On week eleven the RSR teams traveled to Suzuka, Mie Prefecture, Japan for the “Casino Triangle F1 GP at Suzuka”. Featuring seventeen corners along a 3.609 mile layout, Suzuka is one of few circuits in the world to have a “figure 8” layout, with the back straight passing over the front section by means of an overpass.
Suzuka is one of the oldest remaining tracks of the Formula One World Championship. It has a long history of races as the venue for the Japanese Grand Prix. Its traditional role as one of the last Grand Prix races of the season means numerous World Championships have been decided at the track.
Brad Vincent, winner of five races coming into the final two weeks of the season, was eager to return to the winner’s podium after watching newcomer Christine Marie Tillman take top honors in the previous two events.
As usual, Vincent was a crowd favorite as he torched the track during pre-race and qualifying. His qualifying effort of 1:33.774 was the only sub-1:35 lap time posted in the session. Les Turner earned the 2nd starting position with a lap time of 1:35.206. Andrea Ventura, Corey A. Wolf, Christine Marie Tillman, Jim Albertson, Jeff Thomas, John Koscielniak, Andrew Feldman, Ed Sutcliff, Terry Daul, Robert Magee, and William Kabela, completed the grid.
The race began cleanly, but Magee was unable to complete Lap One without incident. His first miscue happened when he got onto the curbing exiting Turn Eight. He survived that scare without damaging the car, but then hit another curb in the middle of Turn Thirteen on the same lap. The mistakes dropped Magee from 11th to 13th in the early going.
Lap three saw Vincent escaping the first of three incidents which could have ruined his chances of winning the race. Coming out of Spoon Curve, Vincent got into the gas a little too quickly and spun his car towards the inside wall. Missing it by inches, Vincent was able to recover and maintain hold on first place.
Daul was in 10th place on Lap Three when he tried too hard to catch Sutcliff exiting Hairpin. His acceleration spun the car and Daul was forced to watch helplessly as Thomas overtook him for position.
The infamous Spoon Curve at Suzuka was the site of six different incidents during the race. Tillman was victim number three when she hit the outside curbing in the middle of the corners on Lap Four. She was in 2nd place at the time, but lost two positions despite making a nifty 360 spin to recover from the incident.
The normally incident free Turner was the Spoon’s fourth victim when he got off line in the middle of the corners. Off speed and off line, Turner got back into the gas too early on corner exit and spun his car around on the track in front of Ventura and Tillman. Both drivers avoided contact as they passed Turner’s parked car. Three other drivers got past Turner before he was able to get back to race speed.
Magee, victim number one and five at Spoon, returned to the haunted corners on Lap Six. Corner workers had cleared the track of debris from Turner’s incident moments before Magee arrived. Perhaps distracted by the off track movement, Magee overdrove the corner exit and spun into the wall after hitting the curbing. Magee was forced to retire after the incident.
Pit road has been a relatively safe location in past RSR events, but Ventura discovered the exit of pit road at Suzuka was not like the other venues the league has visited. Ventura got back into the gas too quickly trying to return to the track on Lap Thirteen. Andrea had been in 6th place at the time of the accident, but damage to the front of his car ended his night.
Albertson is usually one of the safest drivers in the league, but the old guy has had a few scares in recent weeks. The wild rides continued at Suzuka when Albertson hit the curb in Turn Eight on Lap Fourteen while trying to maintain pace with Wolf. Expert driving saved the car and position as Albertson hung onto 4th place with four laps remaining in the race.
Several drivers, including Tuner, Tillman, Ventura, and Koscielniak, jostled for 2nd place during the race, but Tillman was the most consistent threat to Vincent as the race wound down. Her back to back victories in the previous two RSR races must have been on Vincent’s mind, because he made two more errors late in the race which could have also ruined his night.
Despite having built a huge lead over Tillman, Vincent almost gave the race away when he drove over the inside curbing in the Casino Triangle on Lap Sixteen while trying to get past the much slower car of Kabela. Fans and teammates wondered why Vincent would have taken such a risk instead of waiting a second longer to use his faster corner exit speed and momentum to overtake Kabela on the front stretch.
Their questions would only grow when Vincent risked certain damage to his car by making an ill-advised pass attempt of Daul at the entry of Spoon on the final lap. With nothing to gain, and everything to lose, Vincent’s closing speed on Daul at the corner ensured almost certain disaster. Track officials estimated Daul’s car was going almost 25 mph slower than Vincent as he carefully entered the corner which had been the site of so many incidents throughout the event. Vincent, by comparison, dove to the inside curbing as though his race depended on making the pass without any loss of speed.
Unfortunately, Daul never knew what hit him when his left side tires collided with Vincent’s right side tires in the corner. Both cars were able to continue, but Daul stayed well to the right and off the gas until he was sure Vincent had cleared the area.
Thomas was having his own troubles on the last lap when he gave up 7th place to his teammate with a spin in Turn Eight. He compounded the incident by trying too hard to get back onto the track. His acceleration spun the car straight across the track and into the path of Feldman. Their collision was the most violent accident in recent RSR memory. Both cars were heavily damaged, but Thomas managed to continue on as Feldman’s car was upside down in the dirt.
Despite having lost valuable time while recovering from the late race mishaps with Kabela and Daul, Vincent took the checkered flag with a comfortable two second margin of victory over Tillman. League rules dictate drivers complete a cool down lap to ensure all cars return safely to the pits and avoid post-race incidents which can occur when drivers suddenly pull over and stop on the track, but Vincent and Tillman took the cool down lap to another level as they drove around at near race pace. Their actions nearly collected Thomas as he finished his final lap. Thomas was damaged and off-pace when the leaders got to him, and he was forced to drive off track to avoid being run over by the leaders racing back to the pits on the cool down lap.
Wolf finished in third place. “We had to work hard to keep Feldman in sight tonight. I’d say he was pushing pretty hard because he ended up making one mistake which allowed me to sneak past him. The pass was enough to get another a podium finish for the Wolfpack Racing crew.”
Albertson finished in fourth place. Fifth place went to Koscielniak. Sutcliff (6th), Turner (7th), and Thomas (8th), were the last drivers to cross the line on the lead lap.
Thomas felt lucky to have completed the race. “We have tried and tried to turn our season 3 around, but Murphy is still riding shotgun with me. I want to apologize to Andy Feldman for getting him caught up in my last lap accident. I’m looking forward to turning things around in 2012!”
Feldman (9th), Daul (10th), and Kabela (11th), were scored one lap down. Ventura’s early exit put him six laps down, while Magee’s difficulties negotiating the track put him thirteen laps down in last place.
Vincent posted the fastest lap time of the race with a lap of 1:35.025. Wolf, Koscielniak, Sutcliff, and Kabela finished the event without incident.
RSR wraps up the season at next week’s event, the “Toboggan Des Ardennes F1 GP at Spa” held at the Circuit De Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium.
Vincent’s win in Japan extended his lead over Turner in the overall standings to a comfortable 158 points. Albertson holds down 3rd place in the standings, while Koscielniak and Daul round out the top-5 spots.
TeamDraft’s lead in the team competition was cut from 224 points, to 85 points, over Storm-Front Racing.
Grand Prix Series Overall Standings after Race 11:
RASCARR Series Overall Standings after Race 11:
RSR YouTube Video Channel: