For the first time ever the Team GT3 Challenge series took to US soil for the third week of the inaugural season. The Sunday race at 19:00 GMT was not the highest SOF race of the week, nor was it second or third highest; rather it came in fourth highest SOF race of the week in this blooming series. Despite the SOF, 11 sim-racers lined up for the rolling start ahead of the one hour race to decide who would be fastest, who would maximize their championship points, and indeed who would even finish the race.
The Z4 of Team SKC took pole position with a qualifying time of 1:19.417, over tenths faster than the RUF of the GT World Team. Danny Conlon took over the SKC car first and his start left much to be desired as Massimo Erra in the GT World car took the early lead before braking for Turn One. Just behind, Maurizio Miconi of Team Randall Keel and Peter Brien of Just Add Oil (both in Z4s) also got much better starts than Conlon, but couldn’t find a way past into Turn One.
The first casualty of the day came as no surprise through The Esses, where Tristian Boddice of Hard Up Racing caught some oversteer during the opening lap and spun from P8 down to dead last after hitting the barrier.
Later in the lap, Conlon seemed eager to put Erra back into second, and with a nice slipstream down the back straight he cruised into the inside line for the chicane and rather effortlessly moved himself and Team SKC back into the lead before starting Lap Two.
Brien in fourth may had a front row seat for Conlon’s late lap overtake on Erra, and on the second lap looked to make the exact same move on Miconi for third, and did so as effortlessly as Conlon had.
The very next lap, Stuart Hamilton may have had thoughts of taking Miconi much like Brien had, but an unfortunately timed oversteer moment at the chicane sent Hamilton spinning left and into the barrier. As a result, Hamilton lost three positions straight away, and then was forced to dive into the pits for repairs (but not for a driver swap).
Just a couple of laps later, Miconi was looking to reclaim third off of Brien, until contact at Turn Seven pitched both cars to go into slides. Neither car suffered any major damage, but Miconi spun off the track and lost loads of time and also a position, dropping to fifth.
A few laps later, Miconi was already on the back of Agustin Oya of 7th Racing (in the only Ford GT of the day) who had taken Miconi’s fourth place when he spun on Lap Five. Oya lost the position heading into Turn Six, but proved himself a dogfighter by snagging the inside line for the chicane and retaking fourth.
Miconi got stuck behind Oya for over three more laps after his initial attempt to get by him, but finally made the move stick on Lap 11 with the inside line for the final corner, and after a thrilling battle through Turns 6 and 7 and through the chicane.
After retaking the lead, Conlon put the hammer down and began building a pretty hefty gap to Erra in the RUF behind him. By Lap 12 Conlon had already lapped one car, and was coming up to Hamilton at a high rate of knots. Hamilton seemed to be in the zone, though, and didn’t notice as Conlon tried to move up his right side. As a result, Conlon was pushed off the track down the back straight at nearly 150mph and when he got back on the track there was contact between himself and Hamilton which sent the latter into a spin and resulted in yet another trip to the barrier.
Skipping ahead a number of laps, Conlon became the second of the front-runners to pit for fuel and a driver swap (the first to pit was Oya in the Ford GT, on Lap 23). Conlon’s teammate, Kristian Takacs, came out of the pits in third behind Erra and Brien, but regained the lead when the others pitted on laps 25 and 26 respectively.
Not long after regaining the lead, Takacs had a very similar spin through The Esses to that of Boddice on Lap One, which resulted in contact with the wall (also like Boddice) and front end damage. The damage seemed to be mostly cosmetic, though, as Takacs continued racing rather than pitting for repairs.
During the pit stop phase, the GT World car (now piloted by Roberto Badinelli) lost track position to the Just Add Oil Z4 (now in the hands of Rob Sutherland). Badinelli wasn’t far behind Sutherland, but would need to overtake him the old fashioned way, or wait for a mistake. When Sutherland struggled to get the power down at the exit of Turn Seven, Badinelli wasted no time taking back second place down the back straight, before braking for the chicane.
Getting towards the tail end of the race, as the field continued spreading out, the action was more about lapping cars than anything else. However, Gabriel Pérez –now at the wheel of the 7th Racing Ford GT — caught some oversteer exiting the final turn and spun his way onto Lap 39 before hitting the barrier and suffering significant damage. Like Takacs, though, he continued sim racing and, in this case, maintained his fourth place position.
In the end, the Z4 of Team SKC took the win with a lead of over 17 seconds to the RUF of the GT World team, with the Z4 of Just Add Oil a further 22 seconds back. The solitary Ford GT of the 7th Racing team did well to come in fourth as the final car to finish on the lead lap of what turned out to be a challenging race for all competitors.
Team SKC collected 105 points for their victory, but with the increasing number of sim-racers and official races could only manage fifth in the points for the week. The week’s top scorers were Teppo Remes and Antti Tuominen of the Slow Finns team, who won a 2241 SOF race and earned 133 points. Two team earned 116 points at Road Atlanta: Hermann Pfander and Georg Naujoks of Vortex SimRacing got their points for finishing runner up to the victorious Slow Finns, while Paul Ilbrink and Joe Junior of the Radicals Online team took their points for a win in a 1911 SOF race.