Article: Bill Lawrence
Photo Credit: Bruce Poole
2017/18 Season 5 Week 4
Suzuka International - Grand Prix
Welcome back to the terrifically smooth track at the Suzuka Grand Prix Circuit in Japan. We were here not long ago, near the end of Season 4 during week 10. Suzuka is a wonderful blend of long straights and sweeping fast curves broken up by tight left and right handers as well as a chicane. Most drivers find it challenging but fun to drive and often very difficult to pass. For many the only good opportunity to pass comes at the end of a straight by utilizing the draft. 60Plus raced here only a few weeks ago but it now seems very far away as this new season is bringing us some exciting challenges for top spot in the Drivers’ Championship.
Remember the last time we were here? The chase for the Drivers’ Championship was being strongly contended for by the top three drivers. Steve Carkner, Donal Fitterer and Mark Robertson were leading the field. This season we are witnessing a totally changed leaderboard which shows the strength of the league. New comer to our league, Stephan Roesgen has been dominating the field along with league veteran Jos van de Ven. Jos is the current point leader coming in at 140 points, leading Stephan by 5. Bruce Poole, in 3rd place, is the only other driver entering week 5 with a championship total over 100 points. Bruce has been finishing consistently strong often finishing on the podium.
Below this grouping of frontrunners there is very strong competition. Only 2 points separate Manning Grinnan from John Morgan and Steve Carkner running 4th through 6th with Fidler, Lawrence, Unsbee and Robertson rounding out the top 10. This season the league has 42 drivers who have competed in at least 1 race showing that our league is growing. Those racing know this by first hand experience in the large fields at each track and it makes for some great racing up and down the race line-up.
Where do we stand in Team competition? We have a very close run with Team Rusty Nuts leading Team Old Speed by 8 points coming into our next race at Barber Motorsports Park.
The field set up with some familiar faces putting in strong lap times during qualifying. Last season Donal Fitterer ran the quickest with a 1:55.720 which was topped this race by Stephan at 1:55.715. Most drivers find getting into the 1:55’s very hard to do, this is a blistering pace. Steve Carkner took 2nd on the grid with Jos closely behind in 3rd followed by Manning Grinnan and John Morgan for your top 5.
This race was going to be very different from last season where we had many mishaps. This track has a few opportunities where cars close very quickly on one another. When this happens, we look for the accordion effect, which we spoke of recently. It looks as if we all learned some lessons about that as it would not be much of a problem in this race. I would like to think that our drivers really learned some lessons from past experiences and the lessons learned were now demonstrated in this race.
As the field followed the pace car out of the chicane Stephan led the pack out of Casio and down the front straight where everyone remained calm and in control. Jos, third on the grid, had a look to the outside at the end of the straight coming into the first turn. Carkner held his line and the top 4 were going to run this way all the way through to lap 10. Patience was going to be the catch word for this race. A few cars back Lawrence had a good launch out of Casio with enough momentum to gain a spot on Unsbee picking up his 6th place position. Still further back both Richard Coulombe and Ad Tiegelaar had a very fast exit to the straight both passing Fred McIntosh. Driver’s all had cool heads not only through the opening run but later in the first lap. It seemed like everyone on lap one was willing to sit and not challenge even though they may have had some drafting opportunities. There was little movement throughout the field with a patient kind of outlook which is a mark of skilled drivers.
Into lap 2 now and coming out of spoon Lawrence went a little wide over the curbing scraping the undercarriage. Behind him Unsbee went further into the gravel trap but was able to keep it off the wall dropping to 15th position in the process. A replay of the same off track was going to occur to Ad Tiegelaar like what had happened to Unsbee. The difference was when Ad attempted a track re-entry he bounced over the curbing and crossed the track directly in front of Paolo Bonasera who was forced into a defensive maneuver. Paolo was hard on the brakes while right behind him, and perhaps unaware of what was happening, Bill Switzer was taking an outside line setting up a pass on David Riley. Riley closed the gap quickly on Bonasera who had by now slowed quite a bit. His only option was to try and move inside of him. He just missed the pass and Clipped Paolo’s left rear wheel. Somehow Bonasera was able to keep his car under control as Switzer blasted by on the outside. Just after this pass Kanter slid by him on the inside while Paolo’s car turned hard right straight into the barrier and became the first casualty of the race. Meantime, Tiegelaar, who began this mishap, was able to limp his car back to pit row without a tow but was penalized for speeding in the pits where he decided to drop out of the race.
Into lap 3 we saw Unsbee make the classic pass on Joel Martin coming to the end of the back straight and into Casio and taking a position to begin lap 4. On this lap Jim Oliver who was running in 16th was entering the hard-right hander just before going under the bridge when the back end came around on him. Jim kept it off the Armco and safely re-entered the track showing great patience as he was now near the back of the field. Up ahead and leaving spoon your leaders were approaching Paolo who had his car repaired but was now down a couple of laps. Paolo respected the closing cars by clearly giving them space and slowing down so the overtakes could be on the back stretch all the way through Grinnan in 4th. Lawrence feinted a move inside of Morgan at Casio but was far enough back that John was not concerned at this point. Once again Paolo allowed positions 5 through Robertson in 7th to safely pass him. Coming to the “S” curves and up through Dunlop and Degner does not give a lapped car many options to pull over so Paolo waited for space before Poole could get around him. I mention this here as it is a very important part of our racing league. Paolo was showing a lot of skill and patience in allowing the front runners through, never forcing an issue. Ending lap 4 Unsbee now made a move at Casio once again, this time taking an outside line getting by Raspaldo to take 13th now.
Mike Taylor running in 9th got was able to close on Poole coming into the downhill right hander when his left wheel caught to much curbing before the corner. This is a difficult spot to get out of and Mike hit the wall damaging the left front. He tried to nurse his car around but soon realized he was going to need a tow. Further ahead Lawrence had been able to keep the pressure on Morgan and was close enough on this lap to make his move at Casio where John allowed him the inside line. This allowed John himself to have a better exit and keep the gap close while Mark Robertson was also closing on them. Ahead of this group Stephan was stretching a small lead over Carkner and van de Ven who where running nose to tail in 2nd and 3rd with Manning slightly behind in 4th. At the end of this lap Jos missed his mark at Casio going wide and losing a precious second or two on Carkner and allowed Manning to get a little closer. Things were heating up at the half way point as everyone was looking to find and or stay in a drafting position. Poole in 8th and behind him Di Pasqua, Florissen and Unsbee were all without partners for the draft.
By lap 9 Carkner had narrowed the margin to Roesgen and by lap 10 was almost close enough for a run out of spoon. Meanwhile Jos had also closed quite a bit on the top 2. Beginning lap 11 the three front runners were running very tight again with Grinnan alone in 4th. Jos had such a good run out of the chicane that he was able to put a move on Carkner at the end of the front straight gaining 2nd spot. Later down the track Steve began to set himself up for a draft at spoon but was likely so close to Jos he lost some aero near the first apex. Carkner did a perfect 360 due to this lack of downforce scrubbing so much speed he was now well back of van de Ven and allowed Manning an opportunity. Up ahead Jos closed on Stephan but coming out of Casio may have gotten on the throttle to quickly causing him a spin into the sand. Now it was Carkner’s luck to retake 2nd on the front straight. Grinnan had a chance to take 3rd but showed restraint letting these two fight it out. Behind this group Lawrence, Morgan and Robertson had been keeping the gap close and Morgan knew he had the run at the end of the back straight taking his position back from Lawrence coming to Casio.
At the end of lap 12 the three front runners were beginning to stretch a lead on Manning and John Morgan. Coming into Casio again Morgan entered a little quickly which gave Lawrence the opportunity to take 5th again, having a quicker line on the exit. At this point misfortune played its hand on Morgan as it appeared he had connection issues and simply disappeared. When he reappeared to our screen he had dropped two positions and was now behind Robertson.
Stephan had now locked up first and only had to bring it home for the win which he did. Behind him a real battle was taking place on the final lap for 2nd and 3rd. Jos had a run on Carkner at the end of the back straight, once again Casio would figure into the outcome. And knocking hard on both their doors was the patient Manning Grinnan.
Jos and Steve were side by side each entering the tight Casio triangle. Steve on the inside and Jos outside, both trying to hold their line with Manning just waiting for one small mistake. That mistake happened with contact coming out of Casio causing Carkner’s Mazda to jump high and go wide after making the contact with Jos. This gave Manning the opportunity he was looking for and he quickly took 3rd. At the finish line it was very close with Grinnan almost getting van de Ven at the line.
This was a well fought battle to the finish by a few groupings in the field. The desire to take a few more points was evident in this hard-fought battle. Perhaps a few more than the podium finishers had a little champagne at the end of this one. This sets up a fantastic run for everyone coming into Barber Motorsports Park next week.
Congratulations to this week’s Podium
Stephan Roesgen – Germany
Jos van de Ven – Benelux
Grinnan – U.S.A.