Season 2 | Round 6 | Spa
Welcome back to Pineapple Racing Club, and welcome to Round 6 of the GT Challenge Fall Season.
Round 6 sees Spa close out the first half of the season with a 2.4hr solo endurance race.
Let’s recap the championship standings so far.
Banana leads the overall standings with 108 points, 39 points ahead of next-rival Kent. A commanding lead so far. Just 7 points separate Kent, Langaard and Dominiak in the battle for 2nd place, but Heesch is not far behind, and has shown great consistency so far this season.
Bartocci is currently leading the Silver Championship, 29 points ahead of Chmura in 2nd place. The Silver Championship is also seeing a fight for 2nd place, as both Bowler and Jackson are within 3 points of Chmura. He will need a good finish today if he hopes to stay in contention.
The Team Championship continues to be a two horse race between BSKIT Motorsport Racing for Rob and Dapper Customs DBE Motorsport, with a 3 point advantage for BSKIT, however, Dapper Customs is expected to take the lead following Spa, as BSKIT Motorsport fields just one car for this event.
VK Simsports, Origin Corse, and Monterey Motorsports are all in contention for 4th position.
Before we get underway with Qualifying, we need to welcome a new team to the grid. Last round we welcomed P. Piechotta to the grid, and this week we’ll see new drivers T. Piechota and A. Tannheuser on track.
All three new drivers will be racing under a Triple-R team, RHEIN-RUHR RENNSPORT, featuring 3 different cars, and 3 striking liveries. We look forward to seeing the bright orange cars in action during the race.
After a chat with Driver Pirie Piechotta, I was able to gather a little more information. Rhein-Ruhr Rennsport will feature three German drivers from the Rhein-Ruhr region of Germany. They will race the cars they feel most comfortable in and hope to slot into the midfield of the pack. By choosing their own comfortable cars, they believe they can push harder than if they were sharing the same car, and therefore will be able to get better results overall. Their main focus is not on winning events, but to maintain a consistent pace during the race, and consistent finishes throughout the field.
All drivers are not very familiar with GT3s, as they focus their attention more to F1 events, but are branching out inorder to join the community. They have hinted that if there are multi-class events in the future, they may field some GT4s on track.
It’s always great to see new drivers on the grid, and even better when a small net of friends join the races together.
As the event began, qualifying was quickly underway and the drivers were all quick to leave the pits to start their hot laps. The drivers were blessed by bright skies and warm temperatures; ideal racing conditions.
The long track made it easier for drivers to find some free space on the circuit, a welcome change after the more recent races on smaller tight circuits such as Zandvoort and Oulton Park.
Kent was able to power his Porsche to the top spot, just 1 tenth faster than Heesch, who showed exceptional pace during the preseason sessions. Banana followed closely behind in 3rd position, having been unable to improve in the final laps.
Silver driver Jackson was rumoured to be the favourite to win in his Silver Class, and his qualifying performance did not disappoint. Jackson thundered around the circuit, picking up 4th position on the grid.
Race newcomer T. Piechota took the pole position for the AM class, sitting in 13th position overall.
As the race began, Kent led the pack around the pace lap, and each driver lined up side by side on the rundown to Eau Rouge.
5 green lights signalled the start of the race. Langaard, in 5th position, made a great start, pulling alongside Jackson as they rounded Radillion, but Jackson firmly held his line, forcing Langaard to settle in behind once again.
Kent led the race up the Kemmel straight, but his lower top speed allowed Heesch to gain. As Heesch pulled out of the slipstream, Kent moved to the inside of the next turn to defend his position. Heesch tried to pass around the outside of Les Combes, but could not complete the move.
As the rest of the pack approached Les Combes, Langaard tried again to pass Jackson. The drivers fought side by side through Bruxelles, with Langaard finally pulling ahead on the exit of Turn 9.
Bowler was also on the attack early. Having started behind Bartocci, Bowler took advantage of Bartocci’s steady line through Eau Rouge to overtake, and set his sights on Kingswell.
The first lap saw lots of movement from the drivers as they fought over every inch of the circuit, but very few overtakes were made. We almost made it to the end of the first lap without major incident, but unfortunately there was a small contact between Pozzoli and T. Piechota. The Aston Martin of Rhine-Ruhr-Rennsport tapped the back of Pozzoli as they exited the final chicane, spinning Pozzoli around.
The bump caused some secondary collisions, as Winegarden was slow at the apex after braking to avoid the rear of Piechota. Chmura was unable to react in time, and slightly bumped the rear of Winegarden, which in turn gave Cockell no time to react, who then bumped into the back of Chmura. Through no fault of his own, Chmura’s Lexus was punted into a spin, dropping him down behind his rivals.
Whilst the chaos up ahead was sorting itself out, Tannheuser, who was running in last position, caught a moment of oversteer through Blanchimont. Unable to correct the high speed slide, the orange Audi collided with the barrier at high speed. Initially, Tannheuser decided to stay out on track, but after a similar incident on the very next lap, he opted to limp back to the pit lane for repairs.
Back at the front of the race, Kent had slowly built a comfortable gap to Heesch and Banana, who were running nose to tail, with each driver unable to get away from each other. The McLaren of Heesch was extremely fast along the straights, but Banana was able to close up tremendously into the braking zones. On lap 8, Banana had a strong exit out of Stavelot, and slipstreamed Heesch down toward Blanchimont.
Heesch took a defensive line into the final chicane, forcing Banana onto the outside, and used his superior braking capability to brake alongside Heesch, forcing his Bentley around the outside of the first apex, claiming the inside line into the 2nd apex, securing 2nd position. Banana focused his attention forward in hope of catching up to Kent.
Lap 9 saw another bout of contact between drivers, this time Bowler was too ambitious on the brakes into the final chicane, closing up rapidly to the rear of Yang. Bowler tried to avoid the contact by swerving to the left side of the circuit, but it was too late. The resulting hit forced Yang backwards into the runoff areas, allowing Valtonen to overtake both drivers, placing his car now behind Jackson.
Turning our attention back to Pozzoli, who dropped to the back of the field after being spun on the opening lap, was now running in 10th position; a brilliant recovery drive during his first stint, having overtaken Winegarden, Goswick, Cockell, and Bartocci, among others, in his push for the best finish position he could muster.
As the race ticked onto Lap 18, Banana was able to take the lead, as Kent spun in Pouhon. Narrowly avoiding any wall contact, Kent returned to the pits for a fresh pair of boots, rejoining the circuit in 14th position.
A mult-lap battle was well underway between Chmura and Goswick. It appeared as though Chmura had the pace advantage, but was unable to find a way around Goswick. Goswick ultimately came out on top as Chmura was punished with a drive-through penalty for exceeding track limits.
Lap 21 saw the race leaders Banana and Heesch jump into the pits for their first stop of the race. The drivers had been battling for ontrack position, and both drivers needed a clean stop to avoid losing ground to the other. As the cars emerged from the pit lane, Banana was able to maintain his lead, but Heesch was still close behind. The pitstop briefly promoted Jackson to the leader, before he stopped for this tyre change, bringing Valtonen into the race lead.
As always with these types of races, the second stint was a little quieter, as drivers were more spread out across the circuit, and focused on maintaining consistency and concentration to the end.
Banana and Heesh continued their battle, with Heesch making several attempts to overtake, but unable to complete the move on the Bentley.
The other Bentley of Brown was also under threat from behind, as Kent was pushing back through the field after his spin. Brown had tried his best to keep a gap to Kent, but a slide on the exit of the final chicane was enough to present an opportunity for Kent, who pulled alongside on the start/finish straight. Brown defended the inside line, but Kent cut back on the corner exit to take the position.
Both Kent and Brown were pushing hard in their battle, and over the course of the next lap, their aggressive driving would slap them both with a drive through penalty for exceeding track limits. Both drivers served their penalties together. They rejoined in the same order, and Brown pitted on the next lap for his final stop of the race.
The ongoing battle was compromising the pace of the leaders, which allowed Langaard to close up the gap to Heesch. Langaard joined the battle, but after just a couple of laps behind Heesch, having been unable to overtake, dove into the pit lane, attempting an undercut, hoping to lap in clear air.
It was a very early stop for Langaard, and he rejoined the race in 13th position.
Heesch was the next driver to pit, just 2 laps later, catching Banana by surprise. Heesch had the pace advantage over Banana and his pitstop forced Banana to take to the pit lane on the next lap, in order to cover off the undercut strategy.
The battle upfront resumed after the stops, with Langaard’s undercut working perfectly, depositing him ahead of both Banana and Heesch. Banana’s defensive stop also worked a treat, with Heesch still behind the Bentley.
It was a tense battle between the drivers, with many attempts for each driver to pass one another, but none of them being able to make a pass stick.
The race continued onto Lap 42, and Bartocci had been slowly reeling in Kingwell, until they were drafting along the Kemmel Straight. As they approached Les Combes, there was slight door-door contact between the two cars. The contact caused Kingswell to spin on the racing line, whilst Bartocci was forced onto the runoff area. Both Pozzoli and Kent were fortunate to avoid the stricken McLaren, which was facing the wrong direction as the drivers rounded the apex.
The next severe collision between drivers occurred on Lap 44, this time between two tight battling PRO drivers. Langaard, Banana, and Heesch had been scrapping for much of the race and things were about to go awry. Banana was able to slip up the inside line of Langaard at Turn 1, and the two drivers were alongside as they ran toward Eau Rouge. The Bentley driver lifted off the gas, allowing the Ferrari to retake the racing line. The Ferrari bounced over the curb as Langaard steered to the right of Eau Rouge, pitching the car sideways.
Langaard held the brakes as he rotated, and came back across the racing line. Banana was able to clear the Ferrari beforehand, but Heesch was not as lucky. Heesch saw the Ferrari coming toward the track, and opened up the steering to avoid contact, but like magnets drawn together, the cars collided. The contact forced Heesch into the side walls, sustaining severe damage.
As Banana sailed off into the distance, Heesch was forced to limp back to the pits for repairs, whilst Langaard continued on his way, albeit with rear aero damage. With the threat of cars behind clear, Banana once again focused forward, hoping to catch up with current race leader Valtonen.
Valtonen may have been at the front of the pack, but he also needed to pit for his final stop of the race. Banana hoped he had not lost the true lead of the race after being caught battling for so long.
Chmura was the next fatality through Eau Rouge, as he lost traction on the rear of his car, which threw his car sideways up Radillion. He struck the wall with impressive speed, causing severe damage to his car. Chmura was unable to get his car moving again, and was forced to retire from the race.
Kent entered the pit lane to serve his final tyre change of the race, and rejoined the race track behind Brown once again. The Porsche driver continued his surge forward, and was able to catch up to the back of the Bentley. Brown defended well, but the pressure from behind forced Brown into a mistake, missing his braking point into Turn 1, allowing Kent through. Kent continued his push forward, moving up into 8th position at the checkered flag.
The closing laps of the race were calm in the top 3, but Jackson was under threat of losing 4th position as Bowler had been steadily catching up. Bowler’s faster pace was clear, but he was unable to find an opportunity to overtake before both drives passed the checkered flag. A tremendous drive from both drivers.
The final results were: Banana taking the race lead, ahead of Langaard, nursing his broken car home. Valtonen took the final spot on the podium, once again seeing some of that stronger pace he showed last season, and in preseason.
Jackson took the Silver Class win, marginally ahead of Bowler 2nd, and Bartocci crossed the line in 3rd, finishing in 7th overall.
T. Piechota brought his Aston Martin home for the AM Class win, with Cockell in 2nd place. Cousin driver P. Piechotta crossed the line in 3rd in class.
It was a disappointing end of the race for Kingswell, who was forced to take an extra pit stop with just 5 laps to go, after his pit crew failed to change his tyres on an earlier stop. The mistake cost Kingswell a potential 9th overall finish.
Catching up with the drivers after the race, I was able to corral Heesch in for an interview:
Banana: Heesch! What a race. You showed incredible pace at our preseason event, and again today. It was a tight battle up front for most of the race. Tell us more about your race.
Heesch: Well, the race was what it was. Sometimes racing is cruel and today is that day for us. Our cars were perfect from the start of practice, both cars were running well. We left a little on the table in qualifying but we weren't really sure how important qualifying is for a 2.4 hr race. Yang in the 23 had some unfortunate issues early on that weren't his fault and damaged the car enough to necessitate a pit for damage repair, but Yang put in a fantastic recovery drive to get back to 6th at the flag. The team are all very proud of his clear head in realizing there was a long way to go and that strategy allowed for him to fight back to a good result.
Our other car was having a great race before the crash. Everything was plan A until then. Start was good, we settled in early to let a gap build on the rest of the field and were surprised to find our pace to the rest of the field better than we'd hoped coming in. We were riding comfortably in place with pace in hand for most of the race, letting those around us who appeared to be struggling, especially later in the stints, have their issues and fall aside. In the last 30 minutes we planned to give the driver a free hand to get aggressive and go for the win that we felt was ours to lose with any luck.
Shame to lose a great finish though. Everyone put in the work to deserve a strong result today, so to go home with just 1 point from the 64 is a let down for the team. Anytime you enter a race where a win and/or double podium is realistically possible it's never a good feeling to leave with a 6th and 10th.
Sadly we're concerned this crash has set our team back in parts supply. The engine we lost at Oulton that sidelined the 23 for the race set us back and there is concern in the team that we cannot obtain a replacement before Barcelona. There's a real chance the 64 will miss the race in Spain as a result. But this is racing for you. You take the good with bad and keep trying. For now we're dedicating resources to ensure the 23 has a strong race in Spain and that both cars are back to fighting at the front come Imola after that. Thank you.
Banana: A perfect insight into just how much things can change so quickly on track. I hope you get both cars back on track as quickly as possible.
Additionally, I got to speak with Valtonen following his podium finish:
Banana: Valtonen, you've been slipping under our radar recently, with a few out of points finishes, but today was your second podium of the season.. Talk to us about your season so far
Valtonen: It’s been a bit of a roller coaster so far. I’ve had a couple of good endurance races and mostly horrible sprints. Silverstone, Oulton Park and Spa were pretty good for me and I was able to drive at a level I was happy with. Zandvoort, Donington and Brands hatch were really hard for me. I liked driving them, but I didn’t have the pace to be competitive. This led to some frustrations and some mistakes. Overall, I think I’ve lost some of that killer instinct I had last season, especially with Qualifying, which is so important this season, given how competitive the field is.
Banana: What are your plans to turn things around for the rest of the season?
Valtonen: Nothing major, I guess. I just need to score points from every race and stay out of trouble. I hope to keep the podium streak running in the upcoming endurance race, and maybe go a little harder in the sprint races. The upcoming races in the calendar should suit me a bit better so I’m not too worried.
Banana: That’s good to hear. Best of luck throughout the remainder of the season.
Finally, I caught Bowler as he exited the paddock:
Banana: Bowler, congratulations on a 5th position finish overall; your highest finish of the season. How was your race?
Bowler: Thanks! I'm very happy with 5th, I think if Oulton had gone a bit better for me I was on track to be higher than 5th, but it's good to get this result regardless! It seems like the enduro races have been a strength for me, not sure why!
Banana: You couldn't quite close in on Jackson for the Class win, but your result today climbs you to 2nd in the championship standings. How are you feeling about the rest of the season?
Bowler: I'm happy to be 2nd overall as well, there is some strong opposition and I can't underestimate them, I'm taking each race as it comes for now and do the best I can, the championship will take care of itself if I can get good results at each race, so that's my mindset for now. It seems like the fastest drivers in class change at every circuit so it's difficult to pick out any particular driver who I need to keep an eye on, there is a great depth of talent in the field which makes it hard to decide who the bigger threat is. For now I'll just do the best I can and see where I end up. With the exception of Paul Ricard, I like most of the remaining calendar, Imola and Barcelona being particular favourites so I'm hoping for good results there!
Banana: We’ll be sure to keep an eye on you in Spain and Italy. Thank you for your time.
Thank you for joining us for Round 6 of the Fall Season, and we will pick up the action again in 1 week’s time, this time in sunny Spain as Barcelona hosts a 1-hour sprint race. See you then.