2017 Season 4 Week 9

Welcome to Japan - Okayama

Season Backgrounder

The Okayama International Circuit (Previously TI Circuit Aida) is a 3.7KM permanent motorsport circuit in Mimasaka, Japan. Built in 1990, it was originally a private test circuit, however it didn’t take long to host the first proper race event at the track, and in 1994 and 1995 it even hosted a Formula 1 race (The Pacific GP) with Michael Schumacher winning both events. In 2004 the track was taken over, hence the renaming. One of the only problems with the circuit is the location, in the middle of nowhere making it difficult to access! Currently the largest events held include the Super GT, Formula Nippon, All Japan Road Race Championship and World Touring Car Championship.

Welcome back to Mark Lison who made his first debut since a tragic fire destroyed his residence.  Mark has been rebuilding including a new rig and we look forward to racing with him again. 22 cars made the field for race 1. The challenge is on for this season’s drivers’ championship and leading the pack coming into the race is Team SBMA’s Mark Robertson at 178 points. Mark is followed very closely by the next 3 drivers of Donal Fitterer, Steve Carkner and Jos Van De Ven.

The top 4 are in a fight to the finish and with only three races left after Okayama, it is anyone’s championship to win and lose.  The top spot is important, but the series is very close throughout the field.  Moving down the leader board to driver positions 5 thru 13 we see the next 8 drivers are only separated by 10 points. Running down this order we begin with Oliver, Morgan, Coulombe, Fidler, Martin, Grinnan, Di Pasqua and Poole filling out that part of the roster.

Last season’s champion Steve Carkner returned from a two-week hiatus to dominate the practice and qualifying sessions. Steve blistered his way to pole position with a screaming 1.22.958 and was the only one able to break into the 1.22’s.  The rest of the top 5 qualifiers were all in the 1.23’s setting up what would prove to be a closely fought battle up and down the field.

The drivers are not only competing for the drivers’ championship but are also representing their teams.  Last year Team SBMA took the team championship and began the season with a huge target on its back. SBMA is currently at the top coming into the race with 416 points followed by Teams Green, Copper and Otto in that order, themselves only separated by 8 points. 

As the above shows, the last 4 races of this season are going to be critical for individuals and team achievements.

Race 1 Coverage
 

It was a classic day for racing at Okayama, perfect weather and a big field. The pace car led the drivers through a short stretch allowing minimal tire warm up and began at Hobbs Corner.  Carkner was on the throttle quickly coming into the straight with the rest of the field in hot pursuit.  There is not much opportunity on this track for passing and it is the patient driver who may seize on any opportunity.

And opportunity arrived quickly for Fitterer when Carkner, on cold tires and coming into the Atwood Curve, got out of shape and almost lost it. The Harley Davidson sponsored Fitterer took quick advantage moving to the outside line taking the lead down the back straight. This allowed Morgan in third and Fidler running 4th, to close the gap resulting in a 4-car train coming into the hairpin at the end of the straight. Back in field and at the same Atwood curve, Remigio Di Pasqua took advantage of Fred McIntosh’s wide line to dive inside and race Fred side by side down the back stretch.

Early, we saw some very clean side by side racing on cold and slick tires by Remigio Di Pasqua and Fred McIntosh. Remigio had the inside line and with a late and safe breaking maneuver out positioned Fred into the hairpin to take a spot.

Remigio was now inside Bruce Poole coming out of Piper passing cleanly on the inside at Redman.  This placed him squarely behind his fellow Italian team mate, Paulo Bonasera who himself was only two behind Gianni Raspaldo in 12th.

By the 4th lap the field was beginning to string itself out beginning what is normally the race within the race.  Small packs of drivers wrestling for position throughout the field. At this point the race had been relatively cleanly fought.  The timing was perfect for Andrew Fidler to make a move on John Morgan coming into the hair pin and he took position 3 by braking late and holding a good line.

Later, on this same lap, Team Cooper's Kenneth Baldwin, who had moved up a position from 10th to 9th exited wide coming out of the last corner onto the front straight. His car became unbalanced as he reentered the track. Coming over the curbing he lost control and became the first casualty of the race.  It was not to be the last.

Fortunately, a closely following Richard Coulombe was able to slip around the careening car 30 and the remaining cars got by as Baldwin’s car came to rest on the outside barrier.

Carkner, who had lost a position to Fitterer, was able to retake the lead on lap 5 at one of the only opportunities at Okayama, the end of the back straight.  Fitterer gave the charging Carkner room

and a clean pass was made. At the same corner, same lap, Kenneth Dummer made a move on Gianni Raspaldo.  Gianni threatened Ken by keeping the inside on the next corner, Revolver and Ken went wide into the gravel trap giving up another position to fellow Turtle teammate Remigio Di Pasqua. Not so fortunate for the third Turtle now rounding Revolver to see Baldwin trying to get back on the track.  Unable to slow enough, Paulo Bonasera nearly clipped the left rear of Baldwin after jumping the inside curve coming out of Piper. Avoiding contact the two cars did a perfectly timed pirouette coming to a stop without hitting the wall as Poole and McIntosh went wide to avoid the mayhem.  Paulo must have had a bad scare as on the next lap, lap 6 and at the exact same corner he spun again.  Once again lady luck smiled on him and the following 4 cars as everyone went through unscathed. Unfortunately for the lucky Italian he had now dropped from 15th to 20th.  His car was intact however!

It is difficult to hit you marks very precisely for anyone, but Okayama is a track where precision is rewarded.  Miss a mark however and take a little too much curbing and you will find yourself off track very quickly. Ralph Kemmerer took too much curbing at the end of lap 7 and his spinning car 73 quickly found itself in the wide gravel trap obviously designed to catch these slips. Ken did a fast tow for repairs and the pit lane would see a little more activity throughout this race.  Moving from lap to lap it seemed like Piper was the corner to give most drivers some grief.  Often there was little to no contact but just spins.

At the half-way point of the race Jos Van de Ven who had been battling Mark Robinson for 6th from the beginning took an inside line at the end of the front stretch and got by Mark. Both drivers remained cool, but Josh had the position. The top 5 were no longer running nose to tail but had been separated from each other by small margins. Further down the field Raspaldo had gained 4 positions, Remigio 7, Gilley 4 spots and Freels, along with PJ Salley had gained 5.

 

Drivers had now settled into comfortable rhythms maintaining lines and pace.  It is often at this point in a race were a slight error is the only hope of overtaking the next car.  With just 5 laps remaining Andrew Fidler, still in third, went a little wide coming off the last corner into the front straight.  The gravel slowed him enough to lose 2 positions to Morgan and Lawrence.  Lawrence was able to press Morgan on the next lap at the end of the back straight and like many others took the inside line into the hair pin to gain position 3.  From this point on the top 7 remained in position until the end of the race with Carkner back in it for the drivers’ championship taking home the win once again. Fitterer, new to the club this season, showed once again why he is a strong contender for the drivers’ championship. Rounding out the podium finish was Lawrence who barely held onto third from a charging John Morgan only a couple of 10th’s back with Andrew Fidler coming in 5th.  The podium finish gave Team SBMA some great team points coming into the next three races.

 
Race 2 Coverage

Driver Championship 
Only results from race 1 will be considered for the championship. 
The podium finishers from race 1 do not participate in race 2. 

Team Championship 
The best 16 finishes of any/all drivers on the Team (both races) during the season will be added to determine the Team final score, no driver being able to contribute more than 1 result per event

Race 2 began immediately after the 1st race.  It is worth mentioning that just prior to this week’s race we had a time change in North America as many States and Provinces moved from Daylight Saving to Standard time.  This caused a little confusion about the exact time the races would begin. The start time was now effectively 1 hour earlier local time for many in N.A. It was still 18:30 G.M.T. or U.T.C. but many local times had changed.  All start times will be 18:30 U.T.C. so be sure to check your own local time. 

Many of us wondered why John Unsbee did not show for Race 1.  It was due to the time change information, but John was ready for Race 2. Boy was he ready. John was one of a few who ran a flawless race finishing on the podium at position 3. The grid was setting up to be a real tough battle as qualifying for this session was hotly contested. The top six all qualified in the 1.23’s with only 1/10 of a second separating the pole, John Morgan from Unsbee’s 4th place on the grid. Andrew Fidler and Jos van de Ven took 2nd and 3rd with Mark Robertson and Bruce Poole filling 5th and 6th.

As in race 1 the pace car began leading the field at “Hobb’s’ which meant there was virtually no time to bring the tires up to temperature. When the Porsche exited the field John Morgan was hard on it coming into the front straight. From the front of the pack to the end of the field everyone was careful entering the fast right hander First Corner through the twisting left hander of Williams and on through the Moss ‘S’ leading to Atwood.

Exiting Atwood and running down the back straight through to the hair pin the field remained clean except for what looked like netcode which may have spun Ralph Kemmerer coming out of Hobbs. It was at Hobbs where PJ Salley was all over Kemmerer but as the picture shows it appeared there was no contact. Ralph brought his car under control very quickly without hitting a wall and safely rejoined the field after losing quite a few places.

Now coming back to the front straight, the top 6 held their positions until Mark Robertson, who was running 5th, overcooked it entering the First Corner. Sensing he was too hot, Mark went wide and into the gravel trap but while he was gathering it up Poole was quick to get on it and Bruce, along with Kenneth Baldwin, both passed Robertson who was now fighting to hold off Gianni Raspaldo. Neither Mark or Gianni would give an inch as they raced side by side through Williams and Moss and into Atwood, leading on to the back straight. This was an excellent show of how to respect the spacing between two fast competitors. Hot on their wings was Richard Coulombe of Team Otto. Coming out of Atwood he stayed wide into the draft of Robertson. The draft pulled him ahead of Gianni but as they neared the hair-pin Raspaldo boldly held the inside line. Exiting the hair-pin side by side the two competitors raced the short stretch to enter the tight left hander at Revolver. Richard moved to his right looking for a better line

coming into the corner when he and Gianni tangled wheels entering turn 6. Richards right front wheel drove under Raspaldo’s left front causing him to catch air as he was sent spinning into the gravel trap on the right. The Turtle team member showed great patience as he sat idling while the whole field went by before he safely entered the track. That safe move left him dropping from position 7 to the back of the field. Profound respect to the other drivers was shown by Gianni’s patience.

That battle had been for position 7, when Coulombe and Raspaldo came together at Revolver.  For the 15 cars behind them and coming out of the hair-pin, suddenly they found themselves facing the smoke and dust of the two off tracked cars in front of them.  This allowed the gap to close ever so tightly as two more cars passed the off-track car of Coulombe coming into and out of Piper.  John G. Hill came out of Piper fast while Richard re-entered the track. Jay Freels, hot on Hills wing, thought he saw an advantage as Hill took an inside line into Redman. The 91 of Freels held that line coming to Hobbs when Hill took too much of a corner and contacted him at the apex sending Jay into the grass.

Behind all that action the last few of the 15 cars had passed the patient Raspaldo. It was then that Ken Dummer lost it at what was becoming the now infamous corner, Piper. Ken’s car did a 360-degree spin coming to a stop on the outside curbing. And that was what Larry Thomas saw over his windscreen exiting Piper.  Larry made and evasive maneuver which threw the car off balance throwing him head on into the concrete barrier on the inside wall.  Cool headed Kemmerer came out of Piper and threaded the needle between Dummer and Thomas. Lap 2 then, had its share of mayhem and had not been kind to a few in the field.

Joel Martin, who had started in 13th, began a steady climb through the field that may have begun on lap 4 when he narrowly escaped disaster, once again, coming out of Piper. Fred McIntosh who had been pressing John Hill took too much curbing at Piper. Coming off the throttle his car spun right in front of Martin. Martin held his line as the spinning McIntosh careened to the inside coming to a rest against the inside barrier.  That would be the end of the race for Fred’s number 64 and Joel kept moving ahead eventually finishing 7th.

The top 5 had maintained their order coming to lap 7.  It was here, with a very fast exit coming out of Atwood, where 2nd place Andrew Fidler got a good run on the leader, John Morgan. By the end of the back straight Fidler had taken the lead never to give it up. In fact, it looked as if the top 5 would stay in order until lap 15 when John, who had been pressing Andrew to retake the lead, took a little too much curbing at Revolver. His speed caused the car to spin out and with all his wits about him Morgan brilliantly let the car’s momentum back him onto the apron. That maneuver saved his car but allowed Van de Ven, Unsbee and Robertson to pass taking Morgan back to 5th.  This would remain the order until the end of the race.

Back in the field on the next lap attrition began to take its toll. Jay Freels was closing fast on Mark Lison down the front straight when a car was exiting pit row.  This forced the leading Lison to the left coming to the braking zone. Freels was barely able to get enough brakes to slow and lightly tapped Lison entering turn 1.  After that it appeared Jay just kept going into the gravel trap deciding to end his race. It looked as if Jay just hung it up as there did not seem to be any damage to either car. Just ahead and on the same lap Jeff Kanter came out of Moss ‘S’ to find the lapped car of Larry Thomas pulling over to the right leading into Atwood. Unfortunately, Larry’s right wheels hit the grass causing him to spin right in front of Kanter who had no option but to hit Thomas broadside which tore up the front end of Kanter ending his race.

As this race review ends there are some other points to mention. It might appear that the race had a fair bit contact.  It is true that lap 2 was dangerous for a few and others had their struggles during the 19 laps but there were some very good position changes in this race which are worth noting. The biggest mover in the race was the very steady Turtle team member, Jose Carlos Campodonico who moved from 22 to round out the top 10.  Other top 10 movers in this race were Di Pasqua, Martin, Hill and Gilley. Just outside of the top 10 and remaining on the same lap as the winning driver where Kemmerer, Florissen, Gutierrez, Riley and Salley.

Race coverage sometime has a focus on the smoke, off tracks and danger. One thing that is sometimes overlooked are the drivers who manage a race with zero incidents.  This includes no off tracks which shows tremendous concentration and ability. For this race that club included van de Ven, Unsbee, Di Pasqua and Joel Martin. Congratulations to these racers who have shown us great driving skill and ability.  There were others who managed to finish with only a few incidents as well.

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