Week 5 of the Star Mazda championship saw Donington Park make its first appearance on the schedule. The 11 turn, 4km circuit would certainly keep all 19 sim racers thoroughly on their toes throughout this week’s 18 lap feature race, as blind apexes and sweeping bends could certainly cause havoc for some competitors.
Justin Brunner (Indiana) took pole position with a 1.24.032, a mere 15 hundredths ahead of Gregory Tanson (Benelux) who rounded-out the front row. A driver who we’d have to really keep an eye on this race would be Riku Alatalo (Finland). He opted not to qualify and would have to make a hard charge through the field if he wanted to win once again.
Unfortunately for James Barr (Mid-South) his race was all but over before the field had even reached the first turn (Redgate Corner); Daniel Baxter (UK&I) pounded into the rear of his car under braking, leaving the American all but stranded in the infield, and leading to his premature retirement. By the end of Lap One, Riku – aka The Flying Finn for this race – had gained a ginormous 10 postions, clearly stating his intentions of advancing to the front of the field; and quickly at that.
Absolutely no one was holding back in the early stages of this race as all hell almost broke loose on Starkey’s Straight. AOR’s Kerry Knowlden (UK&I) had just gained the lead at the beginning of the lap, and had a small, but comfortable gap over the chasing pack. That all changed come the exit of Coppice, where the Brit got slightly out of shape enabling Tanson and last week’s winner Jan Schwitter (DE-AT-CH) to cruise past him on the run up to The Esses. The Esses is one of the tightest and quickest parts of the circuit, and having a gaggle of three cars trying to head in to the same corner at the same time could’ve ended in tears; fortunately all drivers attacking Knowlden managed to think safe and get through.
Melbourne Hairpin was next up, and offered a top overtaking opportunity; or so it certainly seemed from what I’d witnessed this lap! A brief foour wide moment heading down the hill would’ve given the drivers a “heart in their mouth moment.” When the frenzy of sim racing between these corners was over, first place down to sixth was surely not what the AOR driver had planned. Nonetheless with 15 laps remaining everything was open.
After the pack had slightly spaced out, it was clear to see successful overtaking maneuvers would be few and far between as, with the fast-paced downhill sections and blind apex corners, drivers decided to play it safe and only attempt to create an opportunity for themselves if a clear cut chance appeared. Alatalo was gradually closing in on a top five position and a chance opened up on the exit of Redagte when Knowlden made a small mistake by running too wide on the exit. This allowed the Finn to scamper underneath him and place himself within the top five. With Riku having considerably more consistent pace than the other drivers within the top five it was going to be hard not to see him catch up with the leader.
The win could’ve been claimed by any of half a dozen drivers. Indeed, the top six were only covered by around 1.5seconds as they crossed the line for the white flag lap. Unfortunately, Knowlden was once again in the wars and destined not to see the checkered flag. He attempted a pass on Harley Lewis (Canada) as the #7’s car broke slightly loose. Although the Canadian was able to control his small slide, the opportunity arose as Lewis ran slightly wide at the Old Hairpin allowing the British driver a look up the inside. As Lewis’ car wiggled, Knowlden’s front end got tapped sending him careering towards the wall and ending his race in very unfortunate fashion.
In the end the checkered flag was taken by Gregory Tanson who had certainly done a good job at controlling the race from the front, the Benelux driver having led all but two laps. Justin Brunner came home a credible runner-up with Schwitter holding-off Alatalo’s late charge for third while Lewis rounded-out the top five.
In winning the 3344 SOF Tanson certainly did his title chances a world of good heading in to the last part of the season! Next week’s round of sim racing will feature the series’s annual visit to an oval which, this season, is one of my personal favourites – Iowa Speedway. Whether or not many of the well-known road ringers from the Star Mazda series turn out, I’m sure it will be a fun week with plenty of close quarters racing.