Season 2 | Round 5 | Zandvoort
Welcome back to Pineapple Racing Club’s GT Challenge fall Season.
You rejoin us as the season moves to The Netherlands, as we visit Zandvoort for the first time.
The last couple of weeks has seen some changes to the seasonal driver roster. Firstly, AM driver Williams has decided to take a step back from the driver's seat of his McLaren in order to focus his attention and time to the behind-the-scenes of the club. Additionally, Season 1 Champion contender Lipponen has withdrawn from the remainder of the season, as personal circumstances take priority. We wish all the best for one of our founding members and hope to see him rejoin us on track next season.
This week has also seen a new influx of registrations for the season. Three new drivers joined the club and have all signed up for the remainder of the season. I’ll give them a little time to settle in before I harass them with a microphone, but I would like to welcome 2 new drivers from the Piechotta family, and Alex Tannheuser to the grid.
For the past few days, the circuit has been a hive of activity as drivers hit out early to learn the track, as for some seasonal drivers this is their first official race at Zandvoort.
Before we get started with the action, BSKIT Motorsports team boss Paweł Dominiak was available for a chat:
Banana: Dominiak, Welcome to Holland. Do you have any predictions for the race?
Dominiak: We can expect the Bentleys to be quicker than us since the current BOP favours them here. Zandvoort is a very hard track to overtake so qualifying well will be crucial. Exciting race ahead!
Banana: Your team result at Brands Hatch has bumped you into 1st place for the team championship. How do you plan to hold your lead?
Dominiak: Being 1st in team standings proves that we are focused on achieving the target set before the season. We need to make the most out of every race, leave nothing on the table. It's a long season so plenty of work ahead. We need to focus on controlling the race from the front which naturally leaves us some margin for small mistakes. The grid is really competitive this season and we can't let the pressure take over. Cold head and focus is mandatory to achieve the highest trophies and we are very much ready and excited for the challenge. Bring it on!
As qualifying started, both Dapper Customs DBE Motorsports and S4L Motorsport cars were the first to hit the circuit. Heesch was the first driver to set a valid lap, initially claiming the top spot.
Early on, both BSKIT Porsche’s struggled with pace, finding themselves lower down the order than they would have wanted. As the session continued, the drivers found their feet, both drivers leaping forward to block out the front row.
Both Dapper Customs DBE Motorsport Bentley’s were also in fine form, with Banana and Brown sitting on the second row with just a few moments left of the session.
Bartocci showed strong pace yet again, claiming pole position in his Silver Class, ahead of Bowler and Pozzoli. Gomez secured his AM Class pole, qualifying ahead of newcomer Piechotta.
The session was shown the checkered flag, and it looked as though BSKIT and Dapper Customs would hold their starting positions until Langaard set a surprise improvement on his last lap, gaining another 5-tenths of a second from his Ferrari to split the BSKIT Porsche’s, parking himself in 2nd place on a grid. A great qualifying performance!
There were rumours that rain would make an appearance during the race, but as the 5 lights signalled the start of the race, the cloudy skies promised to behave themselves.
It was a great start from Kent, immediately pulling away from Langaard, who went defensive into Turn 1 against Dominiak. Banana attempted to pass Dominiak on the outside line of Turn 1, but did not have the grip and settled back into 4th position.
Back in Silver class, Bowler also made a great start through the first half lap, getting past Valtonen promptly and pressuring Bartocci. Bartocci focused forward, however, on the attack against PRO driver Heesch. As the drivers were so bunched up, Bartocci ran just a little deep on the brakes, and tagged the rear bumper of Heesch’s McLaren. Bowler profited from the contact, passing both drivers involved, moving up into 6th position overall. Heesch’s resulting spin dropped him to the back of the pack.
Valtonen also succumbed to the pressure of the tight battling on Lap 2, missing his braking point into the chicane. Valtonen knew he wouldn’t be able to slow for the turn, instead taking evasive action to avoid hitting the rear of Yang. Unfortunately, as he turned in toward the apex to avoid Yang, he collected the rear quarter of Pozzoli. Every driver behind did a great job of avoiding the spinning Ferrari of Pozzoli, as did the rejoining car of Valtonen, avoiding secondary collisions.
As the laps began to add up, Banana continued to pressure Dominiak, eager to climb into a podium position. Banana followed closely, filling the mirrors of his rival, until a mistake was made. Dominiak carried too much speed into Turn 9 and Banana slipped underneath to move up into 3rd position. Brown, in the 2nd Bentley tried to follow through, but Dominiak quickly recovered and defended into the next turn.
As Pozzoli was in a heated battle with fellow Silver driver Jackson, Pozzoli attacked Jackson into the chicane. Jackson fought back hard and the two drivers almost came together, but Pozzoli was forced to back out of the move and settled in behind once again.
Another Silver battle was underway, this time between Bartocci and Bowler, who have had ontrack fights consistently through the season so far. After a strong start from Bowler, he succumbed to pressure from Bartocci, running wide onto grass on the exit of the chicane, promoting Bartocci into 6th position, into the lead of the Silver Class. Yang tried his best to elbow his way through, but the gap closed too quickly.
Up front, Banana had a strong exit out of the final turn, drafting Langaard in 2nd place. Banana was almost ahead as they slammed on the brakes into Turn 1. Langaard sniffed a nose up the inside and Banana was forced to share the racing line, pulling back in behind the Ferrari as they approached Turn 2 to avoid a collision.
Banana was stronger through the ‘suicide right hander’ of Turn 6 and claimed the inside line into next right hand turn, using all the available curb to complete the overtake. The overtake left Langaard compromised into the next corner and Dominiak was able to overtake the slower car. Langaard dropped from 2nd to 4th and was now under pressure from Brown.
The race approached the 20 minute mark and Dominiak did not seem as comfortable in his Porsche as usual, catching a moment of oversteer as he turned into the blind apex of Turn 6. Dominiak was able to keep his car out of the walls, but his short visit to the sandtrap dropped him from 3rd position down to 5th, as Langaard and Brown were able to jump ahead.
Simultaneously, Banana had caught up to the back of Kent, a race victory tantalisingly close. Kent defended well, his Porsche was stronger through the corners, but more vulnerable on the longer straights. Just 4 laps later, the pit window opened and strategy split the cars on circuit. As Kent moved to the pit lane, serving his stop early, Banana stayed out, hoping to gain the on-track advantage by running in clean air.
Brown and Dominiak followed Kent into the pit lane, both cars deciding to pit early, presumably in an attempt to undercut Langaard and Banana who both stayed out for longer.
The pit window closed, and Banana rejoined the track still behind Kent, having been unable to take the race lead by extending his first stint with clean air. Banana resumed his battle with Kent, desperately trying to find a way past the nimble Porsche. Both Dominiak and Brown were unable to undercut Langaard, the race leaders rejoining in the same order.
Meanwhile, Yang was able to overtake Bartocci through his strategy, as he pitted early whilst Bartocci extended his first stint to the end of the timer.
With 25 minutes to go, Brown continued to follow Langaard who was now navigating blue flagged cars. On the approach to Turn 6, Brown lost rear end grip as he coasted over the crest of the hill. The loss of grip pitched the nose of the car toward the barrier and the Bentley bounced off the wall and into the gravel. The crash allowed Dominiak to climb back into 4th position. Despite sustaining front end damage, Brown continued racing without returning to the pits for repairs.
Bartocci, not happy with losing his position to Yang during the pitstop, was back on the attack. Bartocci pushed his Ferrari on the outside line of turn 9, bringing both cars side by side as they braked for the chicane. Yang held the inside line for the immediate left hander, allowing him to maintain his 6th position.
Upfront, Banana continued to attack Kent. Kent had the advantage through the majority of the circuit, with Banana having the advantage on the long straights. Throughout the lap, Banana was forced to sit behind Kent until they reached the start/finish straight where Banana could slipstream and pull alongside Kent. Kent continued to defend the inside line of Turn 1, forcing Banana all the way around the outside, allowing Kent to stay ahead for another lap.
As Banana and Kent battled it out, Dominiak had closed the gap on Langaard and both drivers raced in close proximity. Dominiak tried to use his superior cornering, but Langaard made his Ferrari nice and wide to hold him back.
After 10 or more laps, Banana was finally able to secure an overtake on Kent. Banana had done a good job of keeping close to the rear of Kent through the final sector and was able to pull ahead of Kent as they passed the pit wall. Banana aggressively pulled infront of Kent to claim the inside line, taking the race lead for the first time.
A tight battle for 10th position was breaking out between Jackson, Kingswell, and Bowler. Kingswell was the driver to come out on top, overtaking Jackson into Turn 1, leaving Jackson to worry about Bowler.
Bartocci was still chasing down Yang as they navigated lapped traffic. Yang got past Vogel, but as Bartocci also got ahead, Vogel dived down the inside of Bartocci, causing the Ferrari driver to take evasive action.
Heesch on his recovery drive caught up to Chmura, fighting for 8th position. Both drivers caught Vogel as they sped down the start/finish straight. As both Chmura and Heesch were alongside, Vogel once again sent his car up the inside line, this time crashing into Chmura. Vogel will have to start paying attention to blue flags if he wants to avoid a penalty.
As the race approached its last laps, Bartocci caught up to Yang once again. In their close battle, there was contact between the two cars as Bartocci grew too ambitious on the brakes into the chicane. Bartocci momentarily climbed into 6th position, but was forced to give the position back to Yang. As Yang rejoined the circuit, S4L Motorsport teammate Heesch was able to overtake both drivers, taking 6th position after being knocked to the back of the grid early in the race.
Last lap excitement saw Kent, who had been following in Banana’s shadow, with a final opportunity to attempt to overtake Banana for the race win. Kent braked hard into the chicane, giving him the inside line for the immediate left hander, allowing the Porsche to slip ahead into the lead.
Banana retaliated around the outside of Turn 12, but Kent was still ahead. Banana’s Bentley slid as they both powered aggressively into the final turn. Banana got a better exit than Kent, cutting back on the corner exit, and it was a drag race toward the finish line.
Banana was first to cross the finish line, half a car length ahead of Kent in what was possibly the closest photo finish in PRC history.
Langaard took the checkered flag in 3rd position, having held off the BSKIT Motorsports driver Dominiak for the duration of the second stint.
Brown came home to his best finish of the season in 5th position.
Bartocci was the first silver driver to cross the finish line, ahead of Chmura, who had a great race, climbing from 13th to 9th. Kingswell took the final spot of the Silver Podium.
Gomez had a tough end to his race with a couple of visits to the sand trap in the latter half, but was able to take the AM victory with newcomer Piechotta 2nd in class.
It was an exciting end to an eventful race. Here’s what Charlie Kent said post-race:
Banana: Kent, I think there would be mutiny if I didn't interview you. That was an incredible race for the spectators. How was it from your perspective?
Kent: Sweaty. I knew I was going to be in trouble eventually, down to the extra speed you had on the straights. I just had to keep the pressure on. You had a little slide on the run down toward the chicane, which gave me the opportunity to use the Porsche Brakes and yeet around the outside. I was surprised I managed to make it stick, but ultimately I didn’t have the grip through the last turn to compensate for your speed difference.
Banana: It was a brilliant last minute attempt, one I was not prepared for. What was your strategy coming into the race? Did it work as you planned?
Kent: Usually, if I’m first and have a good gap, I try to just enjoy the clean air. But if I’m being bullied by a Bentley, I try to pit early, particularly as you always seem to gain time through your stops. Today I wanted to pit asap, as I had murdered my tyres at the start of the race, and needed some fresh rubber. I also wanted to avoid an undercut from yourself. It worked! I came out still ahead of you, and tried to build as much of a gap as I could before your tyres were warmed up. Once you caught up, I knew it was just a matter of time before you found a way past. It was all about the mind games - keep the pressure on and the mistakes will come. It almost worked today. Almost.
Banana: It was a tense battle to be a part of. Both you and Dominiak were difficult to pass, with your Porsche being so strong through the turns. How was defending against a car with different strengths?
Kent: It's certainly interesting, I could have the confidence that if you weren't past by turn 1 then I was fairly safe until the end of the lap, and similarly with you in front, I knew I was going to lose 3-4 tenths on the straight but I could gain it back before the end. It's interesting to see how two cars with completely different strengths, being cornering speed and outright power, can compete so closely.
Banana: It really does make it harder and more frustrating, too. Thank you for a great race today. We all look forward to the next one.
Banana: Langaard, congratulations on your performance today. That was a great last lap qualifying time.
Langaard: Thank you. I was quite nervous after qualifying, as I feel I’m usually a 5th place qualifier.
Banana: You were on the defensive for the majority of the race. How was it?
Langaard: Fending off Brown and Dominiak was amazing fun and the pressure from them both had me going faster than I thought I could!
Banana: Do you have a highlight or best part of your race?
Langaard: The best part must have been fending off Dom towards the end.
Everyone now takes a short break before the season moves on to the next round. Join us in 2 weeks’ time as we hit Spa-Francorchamps for another 2.4hour solo endurance race you do not want to miss.