In a race which mirrored most of the Red Sox Racing League’s 2011 Season One F1 schedule, Les Turner and Robinson Shields were the class of the field as they battled for the final victory in the last race of the season. Coming into the final race as the only two RSR drivers to score F1 victories in 2011, they once again gave fans plenty of action as they negotiated the famous Circuit De Spa-Francorchamps track for 20 exciting laps.
Located in the beautiful Belgian Ardennes mountain range, the track affords drivers and spectators stunning views of forests, rolling hills, and sharp ridges which add to the dangers of the fast course.
Turner posted the fastest lap in pre-race practice when he blistered the course in 1:51.407. Robinson’s 1:51.978 was the only other sub 1:53 lap posted. Turner held the advantage during qualifying as he claimed the pole with a lap time of 1:51.313. Shields earned the 2nd starting position with a lap time of 1:52.116. Jim Albertson just missed out on the front row after arriving late and posting his fastest lap (1:52.304) of the day near the end of his qualifying run.
He was joined on row two by Terry McCuin (1:53.029). Chuck Johnson and Andrew Gantman filled row three, while Andrew Feldman and Jeff Thomas occupied row four. Divina Galica and Kevin Kyle earned the final spots in the top-10 grid positions. William Kabela and Mark Plank completed the grid.
Despite the small field, race fans were not disappointed by the racing action offered by the RSR drivers. As their qualifying laps would suggest, the drivers quickly settled into smaller groups of tight racing action on the track once they sorted themselves out in the opening laps.
Shields gave everything he had on the opening lap, but wisely backed out as he and Turner approached Les Combes for the first time. The move probably saved both drivers from suffering race ending damage which could have resulted if Shields forced the issue at that point of the race. Turner was a fraction of a second from backing out when he saw Shields braking and then breathed a sigh of relief and refocused on the track ahead.
Gantman had a similar decision to make on Lap Two as he followed Johnson into Turn One. His reaction wasn’t nearly as well timed however, and that hesitation cost both drivers dearly as he misjudged Chuck’s braking point and slammed into the back of the RS Guitar Works Williams Toyota. Both drivers were forced to retire from the race after completing just one lap.
Kyle gave up the 8th position when he spun in the Chicane one lap later. The incident didn’t result in any damage to his car, but allowed Kabela to get past Kyle as his car came to a stop facing the wrong way on the track.
Turner led the field in the early going and appeared to be on his way to another victory. Shields was securely in second place, but appeared to be having trouble finding the groove as he tried to keep Turner in sight.
Turner’s luck finally ran out when his car caught the exit curb in the Chicane on Lap Six. Although he managed to avoid spinning out, his loss of speed was exactly what Shields needed to make his move. Shields didn’t wave as he passed Turner, but he should have. The incident was exactly what Shields needed to take the lead.
While the drivers settled in for their longest race of the season, the battles for position fell into a two by two format. While Turner put his head down and tried to chase down Shields, Albertson and McCuin were fighting for 3rd. Thomas and Feldman had a close battle going for the 5th, which left Galica and Kabela both looking to take claim of the 7th position.
McCuin passed Albertson on Lap One, and Jim took the spot back on Lap Six. The two determined drivers swapped spots again during the pit cycles later in the race. The next battle on the track saw Feldman in the 5th position until he had trouble in the Chicane on Lap Seven. Like Turner had done earlier, Feldman was forced to watch helplessly as the car behind him (Thomas) took full advantage and passed for position.
Kyle’s evening came to an abrupt ending on Lap Eight after catching a curb and stuffing it into the wall in Malmedy. Plank was disappointed to see his team-mate retire from the race but gladly took over the 9th position.
The pit cycle began early when Turner and Albertson stopped for fuel & tires on Lap Ten. Both drivers had excellent pit stops, but Shields maintained his lead when he came in to the attention of his crew two laps later.
The fierce battle between Feldman and Thomas for 5th place continued when they both rolled down the pit lane together on Lap Twelve. Thomas had a quick stop and was looking to gain some breathing room, but Feldman finally shook off his streak of bad luck in the pits. Jeff maintained the 5th spot on exit, but Andy was now right on his rear wing. The battle continued until Thomas bobbled in the Chicane on Lap Thirteen, and Feldman took the spot back again for the final time.
Galica had a white knuckle moment on her out lap when she missed the corner at Les Combes on Lap Twelve. Only her suburb driving skills allowed her to save the car and maintain the 7th position over Kabela.
Shields held off Turner in the final laps as he crossed the line for his fourth victory of the season. The win allowed Shields to move up one spot into 4th place in the final standings.
Robinson was very happy about his effort at the historic track. “For the first time in a long time, I found a good rhythm during practice. That carried over to qualifying. Les grabbed provisional pole, as I struggled to get a clean lap in. Then I finally had a good lap, and managed to grab the top spot away, but it was short lived. Les came back and beat my time by a pretty good bit, so I ended up starting in P2.”
Shields continued: “The start was okay, I didn’t feel that I got away very well, but I don’t think anyone else did either. I was right behind Les going down Kemmel. I made the mistake of pulling out from the draft too soon, and that killed my run. Les made sure he got through Combes first, and I started trying to run him down. I struggled to find the rhythm I had in practice and qualifying, but I settled down, and around Lap Five started running better times.”
“On Lap 6 coming out of the Chicane, onto the front stretch, I noticed Les was slow, and off line. I was able to get past him for the lead, and the chase was on. I was able to keep him behind me, but he decided to switch up pit strategy, and short pit 2 laps early. I knew I had to push hard while he was in the pits, and I was able to knock .5 off my best lap. I decided to pit the next lap as I didn’t want him to jump me in the pits.”
“I kept an eye on the leader board data and watched the gap. Les would knock .2 off one lap, and I would add it back the next. I was able to run my best set of consistent laps after my stop. When I hit 1:52.096 with 2 laps to go, I was feeling pretty good, and just focused on closing out the race. I wanted to make sure he didn’t get close enough to get in my draft, because it would have been on then.”
“I want to thank everyone at RSR, it has been a fun season. I definitely need to work on my consistency for next year. I was either on the podium, or DNF. Four wins, and a 3rd place were great results, but I need to bring the car home more often, and grab more points.”
Turner’s 2nd place finish cemented his fourth overall RSR league championship in a row. “We made one tiny mistake tonight and it cost us the race. The competition in this series keeps getting better and better each week.” It was difficult to sense any disappointment in the Champion’s voice, as he was grinning from ear to ear and spraying anyone who dared venture near the podium with Champagne.
Albertson crossed the line at Spa in 3rd, and finished the season in 3rd place in the standings as well. “We had a busy week with our oldest grandson getting married, and a visit from our youngest granddaughter. I almost got so caught up in the family celebrations that I didn’t make the race!”
“The beginning of the race was crazy as I went wide in Pouhon on two consecutive laps before settling down and getting in a groove. I was able to pass Terry because he is a very safe driver and gave me just enough room to complete the pass. Once I got past him, I focused on the leaders. I guess I focused too hard, because I got into the grass exiting Fagnes. I ended up looping the car, but somehow managed to get back up to speed before Terry caught up to me.”
“Gentleman Jim” had to be told by post race reporters that he’d earned a spot on the podium. “You are kidding me!” claimed Albertson. “To tell you the truth, I was concentrating so hard on the race that I forgot what position I was in!” Commenting on his 3rd place position in the final standings, Albertson gave credit to his new sponsor and the awesome paint job created for him by Reed Rundell.
Terry McCuin took the checkers in 4th, and finished the season on the podium with 2nd place overall. “We had a good race. I had a blast just trying to keep Mr. Albertson in my sights. Congratulations to Jim on a well deserved podium finish, Robinson on his win at Spa, and Les for yet another RSR Championship.”
Feldman held on to his hard earned 5th place position as he crossed the line ahead of Thomas. Galica earned 7th place as she stayed in front of Kabela despite a late race mishap. Plank was scored one lap down in 9th place, while Kyle was scored thirteen laps down in 10th place. Johnson (11th) and Gantman (12th) were both scored nineteen laps down after the Turn One contact on Lap Two.
Kabela and Plank both gained three positions during the race to share the “Hard Charger” award. Only Turner, McCuin, Kabela, and Plank managed to complete the event without incident.
The RSR F1 Challenge Series takes 5 well deserved weeks off before the series resumes for 2011 Season 2.
In other Red Sox Racing League sanctioned events this week, The Tuesday Night Thunder Series, (RSR TNT), ran their 12th race at the Monster Mile in Dover in the iRacing Street Stocks. Even though the TNT Championship had already been decided in McCuin’s favor the previous week, it did not deter Turner from taking the pole position and looking for the win at Dover. Rundell started on the outside of the front row, with McCuin in P3 on the inside of the second row. The top-3 ran pretty much nose to tail in the opening laps with Rundell pushing hard to take the lead, and McCuin working Reed over looking for the 2nd spot.
On unlucky Lap Thirteen, it all went south for Rundell when he just barely got a fender under the leader exiting Turn Two and could not make it stick. The Tombstone Pizza car went around and made hard contact with the outside wall while McCuin slipped by into 2nd place. The Series Champion pushed Turner hard for the remainder of the event and finished less than a car length behind his team-mate. TeamDraft swept the top-4 finishing positions at the Monster Mile with Thomas claiming 3rd place and Gildersleeve Jr. securing 4th place. Jim Graziano rounded out the top-5 with his best run of the season.
The RSR TNT Series also takes 5 weeks off before the series resumes for 2011 Season 2.
RSR F1 Series Final Standings after twelve races:
RSR TNT Series Final Standings after twelve races:
RSR YouTube Video Channel: