Round 10: Laguna Seca 1-Hour Sprint
Welcome back, Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you for once again joining us for a race recap of Pineapple Racing Club, for round 10 of GT Challenge 2021 Season, powered by Dapper Customs.
Round 10 brings us into the final 3 races of the season. Laguna Seca is the host for this week’s 1-hour sprint race.
We've seen plenty of action over the past nine rounds, and I don't expect that to stop as the season end draws nearer.
Dominiak still holds a commanding lead in the championship, and if he finishes ahead of Banana in this race, he will win the 2021 GT Challenge championship. Heesch is just 15 points behind Lipponen and will be giving it his all to challenge for the class podium position.
The AM class battle is also extremely close, as just 16 points separate Bartocci in first, Chmura in second, and Cruijsen in third. Jackson’s recent performance has allowed him to gain some ground, now sitting just 4 points behind Cruijsen.
As drivers spent some time on track, new driver Pozzoli was showing some good pace, as was Winegarden and Jackson.
Banana struggled to set any lap times initially, as he found himself facing the barriers at multiple areas of the circuit. Eventually he was able string some turns together, setting a lap time worthy of pole position, tipping Dominiak off his usual spot. Jackson was able to hold the AM Class pole position, ahead of Chmura and Bartocci. Brown battled with the stability of his Bentley and only in the final few moments was he able to break into the top 10, qualifying in 7th.
Banana led the cars around for the formation and, as five green lights signaled the start, everyone throttled toward turns 1 and 2. It was another very clean start to the race with an early battle between Brown and Yang. Brown was able to take the inside line through Turn 2, but Yang held the inside line through Turn 3 to regain his position.
Banana led Dominiak through Turn 6, but the pressure of being ahead got too much and he drifted wide onto the sand. Banana was able to keep the car straight but conceded first position.
First contact came through the final turn of Lap 1, as Driver Lipponen was caught out by the cornering speed differential of his nimble Honda against the big brute BMW. A small nudge was enough to rotate the BMW of Langaard and push him into the kitty litter. Langaard played it smart and rejoined the circuit safely once the pack had passed.
By lap 2, Valtonen was closing on Banana, but lit up the rear tyres on exit of the Corkscrew, allowing him a front row seat as his opponents passed by.
Meanwhile, Brown had made up a couple of places, but can’t seem to catch a break as Jackson got his braking into the Corkscrew wrong, drifted onto the dirt, and collided with the side of Brown’s Bentley. Jackson rejoined behind Chmura and ahead of Bartocci.
Jackson wasn’t the only driver to have issues through the Corkscrew, as just a few laps later, Winegarden hit the apex a little too hot, pitching Bartocci into a spin. Luckily, all drivers behind were able to avoid further collisions.
As is characteristic of Laguna Seca, initiating and completing overtakes is difficult. This lead the pack to briefly settle down. Brown was sitting behind Pozzoli for a few laps, before Pozzoli had a tank-slapper slide. Brown was unfortunate enough to be collected and was sent sideways. He waited for an opportunity to safely rejoin the circuit, but unfortunately clipped the sand as he turned and his Bentley over-rotated, leaving him facing the wrong direction mid-track. Bartocci had nowhere to go other than into Brown, leaving both drivers limping back to the pits for some much-needed repairs.
Yang, who started in 6th place, had kept it smooth and clean to this point, and was awarded 3rd position by lap 7.
As the halfway mark approached, the pit window opened, for drivers’ mandatory tyre change. Up front, Dominiak took an early stop, and Banana followed him through. Banana was just 4 seconds behind and knew if he could get a good pit stop, he might be able to leave the pits ahead of Dominiak. Unfortunately, Banana’s positioning was not as good as previous events, and left the pits behind Dominiak.
From this mark, Banana’s performance dropped off a cliff, as he found himself facing the wrong way numerous times. On lap 31, Banana explored the outer sand pits on turn 9, almost getting beached in the process. As Banana freed himself from the clutches of the sand, Yang sped past for 2nd place.
As the race came into the closing laps, Jackson, who had been running in 5th position, was being pressured by Valtonen, who had gradually been closing the gap. Jackson had a spin through the Corkscrew, which unfortunately, allowed both Valtonen and Heesch to overtake, leaving Jackson to come home to a 7th position finish, winning the AM class, over Chmura in 11th.
Dominiak brought his Porsche home in 1st place, ahead of Yang in 2nd, and Banana in 3rd. Lipponen finished in 4th position, allowing Banana to collect a few extra points advantage, although less points than desired. Brown and Bartocci, who had a coming-together on Lap 7, finished in 13th and 14th respectively.
With Jackson taking the Class win, he’s able to steal 3rd position from Cruijsen in the class standings, whilst Chmura collected more points than Bartocci, knocking him off the top of the standings, with just 2 events to go.
As drivers returned to the pits, I was able to catch up with some of them.
Banana: Dominiak, you’ve just secured your Championship title, with 2 races remaining on the Calendar. Fantastic driving. How does it feel?
Dominiak: Thank you! My performance was solid throughout the season and the championship is the proof. It is an amazing feeling to win it with two races left. Every race was hard for me mentally since I had more and more pressure after each one.
Banana: Since you’ve achieved the Title, will you approach the final 2 races any differently than normal? Maybe a couple pity-wins for me?
Dominiak: Afraid not. My approach for the next two is the same as for every other. The target is always to get the podium. Obviously, there will be less pressure now and I can relax a bit more. Still, I know that my rivals will give it all so I don't want to make it easy for them. Good rivalry produces good racing. And good racing has been present throughout the season. There is more room to play right now.
Banana: In terms of rivals, Banana is second in the championship, Lipponen is not far behind in third. Who do you consider the biggest rival?
Dominiak: Banana has been pushing really hard all season long. His performances were really good. Also Lipponen, the rain master, has stepped up and given me some hard times. I think that my biggest rival is always myself. It might sound cheesy, but thanks to this approach, I managed to overcome some issues from race 1 which resulted in DNF. When it comes to driving, Banana, Lipponen, Heesch and Brown were really giving it all and I really enjoyed the fight. They are fantastic drivers and I feel really privileged to race against such great people.
Banana: It’s always great racing alongside you, and I hope that continues for the remainder of the season, and future seasons, too.
Banana: Brown, you showed strong pace through practice, but you struggled through qualifying. Can you talk us through your qualifying?
Brown: Yeah, qualifying was rough, but I hadn't really prepared for qualifying, as I was more concerned about race pace. This track is about staying out of trouble and staying consistent, so I wasn't worried about starting on the front row.
Banana: It was a decent start to the race, but things quickly started going awry. What was the trigger point of your race?
Brown: Despite a tussle with Jackson the race started well, but a mistake from Pozzoli put me in a position where I had to make a quick decision on how I was going to react to him being out of control. Unfortunately, I chose incorrectly, and he collected me. It sucks but these things happen in racing. I had to wait for the pack to pass and when I thought it was clear I spun the rears up a little too much while turning around and ended up pointing the wrong way and took Bartocci with me -- a stupid error for me and to Bartocci, I apologise.
Banana: What were your hopes for a recovery?
Brown: From there on there wasn't really much recovery, I just had to repair and get my head down and collect whatever positions presented themselves. I had decent pace today which is good news but just a shame I couldn't get in a position to use it. All-in-all a pretty poor showing from myself.
As a special treat, I was able to grab a few moments with our Head Steward, Ms. Crash.
Banana: Ms. Crash, you're our Michael Masi of the GT world. What goes into Live Stewarding behind the scenes?
Ms. Crash: There's a lot of coordination actually. When live stewarding, I have to coordinate with my other stewards to make sure everything is covered and no incident is missed. There's a lot of replay watching during the race to review incidents and make decisions. When I'm on my own it's a lot to keep track of all the incidents to review after the race, but I do my best.
Banana: Since the season started, has the process changed at all?
Ms. Crash: The process has definitely evolved as the season has progressed. We started with a few stewards and then we thought having more stewards would expedite the process. That didn't work out as intended, so we decided to limit the number of stewards again. The unexpected departure of one of the stewards threw another wrench into the process. But I've got a new live steward to work with, Vogel, and I think the process will continue to improve.
Banana: How do you ensure penalties are fair and consistent?.
Ms. Crash: This is a tough one. I try to remain consistent throughout the race and from race to race. I think the key to being fair and consistent is trying to be as objective as possible when viewing the incidents.
Banana: When will you be joining us on track?
Ms. Crash: I thought about this the other day and decided that I much prefer spectating and working behind the scenes than racing myself. So, you probably won't see me on track anytime soon. But, I won't say never.
Banana: I’ll let you get back to duty, thank you for your time.
In post-race celebrations, drivers voted for ‘Driver of the Day’ again.
Yang, with over 70% of the votes, was awarded ‘Driver of The Day’ for his performance at Laguna Seca, starting from 6th position, and climbing to 2nd by running a clean, smooth race.
Join us next week for the penultimate race of the season: a 1-hour sprint race at Suzuka circuit, where the AM battle will intensify further. Bartocci will want to regain his championship lead, whilst Jackson will be gunning to steal 3rd position from Gomez.