The Pro Mazdas headed to the second and final part of their Japanese tour by taking a week to race at the Suzuka International Racing Course. 14 drivers headed out to the 18 turn, 5.807km circuit to compete in Week 7 of the season.
Once again many familiar names took to the grid, with Wyatt Gooden being the highest profile – and most prolific – among them. Living up to this reputation, Gooden took yet another pole position although a new, up and coming name – a Dutchman, Ghovand Keanie – took up the second position on the grid, only 3 thousandths of a second behind his American rival! The online race would be not be an easy one to run away with; sweeping corners and long straight meant draft would be used to its full effect.
The first issue of the race occurred at Dunlop Curve. The field had managed to find its way through The Esses cleanly but as the sim racers reached Turn 7 fifth placed Oscar Tolnay got tagged in his rear by Lewis Gillett who,evidently, underestimated the closing speed on cold tires and an opening lap where the cars are still fairly bunched. The Scandinavian managed to flick his car around back on the track before any further troubles were encountered. Whilst Gillett fared slightly worse, losing a few positions, although I’m sure he’d be pleased still being in the race after his Pro Mazda rotated 90 degrees!
The opening lap mayhem had only just begun, and it all seemed to be happening at Dunlop Curve. The next incident was indirectly caused by the previous one, as Andreas Morch rode his luck when trying to fit through a gap and take advantage of people checking-up for the collision between Tolnay and Gillett. Tolnay’s fellow Scandinavian clipped James Barr’s left front tire as they rounded the straight just before Degners which sent the Vortex driver into an uncontrollable slide where he then hit Sergei Petrov before he finally came to a stop after spinning into the gravel trap. Adding insult to injury, he also suffered slight wheel damage which ruined his afternoon.
Morch’s day went from an OK start with a small incident . . . to terrible, as this time he took someone out of the race in to early retirement with him. The Project Sim Racer driver got an initial wiggle on as they rounded Turn One for the beginning on the second lap which sent him out wide onto the tarmac run-off for Turn Two. As he regained control and attempted to come back on the track via the astro-turf his car stepped out on him again, and in doing so collected a very unsuspecting Petrov.
The first lead change that occurred at the famed 130R corner. Keanie passed Gooden entering the corner, with the American wisely lifting out of the throttle to keep it safe with so many laps left in the race. By this point the top three had formed about a 2 second breakway to Daniel Baxter and his chasing pack behind, although it was soon to be Tolnay leading that pack as he overtook Baxter entering the Casio Triangle.
A few laps later Gooden repayed the favour to Keanie by taking re-taking the race lead at 130R. All the while Brunner was sitting patiently behind waiting for something to happen, or just biding his time for the end of the race. Although Gooden was able to take the honours for leading that lap Keanie decided he’d seen enough of the American’s rear wing and threw a move up the inside on Turn One to position himself where every driver would like to be. What was clear from this short period of the race was that it was going to be “to and fro,” with everything was up for grabs position wise.
Lewis Gillett was a man in the wars today! Firstly the love tap with Tolnay on the opening lap, then at the Casio Triangle on the end of Lap Six he gave Joeri Steinmetz a hit to the rear wing. The contact sent Steinmetz spinning around whilst it also broke the instigator’s steering column; to cap it off, the Brit also inflicted side pod damage on last season’s champion – Gregory Tanson – whilst trying to carefully wheel his car back to pit lane. All in all it was a race to forget for Gillett! I’m sure the Brit would already be looking forward to the next week he races to eradicate this showing from his mind.
Come the signal of five to go it was Gooden leading from Keanie and his fellow American Brunner, whilst Tolnay was a further couple of seconds down the road seemingly out of it unless a catastrophe struck. Surprisingly this was the only battle on the track at this point in the race . . . but not a bad fight to witness at all with it being for the race lead!
Lap after lap from Lap 11 onwards it was almost synchronised overtaking! Gooden overtakes at the 130R/Casio Triangle – this is quite possibly a race winning move spot – whilst Keanie seized his opportunity down at Turn One. Coming on to the final lap this wasn’t the case: Gooden had played his tactics seemingly perfectly. With biding his time behind Keanie for the whole lap he’d be able to pounce at his usual spot to take the lead for the race. For the whole lap the American had stayed within 3-4tenths of his Dutch counterpart waiting for the opportunity to arise, and as per the previous laps it did: coming in to 130R he slotted his car up the inside of the Dutchman and took a more defensive line into the Casio Triangle aiming to decrease Keanie’s apex speed while getting a better run out of the final apex. Gooden succeeded in his defensive tactics, getting the speed he needed out of the chicane to win .75s from a very, very impressive Keanie in his SOF debut. The familiar face of Justin Brunner took home third place whilst Tolnay’s early mishap didn’t prevent him from reaching fourth place ahead of Daniel Baxter in the 3400 SOF.
Gooden took home a week’s high 210 points to further show his intent on winning the overall title, Keanie earned 193 whilst Brunner accumulated a solid 177 from this race.
Next week will more than likely be a drop week for most drivers in this series as the Pro Mazdas head to their native America and the oval at Indianapolis Raceway Park (Lucas Oil Raceway).