Benjamin Smith stormed to victory in a last-to-first win the fifth round of the 2015 ANZ Skip Barber Championship at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
David Buda of Relentless Racing had qualified on pole with a lap time 1:52.882, almost half a second clear of Kevin Wilmen on grid two, and was looking to extend his championship lead. His hard work came undone before the lights went out for the 50 minute race when he jumped the start. He would serve his pit lane penalty and start a storming drive through the field.
The action came on thick and fast. Twenty-three starters watched the lights go out, and the first corner complex of Turns One and Two would see Kevin Wilmen pushed wide off the track in the melee and drop to the tail of the field, making for a difficult afternoon. Shangaroo Racing’s Troy Burgess, making a welcome return to the series after missing rounds due to his battle with cancer, led the field around after the first lap from Troy Duffin and Buda’s teammate Richard Craig. Craig’s race came to a halt after a move from Red Dust’s James Keene into Turn One saw minor contact between the two, but the resulting placement of his car resulted in serious damage after Turn Two contact from DT Racing’s Paul Wood-Stotesbury, being pressured by Anthony Mancarella. The resulting damage saw Craig crash heavily on the run to Turn Three and collect an innocent Wayne Taylor, on his debut in the championship. Carving his way through the carnage was Benjamin Smith, crossing the line 13th after the first lap and seventh at the end of the second.
Burgess started to stretch his lead at the front, while Wood-Stotesbury and Mancarella fought tooth and nail for fifth place in the early laps even as Smith continued his march up the field to take second place on Lap Eight. He would hunt down and pass Burgess for the lead on Lap 12, ahead of Duffin, Keene, Wood-Stotesbury, Mancarella, Ben Seidel, Ben Conroy (who stated 14th) and a recovering Buda.
The pit stop phase threw up its usual mid-race reshuffle. Keene was the first of the front runners to pit on Lap 13, but a slow stop saw him drop to sixth. Seidel would pit two laps later but only to fall afoul of the pit lane speed limit and have to make a return visit to the pits. Burgess would retake the lead from Smith after they stopped on Lap 17, leading to a showdown to the finish.
Ben Conroy’s solid drive was cut short on Lap 19 after sustaining damage, and Keene would retire from seventh three laps later after hitting the outside wall hard on the exit of Turn Nine.
Up front, Smith slowly but surely started to reel-in the six second deficit to Burgess. As the laps counted down it became a race for Burgess to get to the line at the end of the twenty-sixth lap before the fifty minute race time expired – both to minimize the opportunity for Smith to take the position and because fuel was tight.
Meanwhile Buda was charging through the field. After 18 laps he had recovered to fifth and began nibbling away at an eight second deficit to Wood-Stotesbury.
Just when the fairy tale return for Burgess was looking a distinct possibility, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve struck back. Burgess ran wide into the last chicane at the end of Lap 26, hit the outside kerb too hard and slammed into the Wall of Champions. Smith avoided the collision to take the lead, while Burgess limped across the line to complete Lap 26. Unfortunately, he would not complete the 27th tour now needed to finish the race and would be classified 14th.
Smith completed another uneventful lap to take the win for from his wildcard entry from Troy Duffin, who had a quiet but strong drive to a runner-up finish 2nd, and Wood-Stotesbury completed the podium. Buda came home fourth in front of Mancarella, as Wilmen recovered to sixth, followed by Matt Spencer, Ian Bevan, Darin Carter and Darren Lessue.
Smith becomes the first driver in the 2015 season to win two races, following his win at the last round at Road America three weeks ago. As yet no driver has won from pole position.
Smith moves to fourth in the championship behind David Buda (140 points), Paul Wood-Stotesbury (112) and Kevin Wilmen (73). Relentless Racing continue to lead the team’s championship on 176 points, followed by Shangaroo Racing (115) and DT Racing (112).
Full coverage of the race can be found on RRTV’s Youtube channel, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3HUeDuYLhSE
The ANZ Skip Barber Championship is next in action at the Mosport roller coaster on Sunday June 21.