2017 Season 4 Week 10
Suzuka International - Grand Prix
60Plus Racing Adventures welcomes you to the beautifully smooth Suzuka Grand Prix Circuit in Japan. We are in week 10 of 12 as we visit this outstanding circuit where sweeping esses and some high and low speed corners combine with long drafting straights. There is no doubt the racing here will be exciting up and down the field.
Entering week 10 Florida’s Mark Robertson is point leader in the driver’s championship race. The league practice session held the day before the race showed Mark will have to pick up the pace if he is to remain on top of this leader board. The Canadian Steve Carkner and the American from New York State, Donal Fitterer set blistering practice times during Tuesdays practice day. Donal led the field with a time of 1:55.720 followed by an almost impossible to measure gap of 1/100 by Carkner at 1:55.721. These two are locked in a tight battle chasing Robertson for the lead for the Driver’s title. There will be a lot of sweaty palms as driver’s get behind the wheel for the day’s challenge.
In addition to the Driver’s Championship the league has a hotly contested Team Championship. Last year’s winning team SBMA is currently leading again by just over 100 points. The other teams are locked in a tight battle with just over 10 points separating teams Cooper, Otto and Green. Not far behind this group is the Italian Turtles and Team Fox.
Today’s race will see points changing and leaderboard position changes are possible for both Driver’s and Team Standings.
The qualifying for Race 1 lived up to the billing as drivers readied their cars for this 3.6-mile (5.8 km) course. Suzuka Circuit has 17 turns, so you think a great handling car has an advantage. And you are correct, but that advantage quickly disappears on the long back and front straight where the draft eliminates any gap a fast cornering car may have had. The fixed setup for our league was terrific and eliminated any setup advantages for any one driver. Steve Carkner and Donal Fitterer, both challenging for the driver’s championship did not disappoint taking pole and 3rd positions on the grid. Steve’s fellow SBMA team-mates Bill Lawrence and Mark Robertson sat 2nd and 4th and Benelux’s Jos van de Ven rounded out the top 5.
Qualifying would be critical here as it is very difficult to pass. The importance of being near the front on the grid also minimizes the risk of being at the mercy of someone else’s mistake, especially in a large field.
As the pace car exited Casio, pole sitter Carkner accelerated down the front straight and appeared to catch Fitterer off guard. This allowed points leader Robertson to take 3rd consolidating Team SBMA in positions 1 through 3. It was a clean beginning but would not remain that way long.
On lap 3 Ralph Kemmerer had a great exit leading out of spoon and onto the back straight. Now solidly in the draft of Kenneth Dummer car 73 moved to the inside to overtake Ken. Ken must not have realized
how fast Ralph was closing as he shut the inside door forcing Ralph hard into the Armco. His car bounced off the safety barrier and back out to the track at 133 mph. Careening sideways his car was billowing smoke from the screeching tires. What happened next was a nightmare for more than a few drivers as this is the fastest part of the circuit. Kemmerer’s car came to rest at the center of the track when he realized traffic was closing on him. The next car to arrive was Michael Key finding Ralph's car sitting dead center in the track. Not sure which way to go Michael feigned left then picked right just before Ralph decided he was getting out of the way by going right as well. The outcome was not pretty. Key’s car bounced of Ralph preparing him to welcome the next car into the fray, Fred McIntosh. Just behind Fred came PJ Salley and Gerard Florissen. They both dove into the quickly building debris field when the careening car 98 forces Gerard to the right. Cockpit camera’s showed Gerard had not backed off the accelerator when he drove right under the slowing PJ who’s left rear wheel almost decapitated Gerard. Next in line, Jay Freels had wisely backed off the throttle as he approached the mayhem in front of him and was able to maneuver past the still bouncing car 98 of Key. Behind Freels, Mark Lison had brought his car down to 50 mph which also allowed him to navigate through
unharmed. Disaster was not over yet as UK’s David Riley found McIntosh trying to get his disabled car back to the pits. Riley was forced into the barrier as well. This next screen shot shows Riley in the pits joining the lengthy line of fast repairs. Kenneth Dummer who began the event by squeezing Kemmerer escaped unscathed. He was most likely totally unaware of the carnage left behind him and that quickly disappeared in his rear-view mirror.
With the track cleaned up lap 5 saw Jos van de Ven continue to close on the now 4th place Robertson when Mark made a slight misjudgment at the hairpin which proved to be very costly. Jos quickly rounded the corner along with the UK’s Andrew Fidler and Manning Grinnan gaining positions and moving Mark back to 7th. There was now a 4-car train ending with John Morgan as Fidler challenged van de Ven rounding Casio to begin lap 6. At the end of lap 6 and exiting Casio Jos got loose heading into the front straight spinning off into the gravel trap. By the time the next lap began Jos had dropped back to 9th and put him squarely in the sights of John Unsbee.
A good race was shaping up for positions 11 thru 13 at this point as well. Leading this group was Raspaldo followed by Canada’s Bruce Poole and Richard Coulombe. Bruce had a strong exit out of Casio setting him up for a run on Gianni Raspaldo at the end of the front straight. Gianni protected the inside line allowing the overtaking Poole the outside and Bruce took the spot. He was a little fast for the exit of turn 1 and ran wide allowing fellow Canadian Richard to take his spot. Great racing in this group.
Meanwhile just in front of them Fidler remained in 4th in another train of 4 cars. This was a tight race with the other driver’s being Grinnan, Robertson, Morgan and Kelley. Approaching Casio at the end of lap 9 Manning Grinnan made his move on Fidler who could not hold his line through Casio. On exit Andrew came over pushing Manning off the track where he lost control coming back over the kurbing. This happened right in front of Robertson driving Mark into the wall. Somehow, through that episode, Fidler appeared undamaged able to take his car to a 4th place finish. Lady luck smiles on some and frowns on others. Morgan and Kelley followed Fidler to finish 5th and 6th.
New to this league, driver Richard VanderHave “The Flying Dutchman”, had been having a pretty good race. Starting back in 28th he drove well moving through the field to position 17 by lap 10. Here he went a wide at Degner curve but held it together until rounding the corner leading under the bridge. This is when we learned why he calls himself the Flying Dutchman. He launched Mark Lison into orbit as the picture shows.
Up front the 3 leaders had been maintaining pace and position and coming to the checkered flag Donal had a look outside Lawrence attempting to take 2nd but the risk was not worth the reward and Carkner led the way down the straight finishing 1st followed by team-mate Lawrence and Fitterer in 3rd.
The Drivers’ Championship is definitely heating up. Stay tuned for our next race coverage as we meet next week at only the second oval in our season, New Hampshire.
Race 2 Coverage
The race got off to a clean start with Jos van de Ven on pole leading the field through the corners of the first lap. Mark Robertson, Manning Grinnan and John Morgan, next on the grid kept pace as the leaders wound their way around turn 1 and into the esses. Further back in the field racers were already jockeying for position and at the hairpin Gerard Florissen who was 14th got on the brakes
just a fraction early. This allowed Fred McIntosh to overtake on the left leading to into a very tight hair pin. Perhaps this startled Gerard as at near the same time Jay Freels made a move to his right and took Gerard on the outside dropping him back to 16th. Amazingly and with great patience Florissen must have been motivated by those moves for as the race progressed he had moved through the field finishing very well in 8th spot.
As the cars advanced to Spoon Robertson was able to get a good exit to the back straight and by the left turn on the back straight had been pulled strongly to Jos’s rear wing. As they exited the left at full throttle Mark moved to the outside giving him position coming to Casio Triangle where he took 1st from Jos.
On the same lap and same corner PJ Salley was drafted by Joel Martin. PJ gave Martin the inside and held the outside line through the left at the end of the back straight. Joel had the draft and momentum now to get a good car length on PJ and a clean pass was made.
By lap 5 the race was still very tight for the top three. Manning in 3rd place had been pressing Jos van de Ven and when rounding Spoon came off the throttle and tapped his brakes as he was closing to quickly on Jos. With the weight of the car being forced right it was inevitable that this brake tap started a spin.
With no damage he was able to bring it safely back on track but had lost 4 positions. He now found himself in front of John G Hill who had moved from 11th to 8th already and by race end would almost find himself with a podium finish, driving to 4th position in what was a great run for John.
It had been unfortunate a few laps earlier when Joel Martin, at least according to my replay, found himself following Gianni who appeared to be having some connection issues. The car was
jumping around which is very distracting. Whether or not this was a factor, Joel’s car came around on him at the hair pin which required a quick repair. This is being mentioned as on lap 6 at spoon the leaders were now catching the repaired Joel quickly. In a sportsman like gesture Joel moved to the left approaching spoon giving room to the leaders. Robertson went around as did Jos and Morgan. By this time Joel had rounded spoon when Andrew Fidler, the next leading car, came around and surprised him. Fidler had to go off track and into the gravel and lost control. Immediately an apology was broadcast and later in our forum Joel made another apology obviously feeling very bad about this event. Andrew, gentleman that he is, was already moving on and forgetting about this incident. For any readers this is one of the wonderful things about this league. We do our best to be clean but as humans we all make errors occasionally. When we do you will often here an apology quickly offered. Just wanted to mention the sportsman like behavior of our drivers. Same lap and back a corner a driver lost it at the hairpin with the trailing David Riley making unavoidable contact. Same apologies and same type of reply “no worries”. Fantastic display of conduct for we all realize racing incidents happen as much as we try to minimize them.
Back up front and finishing lap 7 there was a good race going on between Unsbee in 4th, Pool and Grinning. Unsbee got on the gas a little hard coming out of Casio and got a little loose. His quick reaction time caught the car, but the little extra throttle now cost John 2 spots as Poole and Grinnan blew by him. This did not keep Unsbee down long as he had a 3rd position podium finish by race end. When coming around the next lap and on the back straight the three competitors were once again nose to tail. As these drafting cars approached Casio once again, Poole could not quite break fast enough and got into Manning’s rear wing. Unsbee to the inside and in one lap had his position back at the same corner though Manning chose to make a pit stop after this contact.
Ahead of this group Mark and Jos were still battling it out and coming down the front straight Jos was able to retake the lead. Mark kept charging hard and had position once again on the back straight to make a move to take back 1st. With these challenges going on John Morgan was knocking on the door having nicely positioned himself in the top three. Once again, end of the front straight Jos was overtaking Mark in what was turning out to be a see-saw exchange. Same corner same lap but back in 8th and 9th were Fred McIntosh and Gerrard Florissen. This attempted pass at the end of the straight did not end so well .
Back to the leaders. Mark pressed Jos hard at the back straight to continue the see-saw but was unable to make the move and Jos crossed the line still in 1st for lap 11. A contest was brewing as well for positions 12, 13 and 14 where Manning Grinnan was trying to regain some of his lost position racing Richard Coulombe and Jose Carlos Campodonico.
On lap 12 out of 13 Jos had an internet crash as he was leading the race, so unfortunate for him. This next picture is what the rest of us saw as he was losing his connection.
The podium for the race – Mark Robertson, John Morgan and John Unsbee. Not mentioned in the content of the coverage but a shout out to Ralph Kemmerer who was able to move from 18th to 7th A great finish!