Week 5 could be the decisive week in the Star Mazda championship for the shortened Season 4 as, inevitably, drivers would be giving it their all to achieve a good result. It just happened to be the notorious Mount Panorama (Bathurst) circuit which hosted this week’s sim racing. The grueling 23 turns and 174 meters height difference from the low to high points on the circuit over the 4 mile length could play havoc on driver’s concentration. Although Bathurst would have the shortest race time of the season, by no means did it make the race any easier.
The 17:45 GMT race once again proved the race to be in as it resulted in a 3322 SOF (strength-of-field). Kerry Knowlden (UK&I) – for a second week in a row – took pole position, but this time it wouldn’t be Kevin Gelly-Rufat (France) joining him on the front row, Cem Bolukbasi (International) put in a strong qualifying performance to gain second position on the grid. Surprisingly the top 10 were only separated by six tenths in qualifying time, so it seemed to be any driver’s race to win. The championship leader heading in to this race was the Frenchman, Gelly-Rufat; but he certainly would have a task on his hands to even extend that gap over anyone considering he started the race in a lowly tenth place.
For a place as difficult as Bathurst, you couldn’t fault anyone off the line: each driver kept it clean and respectful for one another. The peace wasn’t going to last for long though… Heading up in to Skyline corner and directly in to the Esses and The Dipper , all hell could quite easily break loose, and it almost did as Matthew Odonnell (California) lost the rear of his Star Mazda and went in to a slow spin to the inside wall. Luckily all the passing cars somehow avoided him, albeit very marginally. Odonnell managed to carry on his way, but that “moment” was a huge setback for his ambitions in this race. The front five had built up a 1.5 second lead as the field entered Conrod Straight, so it looked as if a breakaway pack was on with Cam Stark (UK&I) attempting to lead the chase back up to the front.
Odonnell’s incident aside, the race was quiet early on, with everyone biding their time and playing it safe. Drivers knew if they pushed too hard too early one of the many walls situated around the circuit could claim their car, and maybe even a good result. The first top runner to find this out was Oli Peacock (UK&I), as The Dipper laid claim to its second victim of the day. In contrast to the fortunate Odonnell, Peacock’s race ended in a much more abrupt manner as he was unable to continue. The incident actually began at Skyline corner and, as it transferred downward, the British sim racer got on the brakes, the rear of the car stepped out and headed directly for the wall, resulting in a broken suspension.
Up at the front of the pack, Knowlden was just holding on from Steijn Schothorst (Benelux). The lead changed hands for the first time on Lap Six when Knowlden sacrificed the lead on the run to The Chase, the legacy of a poor exit from Forrest’s Elbow (T18) where the wall was waiting to claim him. Schothorst took full advantage of this, but the Division 2 leader certainly wasn’t letting the lead go away easily.
What had begun as a calmly-contested race, quickly changed to the other end of the spectrum. The Dipper claimed another victim in the form Stark. This crash came quite possibly at the worst time as Gregory Tanson (Benelux) and Craig Baxter (UK&I) were directly behind at the moment of impact which destroyed Stark’s left rear suspension and made keeping the car in a straight line a tricky task. Whilst this was unfolding, Baxter spun off Turn 15 and was collected by Gelly-Rufat, although the current championship leader scraped through virtually unscathed, even pulling a wheelie in the process. The next three corners were certainly chaos; everyone following in Stark’s wobbly wake had to be on their toes whilst he limped his broken Star Mazda back to the pit. (See picture gallery at the bottom for the extent of chaos).
The mid-pack had certainly been changed-up position-wise, with drivers who steered clear of trouble gaining free positions for just keeping their noses clean . . . until the last lap. Odonnell had joined the party for sixth and as it went three wide in to Turn 2, the Californian driver was on the receiving end of an unfortunate punt into the outside wall which, in the end, relegated him to a tenth place finish.
Meanwhile, the top four positions had gone virtually unchanged throughout the race, with only Knowlden losing out. He had dropped to third and was now behind Bolukbasi as the race entered its final stages. The last lap was certainly going to be intense considering less than a second separated the top four at the line. The way to the win would be through The Dipper and Forrest’s Elbow; nailing this section could enable one of the three drivers behind Schothorst to make the move along Conrod Straight. In the end it was not to be, however, as the Dutch driver claimed the win with Bolukbasi crossing the line in second a mere .oo9s ahead of Knowlden who claimed the final podium position inches ahead of Tuomas Turkki.
Once again the Star Mazdas created some fantastic sim racing to report on, but next week will be a different ball game altogether: an oval. Gateway Motorsport park hosts the final week of the season, and who knows, maybe some less familiar names from the land of the Dallara DW12 may make an appearance to do battle with Star Mazda regulars.
Next week will also confirm the final standings, but it looks increasingly likely that Gelly-Rufat will have done enough to retain his crown. Only five of the six weeks count, so maybe those who didn’t score the points they would’ve liked early on in the season can make amends at Gateway.
Current top 5:
Kevin Gelly-Rufat (1) – 949
Gregory Tanson (1) – 857
Kerry Knowlden (2) – 853
Oscar Tolnay (1) – 832
Cam Stark (2) – 793
The race results from this race can be found here.