on the West configuration was dominated by seven time champion Down driving for Trans Tasman Racing in the Holden Commodore.
With a fastest time of 1:33.124, Down edged the series leader Ethan Grigg-Gault for pole by the largest gap we have seen for the season, that being four tenths of a second. In a repeat of last week, Evolution Racing Australia’s Ian Ford filled the third position on the grid in front of a returning Denis Gataric for SDC Motorsports in fourth. Hamstead, in the TTL car, made a welcome return to sim racing for the year in fifth place in what was a strong field of twenty cars.
A long, wide open, uphill approach into Turn One awaited the field as the revs built for the 25 lap sim race. There would be no need for pit stops this week due to no fuel restrictions at all places upon the field.
Leading from the front, Down got a steady start and was never really threatened into the tight first turn hairpin. Behind him though, Grigg-Gault held-on to second with Hamstead and Ford swapping places on numerous occasions before Hamstead eventually came out on top of the short but intense battle as the field swept through to conclude the opening lap.
However, the race was destined to be torn apart at the beginning of the second lap. Gataric braked far too late into the hairpin and lost all rear-end traction. Taking avoiding action to miss contact with the Gataric car, Hamstead missed his braking point and took Ford off the racing line as well. All this enabled the grateful Marcello Rivera (Whey of Life Commodore) and James McKnight to advance in the order.
While Hamstead was destined to retire early, Ford would eventually recover to what would proved to be a lonely third position, maintaining his record of mounting the podium of every race he has finished.
The mid-field saw a great battle for ninth place with James Keene, Marty Carroll, Anthony Mancarella (Maverick Welding), Matt Stratford (4Motorsports Commodore) and privateer Mario Vlasic battling hard for position. Vlasic, as has been the case recently, tagged the back of the car in front — Stratford on this occasion — splitting-up the pack. Keene did a great job in the Evolution Racing Australia car which he eventually drove to eleventh position despite doing limited practice throughout the week.
Up at the front though, there was never more than a .7s between race leader Down and series leader Grigg. Down may have had the dominating qualifying pace, but Grigg’s race setup enabled him to run a stronger race pace. The intense pressure applied by Grigg-Gault was calmly and superbly handled by Down, showing a true masterclass in the car to hold-off the series leader’s constant attacks. Lap 22 had their cars side-by- side down the pit straight, the advantage Down had with the drive out of the turns negated by the superior braking of Grigg-Gault’s Holden.
Throughout the 25 laps the two drove within a few car lengths of one another with Grigg-Gault mounting a serious attack on occasion. Nevertheless, Down crossed the line to win by less than .4s in what was the closest finish of the season so far. As noted, Ford drove well to come home third place despite being caught up in the lap two incident, while Gataric finished fourth. A great result for Marcello Rivera rounded out the top five in what was yet another action-packed race.
Next week the series stays in the United States where the openness of Sebring lays ahead as a challenge. History from this season, and past seasons suggests the racing will be close. Our series leader Ethan Grigg-Gault says he loves the track whilst our second place getter Ian Ford reports he has generally struggled at the Sebring circuit. With three different race winners after five rounds, there will no doubt be more exciting moments to come.