Last season Road Atlanta brought out some close and fantastic sim racing, and this season was no different! The 18 drivers who lined-up on the grid would have 22 laps awaiting them around the 2.54 mile, 12 cornered circuit. Any mistake around the track could be punished, with walls situated very close to corner exits and grass to slide on, this circuit can certainly be one of the most unforgiving on the iRacing service. The setups could be diverse due to the winding nature of the first sector and the quick back straightaway: Some may opt for the latter in order to maintain track position; either way track position could be easily changed because of the draft effect that was certainly going to come in to play.
On the front row this week it was Gregory Tanson (Benelux) taking pole position with a lap of 1:16.714, with the ever familiar face of Kerry Knowlden (UK&I) lining up alongside him. On the drop of the flag Knowlden lost a position right away to Riku Alatalo (Finland) who quickly scampered in to second position, immediately showing his intentions for the race ahead. The race quickly changed its tone though; Alatalo and Knowlden weren’t holding back one bit and Tanson was forced to yield his first position for the time being and make do with third whilst his car navigated the wrong part of the virtual tarmac.
The gaggle-up front enabled fourth starting Wolfgang Reip (DE-AT-CH) to claw his way closer to the front, but this created a cluster effect directly behind him as well. Reip’s race was ended early: a three wide scenario heading in to turn 10A saw Jerome Haag (France) place his car on the outside with Reip in the danger zone – in the middle. Haag got his turn in point wrong and destroyed Reip’s right rear suspension, forcing the DE-AT-CH driver into an unscheduled retirement.
Matthew Odonnell had begun making some ground from his 14th position grid slot, but his charge to the front soon ended when he put his #16 car into the inside wall on Lap 7, after getting loose exiting Turn 5 – a corner notoriously difficult if you misjudge it in the Star Mazda.
The early retirements nothwithstanding, once again the racing was very tactical from all competitors; a last lap dash may have been the option some were weighing up.
The top three positions were all taken by the same drivers who had occupied them from the opening lap but, come Lap 19, it was all going to change. Alatalo would be the driver coming off worse, although he had the outright pace to win this event; and that showed with the most laps led. The Finn made a slight mistake on the exit of Turn 5 – carrying less speed than he would’ve liked – and this provided an opportunity for Knowlden to pounce. The British driver made the move before Turn 6, but Alatalo was quite likely going to take the position back by turn 10A/B depending on the run he got off Turn 6.
Predictably, the slipstream was very powerful and though Knowlden seemed content to keep the outside, by no means was he letting Alatalo through easily. Turn 10A is where it all went pear shaped (and I’m not one to judge this whatsoever). Tanson had the best view in the house as the subsequent events unfolded right before his eyes, but ultimately he bore the brunt of what wasn’t his fault. Alatalo and Knowlden collided just off the apex of Turn 10A, with the Finnish driver’s car suffering enough damage to preclude finishing the race, whilst Knowlden managed to soldier-on to the end.
The big winners out of this were the drivers following a few seconds back and who now found themselves in the fight for the lead, having kept themselves out of trouble the whole race – well Haag for the majority of it at least. Some major points for their championship hopes were on the line now. Fortunately for Knowlden a short trip through the gravel didn’t prevent him fighting for the lead, nor would it stop Tanson; until Turn 5 almost claimed another victim that is.
In the end Jan Schwitter (DE-AT-CH) took the win by 0.318 seconds over Knowlden, who rubbed salt in the wound of Haag as he foiled the Frenchman’s overtaking manoeuvre to gain third position right at the death. The top 5 was rounded out by Tanson and Daniel Behrensen (DE-AT-CH)
Once again Road Atlanta provided some fantastic racing for the Star Mazdas. Tactics are key in races like this, and some played it better than others. Alatalo would be gutted he couldn’t claim the win, his only consolation would be taking home the fastest lap of the race.
Next week we head to Donington Park as the Star Mazdas encounter this circuit for the first time since it’s been released by iRacing. I’m sure the racing will be close and fierce, with the track offering plenty of high speed sections and elevations changes worthy of . . . Road Atlanta!