The second round of the UK&I Skip Barber League’s first season of 2015 ventured to a track layout not seen in recent times for a 16 lap race of the Suzuka West layout.  The western half of the legendary Suzuka circuit features the infamous 130R along with Spoon Curve and also Kamui Kobayashi’s favorite overtaking location: the hairpin (a move the boys of league are intimately familiar with).  The current championship leader, Graham Carroll, took pole position and looked a good bet to continue his winning ways ahead of Tom Ward in second and Sebastian Job in third while defending champion Marc Mercer could only manage sixth.

The grid lined up between Spoon and 130R for the launch.  With such a high speed first corner the typical Skippy launches were expected, and likely the running order would look very similar to the grid after the first few corners of sim racing.  This was not the case, however, as seventh place starter Cem Bolukbasi caught Mercer mid-battle with fifth place starter Matthew Daniels into 130R.  Mercer was put on the back foot trying to go around the outside and Bolukbasi took sixth with ease.  Bolukbasi wasn’t done there though, as he also used some impressive late braking to overtake Daniels for fifth at the inside of the very next corner.

Bolukbasi (74) moves up two places in two corners.

As the field started Lap Two Bolukbasi pressured Wojciech Swirydowicz for his fourth place position.  Swirydowicz defended the inside line coming out of 130R but braked early because of his compromised racing line.  Tucked into Swirydowicz’ slipstream, Bolukbasi got caught off guard and slammed into the back of Swirydowicz whose Skippy got lifted off the ground.  Swirydowicz was a passenger at this point and was sent careening backwards into the path of Job who was an innocent victim.

Bolukbasi, Swirydowicz, and Job (left to right).

With two of the sim-racers ahead of him dispatched, Mercer was now pressuring Bolukbasi for fourth.  Mercer made a move at the inside of the hairpin and there was light contact with Bolukbasi but neither driver appeared to suffer any damage.  Bolukbasi hung it around the outside to defend the position, but the battle took a turn for the weird when Mercer’s car started twitching in the dirty air through Spoon and he suddenly dove into the pits before rejoining way back in P21 (not far behind Job on his recovery drive).

Mercer heads to the pits after getting the black and orange flag from the minor contact with Bolukbasi.

With less than half the race completed there was a sizable gap from Carroll and Ward to the rest of the field, leaving the two of them to decide the winner.  Ward made his first bid for the top spot at the end of Lap Five with a good run out of Spoon (combined with the slipstream) and eased into the lead before 130R.

Ward (left) takes the lead at the start of Lap Six.

Less than two laps later Ward gifted the position back to Carroll with an accidental corner cut moment at the chicane after the hairpin at the end of Lap Seven.

Ward received a penalty for this mistake, but lost minimal time.

Ward collected himself well and kept focused on the task at hand, losing minimal time as a result of his error.  By the start of Lap 10 he was back on Carroll’s gearbox and took the lead once more heading into 130R.

Ward regains the lead with the inside line for 130R.

Unfortunately for Ward, Lap 11 saw him run deep into the second corner (while taking the shortcut into Dunlop Curve) which put his left wheels in the grass . . . and handed the lead back to Carroll.

Ward runs deep and Carroll profits on Lap 11.

On Lap 11 the battle for fifth began to heat up as Stuart Adcock made a move on Bolukbasi at the chicane, only to receive a corner cut warning of his own which forced him to give the position right back.

The chicane proving to be cumbersome for many of the sim-racers.

Adcock got another opportunity just a few corners later and grabbed it with both hands to take fifth off Bolukbasi at the start of Lap 12.

Adcock makes it stick at the start of Lap 12.

The start of the penultimate lap found Simon Povey in fourth place as a result of a fast but clean race from ninth on the grid.  He managed to clear Bolukbasi in the first half of the race with a move at the inside of the hairpin but it took over half the race for him to close down Daniels in third.  When Povey finally got a run at Daniels with the inside line for 130R he got massive oversteer and did a 360 off the circuit before rejoining in a familiar position: P9.

Daniels may have been even more nervous than Povey at this point.

Later in the lap Adcock again struggling with the chicane and received a second corner cut warning.  This time the penalty had a dramatic impact on is race as Adcock he lost positions to both Bolukbasi and Fahim Antoniades with only one lap remaining.

Adcock gets a second corner cut penalty and drops behind Bolukbasi and Antoniades and out of the draft.

Antoniades gained another position shortly after Adcock’s mistake with a run on Bolukbasi coming out of Spoon.  Bolukbasi defended the inside toward 130R but Antoniades had the straight line speed to breeze by.

Antoniades (22) takes fourth at the start of the final lap.

Not long after, Job and Mercer started their final lap with Mercer squeezing into Job’s P12 at 130R.  Mercer defended the inside line at the next corner only to suffer damage from contact with Job.  With nearly an entire lap still to complete, Mercer’s strong recovery drive had come to an early end.

They fought valiantly, but contact with Job dropped Mercer even further.

After failing to get a run on Carroll into the hairpin on the final lap, Ward had few remaining overtaking opportunities.  A good run through the chicane enabled him to close massively on Carroll heading into Spoon, but Carroll defended the inside line.  However, Carroll’s exit speed was compromised and Ward got enough of a draft to make it close but the run to the line was too short and Carroll edged Ward by .04s for the win with  Daniels a further six seconds back.

Carroll wards-off Ward by a hair.

Carroll’s second win in a row brings his total to 60 of a possible 60 points while Daniels and Job are tied at 34 points apiece.  Antoniades moves up two positions into fourth with just one less point at 33 and Mercer dropped six positions to ninth with 23 points.

The championship standings after two races.

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