Round 7: Barcelona 4/4/2021
Round 7 of the GT Challenge 2021 Season is quickly upon us, with drivers returning to Barcelona following the one-off April Fools event on Saturday.
Barcelona kicks off the second half of the season, and there have been even more changes to drivers and their vehicles. Both D. Jackson and D. Goswick took the points hit and switched to the Lexus and Aston Martin, respectively. We’ll have to try to catch up with them after the event to catch their thoughts and plans.
Following the conclusion of Nürburgring 2.4hr, focus shifted to the next event as drivers prepped their setups. Initially, drivers were expecting a showing of some rain clouds, but as the weekend drew closer, precipitation chances decreased and drivers were welcomed with warm, sunny skies.
Qualifying produced perhaps the most exciting results of the season. Within the 20-minute session, Heesch, Brown, and Dominiak were all fighting for the pole position, each setting slightly faster laps than the other until eventually Dominiak claimed the pole from Heesch for the last time and Brown held the 3rd position from Valtonen.
Drivers completed their formation lap and, as the lights went green, all cars thundered toward Turn 1. 3-wide into Turn 1, Brown and Dominiak rubbed wheels into the braking zone. Unfortunately, through what was likely server related-contact, Brown was pushed onto the grass. Unable to slow his car, Brown was forced directly across the apex, narrowly avoiding Heesch, but side swiping Valtonen.
Following the Turn 1 incident, Dominiak was slower through turns 1 and 2, and Heesch took advantage to gain the lead of the race. Heesch defended the attacks of Dominiak for 5 tense laps before buckling under the pressure and running wide into Turn 4. Dominiak pounced and snatched his position back from the McLaren.
Early on, Banana had a very predictable moment of oversteer through Turn 9, which put him in a battle behind Brown and Langaard. Conscious of time lost whilst battling, both Brown and Banana were pushing hard to pass the BMW, which was extremely quick in straight lines, but struggled through the tighter sections. After a few laps of swapping and changing positions, there was contact between Langaard and Banana, resulting in a spinning BMW.
Bartocci made a great start, climbing from 9th to 6th over the opening laps. His first stint was spent tussling with Chmura, exchanging positions a couple of times. Their equal pace meant their pit stops would be even more important, as you could lose or gain a lot through the pits. Bartocci rejoined the track after his stop behind Chmura once again, but could not focus his attention forward, as he was under pressure from Langaard, Brown, and Valtonen from behind during his second stint. At the end of the 60 minutes, Bartocci came home in 10th, claiming his first overall points of the championship.
To add insult to injury, Brown, who had already not had the start he wanted, incurred a drive-through penalty for surpassing track limits just a few moments before the pit window opened. He wouldn't be the only driver, though, as approaching the 45-minute mark, Jackson was also handed a drive-through penalty for the same.
As the pit window opened, Banana took the overcut strategy on Lipponen, gaining over 6 seconds during both drivers pitstops. This overcut also allowed Banana to gain on Heesch and Yang, in 2nd and 3rd respectively, giving the Porsche driver a clear opponent in the distance.
Consistent fast laps brought Banana within 1 second of Yang at the finish line, where Yang was held up by a final lap battle between Vogel and Jackson. Not wanting to interfere, Yang held back, increasing the threat from Banana. Jackson was able to hold off from Vogel to claim 11th, whilst Banana was unable to find any room to challenge Yang, and accepted 4th position.
Having served his drive-through and his mandatory pit stop, Brown found himself with a worthy opponent in Valtonen. Over the course of 15 laps, Brown reduced Valtonen's lead from 7 seconds to just 5-tenths. Fortunately for Valtonen, he was able to hold off the charging Bentley just long enough to reach the checkered flag and keep his 8th position.
Heesch, not willing to settle for just leading the race for a few laps, was chasing down Dominiak again. The gap was slowly decreasing over the final laps of the race, but Heesch ran out of laps, as he passed the checkered flag.
As drivers returned to the pit garage, I had the chance to talk with some caught up in the action today.
Banana: Vogel, you seemed to have good form today. You had a good start and a good end to today's race. Can you tell me a little about your race?
Vogel: We had a great start avoiding the chaos of the first turn. It was a very clean race throughout. A great fight at the end with Jackson was a great reflection of the rest of the race. We had a lot of quick people on the track today.
Banana: It's true, there was a lot of tough competition today. You seem more settled in your Lamborghini recently. Do you feel you've tamed the beast?
Vogel: The Lamborghini is a real beast. But no beast is untamable. Coming from the front engined Aston Martin, it presented a slight challenge. The feeling in the car in practice this week was great. The confidence was there and some great tips from fellow drivers kept bringing the times down and the confidence up. It's taken some blood, sweat, and beers, but it eventually all worked out.
Banana: It's great to hear your fellow competitors have lent a helping hand. The next two rounds take place in Italy. What's your goal going into the next couple races of the season?
Vogel: My personal goal for this season is getting more familiar with the car and getting as much seat time as I can. We got some great races coming up with Monza in the mix where I hope the car will shine. This will also be great for our car supplier to get a good result there.
Banana: Bartocci, you had a great start to the race, moving up from your pole start in 9th, to 6th overall. How was running near to the front?
Bartocci: Turn one was a bit chaotic but luckily I managed to stay out of trouble and gain some positions, but that came with a lot of pressure from Brown who was clearly faster and there was no point in fighting him. Unfortunately letting him overtake also cost me the position from Chmura, but we had a good fight for the whole 30 minutes with nobody being able to pull away decisively.
Banana: Yes, you and Chmura had very similar on-track pace. Was there anything you struggled with this race?
Bartocci: Tyre degradation was higher than expected, at the end of the race I was also under pressure from Langaard, Brown, and Valtonen, which didn't help. Degradation caused me to drop down the order in the closing stages.
Banana: You put up a good fight with worn tyres. Any plans for the next round?
Bartocci: I know what I have to work on to improve, I need to find a way to not destroy the tyres in the race. Next two rounds are home-races so I'm looking forward to it.
Banana: Today's points brings you closer to the 2nd and 3rd position of the AM championship. Best of luck over the rest of the season.
Banana: Jackson, you're the second person to jump ship from the BMW. What was the deciding factor for you?
Jackson: I chose the BMW thinking it would be a little easier than the Porsche, which I was also considering, but I really struggled to get it around the track quickly and consistently. After the 2.4 hours of Nürburgring I exchanged some colourful opinions about it with Brown. I switched to the Lexus because I had some success with it in other events I completed recently.
Banana: Do you have any plans or hopes for your new car at Misano or Monza?
Jackson: My goal currently is to make it into the single digits. I want to give the midfielders a run for their money, and I think I’m close to being able to. I’ve been getting a lot of practice in and I think with a good bit more experience I’ll be able to compete near the front. I was keeping up with Lipponen in practice, but my back injury was holding me back today.
Banana: I hope your injury doesn't affect your future performance and all the best recovering.
With another win under his belt, Dominiak once again extended his lead in the championship, Banana gaining a few important points over Lipponen, albeit a small amount. Heesch, Yang and Chmura claimed a heap of points in their battle for the championship. Chmura leads the AM championship by 27 points, and the points haul for Heesch brings him within just 4 points of Lipponen in 3rd position. This will be something to keep an eye on as it develops.
Round 8 takes place at everyone's favourite circuit, Misano, in just 1 week. Here's to hoping the race will be as exciting as Barcelona.