Article: Bill Lawrence
Photo Credit: Bruce Poole
2018 Season 6 Week 2
Sebring International Raceway
Article in Video Format
60Plus Racing Adventures welcomes you to our coverage of the second race of Season 6. Leaving Stavelot, Belgium at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps drivers crossed the Atlantic to the United States of America. This week’s race was held in the beautiful state of Florida at the Sebring International Raceway. Sebring is one of the oldest continuously operating race tracks in the United States. This track occupies a portion of the Sebring Regional Airport which is still an active airport.
Race day looked perfect with a large turnout of 31 drivers filling the field for this 14-lap race. Qualifying was intense with Texan Manning Grinnan leading the field with a blazing pace of 1:57.917, the only driver to make it into the 1.57’s. A home state Floridian boy, Mark Robertson, took second on the grid followed by Benelux’s Jos van de Ven. The field looked strong and everyone was eager to begin. A standing start would be the opening for this race.
Unlike Spa, where there are two very long drafting sections, this track has only a couple of sections long enough to take advantage of the draft. Not only that, but you must set up the pass by a good corner exit to get this advantage. As a result, this race would only see 4 swaps for the lead and these changes only involved three drivers, Grinnan, Robertson and van de Ven.
When the lights went green the tire smoke filled the air as all 31 drivers were ready to roll. John Unsbee, sitting 4th on the grid was slow off the mark and this caused Steve Carkner to swerve left towards the Morgan Team’s car of Bill Lawrence. Bill gave him room and once around Unsbee, Carkner found himself 5 wide and headed back to the right to set himself up for the corner. Unfortunately, he did not see another Team Morgan driver, Bob Kern who had started in the 4th row and when Steve went left, he went right around Unsbee. Carkner made contact and Kern lost control spinning across the track, taking out Richard Coulombe of Team Otto. It was truly remarkable that the remainder of the field were all able to avoid Kern. After he smacked the inside wall his car careened out of control, spinning and flipping back into traffic in a horrific crash.
Immediately after this mayhem and just around the corner Gerard Florissen moved to his right contacting Andrew Fidler of the UK. Fidler was able to keep control but Gerard spun around and was facing the remainder of the field as they came out of turn 1. The beginning of the race had these two unfortunate incidents that show how difficult a standing start can be. Back near the front, Unsbee, who had been slow off the line, was able to out brake Lawrence and take back one of his lost positions as they approached the hairpin.
Everyone had now settled in with the starting jitters out of the way. It now appeared drivers were a little more patient as they formed into lines. On lap two newcomer to the league Richard Valli got on the throttle a little to hard coming out of the hairpin and the resulting spin took him to the inside wall. Up front the top 10 cars were evenly spaced with Manning having a slightly bigger gap between himself and Robertson and van de Ven in 2nd and 3rd. Coming out of Le Mans curve and onto the Ullman Straight van de Ven had the better exit and launched his assault on Robertson. Same lap and just behind at the end of the straight and entering Sunset bend Carkner got a little to close to the inside wall, never touching it he had to go wide losing speed on this critical corner that leads to the front straight. This gave Fitterer an opportunity and he jumped on it. Steve held the inside line forcing Donal to back off. It was close but for now Donal could not gain the position.
The next grouping had similar spacing beginning with John Hill in 11th to Ralph Kemmerer in 17th. After Ralph we find Gilley all alone and then we find another grouping. Again, everyone here is fairly evenly spaced with Rolf Just in 20th to Mark Lison in 26th. Behind this group Richard Valli was limping back to the pits for repairs and Richard Coulombe and Bob Kern were all alone having exited the pits after their incident on the grid.
Lap 3 saw David Riley in 14th get off line when approaching Le Mans. This gave Joel Martin and Bruce Poole an opportunity to advance with Joel just missing contact when David re-entered the track. At the same time but up ahead Carkner got a run at the end of Ullman and took the inside line at Sunset. The inside wall did not bother him this time around and he took 4th from John. Donal Fitterer came out of Sunset wide hitting the grass his car wiggled but did not brake loose. That wiggle gave Unsbee all he needed to move up a spot.
Richard Valli had exited the pits and showed great sportsmanship keeping right at Big Bend to allow the lead pack by. Now, coming out of the hairpin van de Ven was pressuring Grinnan hard for the lead. Manning held him off and Robertson got into line sizing up both drivers in front of him. Mark Lison running well in 22nd had a missed shift at Cunningham and blew his transmission in a puff of black smoke.
Jos had his run on Manning at the end of Ullman but Robertson took full advantage of the opening and dove in behind van de Ven, hugging the inside line Mark moved from 3rd to 1st by the time they crossed the start finish, switching places with Grinnan and leaving Jos in the middle. That lasted until Kristensen corner where Jos got 1st back. This racing allowed the following group to close ranks with 8 cars each having a look for the opportunity to pass. Coming out of Big Bend and heading to the hairpin some Radio chatter was misunderstood by Steve Carkner. Steve thought he heard Manning say go ahead when in reality Donal Fitterer had told Unsbee he was clear to come over. That miscommunication had Steve dive inside of Manning who was unaware of how Steve had interpreted the chatter. They collided and John Morgan, attempting to avoid the accident just clipped Carkner’s right rear. Lawrence was forced off to the grass but was able to nurse his car back on track. Steve needed a tow. This incident separated the group of eight.
Back to Ullman Lawrence had a run on Fitterer and made the pass coming out of Sunset onto the front straight. Donal returned the favour a few minutes later taking and inside line out of Big Bend and completing the pass at the hairpin.
Joel Martin had a very fast exit on the outside of turn 1 on lap 6 charging up to Remigio Di Pasqua who held the inside line. By the time they reached Kristensen Joel had the pass but it did not come without a valiant fight by Remigio. Behind this group Ralph Kemmerer hit Richard Valley at Turn 1 as Richard had stayed wide being a lap down and had hoped to avoid contact.
By lap 7 there were much larger gaps at the front. Not to large but the field in this group was no longer as tight as it had been the previous laps. Jos was leading with Robertson, Grinnan, Morgan and Unsbee each having perhaps 10 car lengths between them. It was at Kristensen where Jos had a wiggle, went off track to save it which allowed Robertson to get the lead again. Manning had closed the gap and your top three were once again running in close quarters. The top three were well positioned coming out of Le Mans and onto Ullman where Robertson went right to break the draft. Jos held his line as did Manning and coming out of Sunset onto the front straight he had the faster outside line and retook the lead at the front straight before Turn 1. This was to be the last lead change of the race. By now, Morgan had made it back to the front 3 making it a 4-way battle. Not long after Jos was putting a few car lengths on Mark and Morgan had fallen off the pace allowing Unsbee to pass him at Turn 1 on lap 10.
Just ahead at Kristensen again, Manning got into the back of Robertson when Mark’s back end broke loose just past the apex. Manning had no options and the collision saw both spinning off track. This gave Jos a big lead and put Unsbee into 2nd. At the end of lap 10 Lawrence got a good run on Morgan down the front straight and took an inside line into Turn 1 gaining 3rd from John. Fitterer also began to pressure Morgan while Andrew Fidler was quite a few car lengths back in 6th. Behind him sat Grinnan now alone in 7th and behind him also alone in 8th was Jay Freels.
Remigio and Hill were still battling it out for 9th and 10th and Bruce Poole and Fred McIntosh were keeping the race close in this grouping.
Lap 12 found Donal making the same move Lawrence did on Morgan at the end of the front straight at Turn 1. Both drivers rounded the bend side by side neither willing to give. This left Donal with the inside line coming to Kristensen which is an advantage as it is difficult for two cars to make it through this corner without touching. John must have sensed this and wisely backed out of the fray.
On the final lap three car lengths were all that separated 2nd from 3rd and 3rd from 4th and Fidler was pressing Morgan hard. At the hairpin Andrew lost it spinning out and released Morgan from his grasp. After gathering back up Andrew was still able to retain his 6th position.
The top 5 finishes for this race were Jos van de Ven, John Unsbee, Bill Lawrence, Donal Fitterer and John Morgan.
See you next week in Australia!