Article: Bill Lawrence

Photo Credit: Bruce Poole

2017/18 Season 5 Week 5

Barber Motorsports Park

Welcome back to week 5 of Season 5 for the 60Plus Racing Adventures League. This week we returned to the U.S.A. arriving at Barber Motorsports Park located at the fringe of Birmingham, Alabama. What a change this track presents to us compared to the long straights with fantastic drafting opportunities at Suzuka. The layout at Barber is compact. The track has 15 turns in a 2.4 mile (3.8 km) run which will make passing very difficult. The elevation changes on this track also make the blind corners very difficult to manage by hitting your marks consistently, especially in traffic. A small mistake here can lead to drastic consequences. Focus and patience will be strengths for finishing the race here at Barber. Due to the tracks compact configuration there is another factor that may play into the race today and that is lapped cars.  With so many corners and with the straights being relatively short, getting out of the way of faster drivers may present a real challenge and provide opportunities for others.

Coming into week 5 one thing has not changed. That thing is the absolute dominance of the two drivers sitting on top of our Driver’s Championship leaderboard this season. In the words of Kenneth Baldwin, we question whether Stephan Roesgen and Jos van de Ven are machines or human. These two drivers are demonstrating such great skill week after week we are all wondering about their robot-like ability to hit their marks so consistently. Wonderful to watch these leaders set such a fantastic pace.

Although these two are indeed setting the bar very high we have quite a few drivers waiting just a few one hundredths back and quite a few more just a few tenths back. All of them just waiting for one misjudged corner, one lapped vehicle, to give them an opportunity.  The very fast competition brought to bear on our leaders comes via names like Carkner, Grinnan, and the returning Scott Dick. The list continues with Poole, Fidler, Baldwin, Morgan, Unsbee and Robertson. These names are consistently within striking distance of the front runners and others could be mentioned as many more just sit knocking on the door.

After reading the above pre-amble there should be no doubt who today’s top pole sitters would be. Taking the pole with another lightening fast qualifying round was Roesgen at 1:17.371. Your top 5 all got into the 1:17’s showing great car handling in just a few laps. Stephan was followed by van de Ven, Carkner, Grinnan and Dick with the next 10 cars all in the 1:18’s.

The field was set after the parade lap leading up to the final corner and onto the front straight. In what has become a repetitive playbook, Roesgen led the pack out of turn 15 and down to the start/finish line. Behind him, and due to the serpentine bends leading from corners 11 through 15, the field would string out very quickly as a reverse accordion effect was taking place upon going green. Cars further back in the field simply cannot get on the throttle as quick as the front runners as they are still navigating some very tight corners, side by side. As frustrating as this is for drivers back in the field, it does allow the ball of string to unravel quickly into an almost single file stretch by the time they reach the first corner.  If there is an exception to this observation it would be if you are near the front. Robertson, in 7th on the grid got on the gas so quickly out of 15 he surprised both Baldwin and Scott when he moved up two positions exiting the front straight.

There were two incidents on lap one. Coincidentally, both occurred at the exact same time. John Hill in position 17 was going around turn 2 side by side with Paolo Bonasera, both on cold tires, when they came together and spun into the infield area coming to rest against the guard rail. Paolo took a fast repair while Gill came back out dropping to 29th. Directly behind them but coming out of corner 1, Gerard Florissen likely came off the throttle in the dip from the front straight causing the rear end to break loose. Gerard was able to gather it up but had scrubbed enough speed that Freels had nowhere to go but into his back wing. 

There are so many elevation changes that challenge us on this track. With the Mazda a driver must use throttle modulation to hold the car when your gut is telling you to back off. On this track, on some corners, the gut is wrong.  The Mazda digs in when you get on the throttle and in turn this stabilizes the vehicle. Finding the right application of throttle and brake is a tough job for us to figure out. One of the toughest skills to have for faster lap times on this track is when you are getting light at an elevation change. You may crest a hill turning and enter a downhill on a bend. You must get on the throttle and at times this is counter intuitive. Mosport comes to mind for another track where this concept is so true. Next week at mid-Ohio you will also find a few good examples of this phenomena. Throttle control will make or break you.

Very quickly we had the first beginnings of racing groups starting to separate out into their individual packs. By the half way point of the second lap Stephan was stretching a small margin on Jos who had a slightly bigger margin to Carkner followed by Grinnan. This was your lead pack. A small margin back was a group not running nose to tail but very close led by Robertson, Dick, Baldwin, Unsbee and Lawrence, all evenly spaced. This was the second pack. Not far behind them was a group more nose to tail then the others led by Martin, Morgan, Coulombe, Taylor and Di Pasqua and Poole followed by the lonely Bob Kern in 16th. Pack three.  The remainder of the field had already spread out with a fair margin between cars. This is being mentioned due to just how fast these racing groups formed.  Normally it takes a few more laps before we can clearly define the race within the race.

By the third lap even these groups began to thin just a little.  Joel had been able to squeeze a bit of a margin on those in the third pack, closing a little on the back of pack 2 where Lawrence was sitting in 9th. Further back in the field David Riley had trouble navigating the twisting undulations of turns 7 and 8 leading to the back straight. He jumped the curb and found the sand but was able to get back on track behind PJ Salley. Up ahead Robertson and Dick started to separate from the second pack but just marginally leading to lap 4. The top 4 and the next 5 remained in their groups in lap 5 and the same in the rest of the field. It was apparent passing was going to be difficult this day. Jose Carlos Campodonico did think he could make the move on Kenneth Dummer on this lap at the end of the back straight. They moved side by side through the difficult dip into turn 11 where Kenneth was able to hold off Jose in a tight battle. This battle had them both finding the sand at turn 14 just past the pit entry which allowed Mark Lison to move up two positions.

Scott Dick had been able to close on Robertson by lap 6 and coming to the hairpin turn 5 and at break marker 1, Scott dove inside with a late breaking move. Robertson must have been watching his mirrors closely as he held his normal line and break points so as Scott went too deep, skidding wide, Mark simply went under him coming out of the apex to take back the spot. Not happy with that corner Scott was hard on Marks wing again coming into the dangerous drop into turn 7-8 a difficult right, left, right hander, fast and tight. Scott may have thought something was there when there was nothing and made his dive well past the last breaking marker. Realizing his error, he locked up all 4 and had it not been for Mark’s situational awareness this would have taken them both out. Mark took to the grass and was able to hang on giving up a position to Baldwin.

That event had slowed this pack down enough that Unsbee and Lawrence looked for an opportunity at the end of the back straight where Mark was still regaining his momentum. It was close, but Mark was able to hold his position under the direct threat of an overtake at turn 11

Settling into their groups once again the patient Joel Martin had now been able to close in on the second pack.  Now on lap 7 this group was racing for position. Baldwin went wide on turn 1 and Robertson had a hard look coming into 2 and 4. Unsbee was right there too as Ken and Mark took the wide line John looked inside but did not have quite enough to make it stick. This fight had Lawrence into it as well as he tried to make himself large in Unsbee’s mirrors.  That tactic was not going to work with a veteran like John. Although everyone remained cool you might say everyone was tasting blood.

Well into lap 8 the front group remained consistent until Manning lost it at turn 7 spinning off into the gravel. That spin allowed Dick to take 4th and everyone back through pack three moved up a position as Manning had to patiently wait for a time to re-enter the track. Joel was about to make himself part of the second group now.

Slowly but surely the field was taking on a new look. Your top three were well ahead and each spaced equally apart, just out of each other’s draft but very close. Dick Scott sat alone in 4th. The second pack was now changing with the addition of Joel Martin and the third pack was closing the gap noticeably on pack 2.  This was how things were shaping up into lap 10 where everyone would be soon approaching lapped traffic.

Coming out of turn 8 Roesgen had the lapped Kemmerer in his sights making his move before the end of the back stretch, Jos closed on Ralph so fast and kept left and downhill into turn 11, Ralph hugged the inside curb as Jos went by uphill and into 12. Passing lapped cars allowed Stephan to stretch the lead on Jos and at the same time it allowed Carkner to tighten up on the 2nd place van de Ven. Stephan came out of turn 15 onto the front straight hot on the tails of the next lapped cars of Campodonico and Dummer. He passed Jose before turn 1 and Kenneth at turn 2 hoping to put two more cars between him and the chasing Jos and Steve. Sure enough it wasn’t until the back stretch where Jos could first size up these two back markers. Kenneth slowed for Jos at the end of the back section and let him by but for some reason he did not offer Carkner the same courtesy. Steve’s closing rate was (135 mph) simply too fast as Dummer (95 mph) cut back to the inside forcing Steve off track where he lost control spinning out and up into the grass sustaining substantial damage to the suspension.

Not far from the pits Steve got it back on track just as the second group came over the rise at turn 12. Baldwin blasted by him outside at the apex of turn 13. Then, in quick succession, Robertson went outside exiting 13, Unsbee went inside exiting 13, Steve in the middle just looking to get off and onto pit row. Lawrence stayed low at 14 as Steve exited to get repairs.

While all of this was happening, and coincidentally at the same corner 11, 12 John Morgan caught the inside curb all alone. Instead of spinning him off track his car did a 180 coming to a stop on top of the hill facing traffic. First Coulombe went by, then Di Pasqua squeaked through with Make Taylor finally Bruce Poole got so close he could see the whites of Morgan’s eyes.

One lap later, same back section, Ralph Kemmerer found pack 2 closing quickly. Ralph kept his car at 30 mph staying left allowing 5 cars to safely pass before that tough corkscrew where Carkner went off.  Kenneth did the same at the front straight allowing quite a few cars through, lesson learned. Up ahead Mark Lison had gone off at turn 1.  He must have realized the front runners were coming next as he took turn 2 and 3 very slowly staying on the grass which is just wide enough for a car.  This allowed all vehicles to safely go around turns 2 and 3 at speed. Mark, you get the proverbial tip of the hat for that move!

Coming up to the end of lap 15 Robertson had closed on Baldwin and got a good run out of the final corner allowing him the pass on the front straight. Unsbee and Lawrence were now ready to challenge Kenneth as Mark began to stretch the gap. Ken found something extra though and by lap 17 had stretched his own gap on both trailing drivers. By lap 18 Kenneth was once again threatening to take back 4th from Mark when an early brake by Robertson forced Ken to the left at turn 14. Going left and wide to safely gather it up allowed Unsbee, Lawrence and Martin to move up a position.

There was one more position change about to come in the race. Scott Dick had been running most of the race alone and this may have been one of a couple of factors that had him running out of fuel at the end of lap 20 in a 21-lap race. Out of fuel in third, he barely had enough to get back to pit road where he refueled eventually finishing 16th.  

Congratulations to the podium finishers:

  1. Stephan Roesgen

  2. Jos van de Ven

  3. Mark Robertson