The final week of the first season with the Team GT3 Challenge landed at the tricky Sonoma Raceway for another 60 minute sim racing enduro on the Long Layout.  On the front row for the big SOF race were Massimo Erra of GT World and Joonas Savolainen in the Putkarit Racing BMW.  Heading to the green flag, Erra caught the field off guard with a blast of acceleration coming out of the Turn 11 hairpin and easily put a gap between himself and Savolainen.

Olaf Ballerstedt in the Altbier Racing Club BMW was in fourth behind Hermann Pfander in the Vortex SimRacing RUF, and looked keen to take third on the opening lap.  With a better run through Turn 10 Ballerstedt nabbed the inside line for the hairpin and breezed into third without any drama.

Ballerstedt at the inside of the hairpin for third place on Lap One.

Pfander’s day got a whole lot worse on Lap Two, now under pressure from Paul Devine in the Sebring Race Alliance McLaren.  Pfander got oversteer mid-corner through the long Turn Six and slid into Devine’s path, giving both of them minor damage and forcing Devine into the pits while Pfander continued.

Pfander collects Devine at Turn Six.

Greg Bernardo in the FSB Endurance Racing RUF found himself in fifth after the opening laps, but he too became a victim of Turn Six when he got loose entering the corner and went on a wild ride up the hill on the inside of the turn, losing his fifth place position to Juuso Ikonen of Team Ahma in the process.

Bernardo unwittingly gives new meaning to “cutting the course.”

Not long after Bernardo’s exciting venture off the circuit, Devine suffered another damper to his race at the start of Lap Five.  Hr got the braking for Turn Two completely wrong and went straight-on at nearly 120mph, sending him airborne towards the grandstands and into an early retirement.

To infinity… and beyond!

Just a hand-full of seconds later and Joseph Peralta of Team Awesomesauce proved just how easy it was for Pfander to nearly launch himself at the inside of Turn Six.  Once again oversteer at the entrance led to a thrilling excursion at the inside of the corner.

All the cool kids spin at Turn Six.

Peralta’s day continued to decline the very next lap where understeer, rather than oversteer, at Turn Six sent him off the track at the outside of the corner where he got wedged between two barriers.

Peralta spices it up at Turn Six, going to the outside instead of the inside.

By Lap Seven Bernardo was back into position behind Ikonen’s McLaren and was trying to find a way past when a slide at Turn Four sent him off the track.  Bernardo lost no positions as a result, but he had it all to do again if he was going to regain fifth.

Bernardo spins shortly after catching Ikonen.

Lap Ten saw the first of the driver swaps as Pfander came in at the end of the lap to hand his RUF over to Georg Naujoks.  Having completed 15 minutes of the race, Pfander had done more than enough to cover off the rules but Naujoks would have to do around 30 laps on a single set of tires to make their radical strategy work.  A few laps after Vortex SimRacing’s strategy gamble, Peralta lost control heading into Turn Two and hit the barrier head-on, suffering significant front end damage which made for a long trip to the pits and a DNF.

Peralta does heavy damage to his engine near the halfway point of the race.

Lap 20 saw the first of the front runners pit for their driver swap as Ballerstedt handed-off to Uwe Länger who came out behind Naujoks but with much fresher tires.  The top two pitted at the end of Lap 21 and GT World prepared for their least favorite part of the race.  Pit stop issues had plagued the RUF team in the past, but Sonoma treated them well and they exited the pits long before Riku Byckling in the Putkarit Racing BMW.

Badinelli makes his exit, still in the lead.

While the front two were pitting Länger should have been taking advantage of his fresh tires and closing the gap to the cars ahead.  However, yet another incident at Turn Six similar to those of Bernardo and Peralta launched him towards the inside of the corner, costing him valuable time.

Deja vu all over again in Turn Six.

Despite his brief issue at Turn Six, Länger was closing on Naujoks and looked to be in a good position to regain his podium position.  On Lap 23 that all changed, and once again at Turn Six.  The back end of Länger’s Z4 started to break loose exiting the corner; Länger countersteered and when the grip finally came it launched him towards the hill.  His momentum sent him skyward and over the barrier, going into orbit at Turn Six and making a hard landing at the exit of Turn Eight.  The resulting penalty for cutting the course took him out of podium contention entirely.

Ground Control to Major Tom . . .

On Lap 30, Milt Minter Jr. in the FSB Endurance Racing RUF was closing on Niko Pesonen of Team Ahma until oversteer at the entrance of Turn Two sent him spinning across the track and straight into the McLaren’s path and forced him into the pits for repairs while Pesonen continued.

That’s one way to overtake…

Towards the end of the race Byckling was lapping faster than Badinelli, but the gap built by GT World earlier in the race ensured they won by a comfortable gap with nearly ten seconds in hand when the checkered flag fell on Lap 40.  The win not only gave GT World the highest score of the week at Sonoma (121 points), it enabled the team to clinch the inaugural 2014 Season 4 championship with a points total of 573.  Second place for the season went to the Putkarit Racing team of Savoleinen and Byckling who scored  538 points (just 35 less than GT World).

Badinelli celebrates in style, as a champion.

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