Round 12: Mount Panorama Endurance 5/22/2021
Welcome back to Pineapple Racing Club, for our final round of the GT Challenge 2021 season. The home of our final duel brings us across the world, to Australia, for a 2.4-hour solo endurance race on Mount Panorama.
This is not the first time this track combo has been run, as back in December 2020 a one-off event was held. This event actually takes Banana, and Langaard back to their roots, as that one-off was the first official race they took part in.
Unfortunately, this time around, with the logistical nightmare of teams transporting truckloads of cars and equipment to yet another continent, turnout for the event was lower than hoped Regardless, this is still the season finale, and there’s still some fights to be won.
Coming into the event, Banana and Lipponen are fighting over 2nd place in the Silver Class, as Banana is clinging on with just a 2-point lead. Banana needs to finish just one position ahead of Lipponen to hold off the Finn. Mid-pack, Langaard and Heesch are also in a heated fight, as Heesch trails Langaard by just 4 points.
Finally, this round will be the decider for our AM Champion. Bartocci is currently leading the standings, having toppled Chmura off the top spot at Suzuka. Chmura will be wanting to reclaim his top spot.
Jackson is unable to attend this round, so whilst he won’t be able to climb any higher, he will be able to proudly hold his AM 3rd position trophy.
As qualifying began, the track was dry and hot and Langaard took a surprising early pole before being out qualified by Valtonen. Lipponen put his Honda power to good use to qualify on the top spot of the front row. Banana finished the session in 5th position, having set just one valid lap.
Chmura claims AM pole, in 4th position overall, with Bartocci behind Heesch and Goswick in 8th place. Pozzoli ended the session in the final spot on the grid.
Lipponen led the drivers around on the formation lap, but in his haste to start the race, he turned into the entrance of Forrest Elbow a little too much, sustaining a second of aero damage against the feared mountain walls. Frustrated, but undeterred, he lined everyone on the start/finish straight, and as five green lights signalled the start of the race, he led the pack into turn 1.
Valtonen, who started on the outside of the front row, was ahead of Lipponen as they braked for the first turn. Valtonen gave Lipponen space, as Lipponen claimed the inside apex of the turn. Unfortunately, the cars came together at the apex where Valtonen was pushed wide and his rear end rotated around. As the other drivers rounded the first turn, there was very little reaction time available and even less space as Langaard hit the front of Valtonen’s Lamborghini before being rear ended by Banana, who was shunted forward by Goswick.
All drivers were able to quickly recover, but Valtonen, Langaard and Goswick were pushed to the back of the field. Heesch, having started on the outside of the grid, was able to follow Chmura around the outside, gaining the most from the incident. Clearly wearing his brave pants, Heesch tucked into the slipstream behind Chmura, pulling himself alongside before sending his McLaren around the outside of Griffiths Bend to take 2nd position.
As the race settled down, Heesch found himself under threat by Banana, who was slowly catching up. Running wide through turn 1 compromised Heesch’s exit speed, allowing Banana to slip through into 2nd position.
As the race rounded its 5th lap, Lipponen, up front, was able to make a quick escape from the pack, giving him some breathing room to lap cleanly. Whilst further back, a train was forming behind Banana, as Heesch, Bartocci, Chmura, Valtonen and Langaard were separated by just a couple of seconds.
Lap 6 brought about the first major wall collision. Chmura, not wanting to be outdone by Lipponen, made the exact same mistake into Forrest Elbow and turned in too early, clipping the inside wall of the entry curve. This speared his ‘NASA’ McLaren into two more walls, causing significant damage.
Not wanting to pit so early in the race, Chmura tried to stay out on circuit for two more laps before realising his damage was costing too much time and a position to Goswick. Chmura was the first driver to pull into the pits, repairing his car and serving his first mandatory pit stop. From here, he’d need to pull 2 full stints without incident to avoid making unnecessary additional stops.
As Chmura pulled aside into the pits, the train grew tighter, and drivers wanted to make progress through the field. Bartocci was able to pull alongside Heesch on Conrod Straight and made a move stick into The Chase for 3rd position. Shortly thereafter, Langaard employed the same trick, easily outmuscling the smaller McLaren. Unfortunately, a compromised exit over the grass allowed Valtonen to sneak his way through, dropping Heesch to the back of the train in just a couple of laps.
Banana, who had been struggling with the balance and confidence with his Porsche over the top of the mountain, made a series of mistakes that set the rest of his race into motion. Firstly, plagued by understeer, Banana made small glancing blows against the exit walls on the mountain before upsetting the rear of the car into Forrest Elbow. It was a perfectly executed right-then-left drift, however. On the next lap, Banana ran wide through McPhillamy Park, eating exit curb, and executing an almost perfect 360-degree spin.
Through the time lost, Bartocci was able to close the gap and speed past. Suffering from flat spotted tyres, Banana also made the call for an early pit stop, coming in just behind Pozzoli, who had run deep into The Chase and ate some walls for his troubles.
With around 2 hours of the race remaining, drivers were more spread across the track, with less on-track action.
Fast forwarding to Lap 20, and Bartocci and Valtonen are separated by just under 2 seconds, with neither driver able to pull away from the other. The pit window opened for Bartocci, and he slipped into the pits to serve his first mandatory stop. Valtonen followed and was able to perform his stop in the shorter time, jumping ahead of Bartocci as they exited.
As the race hit the 1-hour mark, Lipponen pitted for his first stop of the race, promoting Goswick into the race lead. Lipponen exited the pits just 4 seconds ahead of main rival Banana, but Lipponen’s superior pace and fresher tyres meant that the gap was able to be extended.
Meanwhile, Valtonen, who had just pitted for fresh rubber, had to make an additional pit stop, as his rear end got too eager as he crested The Dipper and overtook his front. He pinballed off the walls and limped down the mountain for repairs. This put him a lap down, and, we all thought, out of the race.
In a very similar manner, Heesch, who thus far had been running very well in 4th place, hit on some bad times. Having just made a pit stop for fuel and tyres, he had a spin on the downhill of the mountain, bringing him back into the pits for repairs after just a couple of laps.
Shortly thereafter, Goswick made his first pitstop of the race, handing the race lead back to Lipponen. This short stop brought him back out in 5th position.
As Banana pushed his Porsche to the limit to keep up with Lipponen, he again encountered issues on the mountain, bouncing off multiple walls. More aero damage and more flat spotted tyres forced another early pitstop, allowing Bartocci to take 2nd place. Goswick and Chmura were up into 3rd and 4th respectively.
In order to avoid making a splash and dash for fuel, Banana had to eek out his full tank of fuel for almost 85 minutes. Fuel saving tactics like running low power fuel maps and lifting and coasting were required.
As we approached the 90-minute mark, current AM leader Bartocci was running in 2nd place, half a lap ahead of AM rival Chmura. Having run a near faultless race so far, Bartocci’s luck ran out, as he touched the exit apex of McPhillamy Park curve, which pitched his car violently into the wall at 130mph.
Bartocci limped back to the pits with significant aero and steering damage and rejoined the race, having dropped to 7th place, behind Valtonen. Frustration was high and as a result, Bartocci found himself spinning into the Audi Cutting. Fortunately, no other drivers were approaching before Bartocci composed himself again.
After hearing of Bartocci’s troubles over the radio, Lipponen re-enacted history. As he did when Heesch crashed at Suzuka, Lipponen had a sympathy spin on the exit of The Chase. The spin pulled Lipponen into the pits for the second and hopefully last time. This time loss put his race win into contention, as Goswick once again took the lead of the race with around 45 minutes to go.
Lipponen once again exited the pits just a few seconds ahead of Banana, but Banana did not have the pace to keep up whilst also managing fuel to make it to the end.
Just a few laps later, Goswick pulled into the pits for his final change of boots. He rejoined in 6th position but was quickly bumped to 5th as Langaard began having trouble on the mountain, making a few mistakes, leading to more pit stops.
As the race entered into its final 30 minutes, action on track halted slightly, as most drivers had their tyres and fuel to the end and were concentrating on chasing down the car ahead to gain more positions before the checkered flag.
Banana, who had failed on his ‘Save The Planet’ mission, was forced to make a splash and dash in the final 20 minutes, dropping him from 3rd position down to 6th. Whilst Valtonen was able to overpower Bartocci and Goswick to claim 3rd position, he ran out of time to challenge Chmura.
As the checkered flag was waved, Lipponen claimed 1st, determining his victory in the battle against Banana and earning himself the 2nd place position in the championship.
Chmura came home in 2nd place ahead of fellow AM rival Bartocci in 5th, giving him enough points advantage to be crowned AM Champion of the season, just 2 points ahead of Bartocci.
Valtonen crossed the line in 3rd place, after a fantastic recovery drive in his final 2 stints, coming from 1 lap behind. Goswick claimed 4th position. Bartocci was able to hold off Banana in his final charge. Langaard, Heesch, and Pozzoli finished in 7th, 8th, and 9th respectively.
I was able to catch up with the race winner Jerry Lipponen:
Banana: Congrats on your race win today. In your previous interview you mentioned Bathurst was going to be a strong race for you and you hoped to come out on top. How did you secure your win?
Lipponen: I just tried to focus on keeping the car on track and having a brisk pace. Sadly, I still shoved it in the wall once properly and left some paint elsewhere. Despite the win, it felt like amateur hour at times with the amount and type of mistakes I managed to do.
Banana: Your win today nets you the points advantage over Banana in the class standings, topping him off the second-place spot. How does it feel?
Lipponen: I want to say it’s more of a consolation prize. I really wanted to challenge Dominiak, as I've mentioned before, but he dominated the championship. I'm lucky however that I had a great rival in Banana and managing to scrape the point lead in the last 2 races definitely feels great.
Banana: What are your plans for celebration and plans moving forward?
Lipponen: Well celebration is somewhat over already after a glass of whiskey as practice beckons. I'll be racing in two events back-to-back [this weekend] representing PRC so no time to waste.
Banana: Thank you for your time and thank you for the close net racing all season long.
Banana: Chmura, congrats on finishing second place in the race, a great achievement. How did you fair against the tight walls of Bathurst?
Chmura: Thanks! Although it was a smaller field and some big hitters weren’t racing, I'm proud of the result. It definitely wasn't expected after taking a pretty big hit on lap 6 that sent me off one wall into another. After that though, I kept my nose clean. Overall, I was more consistent than expected which led to me working my way up the field. I won't say everyone else getting caught out by the walls didn't help either. I'd also like to give a quick shoutout to my stream chat helping me out with fuel calculations. On my second stint, they gave me the exact amount of fuel I needed.
Banana: It’s great to see your supporters giving you that live help when you needed it. With your AM class first place, you've kicked Bartocci off his first place in the standings to be crowned AM Class Champion. How does it feel?
Chmura: It feels great! Becoming AM champ was definitely not in the realm of possibility when the season started. I was more focused on learning the car, the tracks and trying not to punt people. But as confidence in the car came, and getting my first class win at Silverstone, things started to work in my favor. Bartocci definitely didn't make it easy, and neither did Reynolds in the first half of the season.
Banana: It was a great battle to keep an eye on, for sure. What are your plans for the upcoming season?
Chmura: My main focus will be to get familiar with more of the cars so probably some off-season testing to see which one I'll be taking into next season. The Mclaren has treated me right and I think I'll give it a nice rest. Apart from that, just taking part and enjoying more of the great one-off events that PRC puts on!
Banana: Thank you, enjoy your celebrations.
Thank you to all the drivers, stewards, and the crew behind the scenes for organising and managing this season. It’s been a fantastic introduction to a brilliant racing club.
I want to now extend an invitation to everyone reading who is not already a member of the Pineapple Racing Club. Our next racing season will begin in a few months’ time and our calendar is still full of one-off races such as a team-endurance race, consisting of 6-hours of Spa on June 12th, community game nights, and even outside events hosted by other racing communities. If you like what you see, please join our discord, introduce yourself, and get involved.
Keep a lookout for a season review Coming Soon™ and we look forward to seeing you on track!