ATCC continued last Friday with its first wet round of the season. This took place at the Nurburgring GP circuit, which has been a popular track among ATCC drivers and viewers, as well as the track from which there was the first ever ATCC-related live broadcast. This round saw the return of Stoffel Vandoorne to Server 1, after missing out on Round 1 and racing in Server 2 for Round 2. As you will see, he made his return in style.
Vandoorne took pole position with a blistering time in his BMW, and left Jesper Taulborg to complete the front row. Keith Barrick was 3rd, and was joined by Miguel Neto, while behind them were Yuri Braham and Francisco Villar. Hugo Goncalves and Reggie Blain took 7th and 8th, and the top 10 was completed by Pedro Amaral and Domingos Vaz.
Vandoorne duly led into turn 1 at the beginning of the race as Villar and Neto squabbled over their positions. The first turn was very clean all through the field with no major incidents occurring. However, this is not to say that there were no incidents at all on lap 1. Coming into turn 3, Elio Luchessi was bumped by Duarte Lopes, who was then in turn bumped by Vincent Kan. Lopes was consigned to the tarmac runoff and rejoined in last place.
As Vandoorne held his lead comfortably, Amaral held off Goncalves by making strange use of the tarmac runoff in the S-curves. Coming up to the NGK Chicane near the end of the lap, it was feared that there would be many
tight accidents. Incredibly, however, everyone got through cleanly with barely any contact at all.
Vandoorne continued to extend his lead as the five drivers behind him pulled away in turn from the rest of the field. It was then that the first major incident of the race took place. Mathieu Jaminet was negotiating a fast S-bend , when he understeered and was slowed down by the gravel at the apex of the turn after. This put him right in the path of Dariusz Swiderski, who bumped him and sent both BMW drivers slithering off the track. As Lopes was also caught up in the incident, Jaminet impacted a crash barrier head-on, killing his engine and forcing his retirement.
Swiderski was among the first to pit, along with Domingos Vaz, Alessio Luchessi and Paul Wood. As the field was shuffled like a deck of cards, Neto began pressuring Barrick. Neto was among the last to take their stops as on-track battles resumed.
The drivers began struggling with squirrelly cars, understeer and oversteer accentuated on the wet track. This didn't seem to trouble Vandoorne, though, as he continued to streak off into the distance. In the midfield, though, there was one more major incident. Kane Lasky was battling hard with Alessio Luchessi, having gained an advantage coming onto the main straight. However, while attempting to hold off Luchessi further by braking later into turn 1, Lasky braked a little too late, and went right into the back of Eric Nelson. This sent both drivers back to the lower reaches of the field. Nearer to the end of the race, Michael Carver – one of only two drivers to have competed in every event in ATCC history – was holding his own against other racers and putting up a good fight, having been thrown into the midst of Server 1 at the last minute.
Eventually, Stoffel Vandoorne took a dominating victory ahead of Jesper Taulborg, and Keith Barrick completed the podium.
Hugo Goncalves started from pole in race 2 by virtue of finishing 8th in Race 1. Pedro Amaral joined him at the front, followed by Yuri Braham, Francisco Villar, Miguel Net
o, Keith Barrick, Jesper Taulborg, Race 1 winner Stoffel Vandoorne, Reggie Blain and Alessio Luchessi, completing the top 10.
At the standing start of Race 2, Vandoorne shocked both the viewers of the live broadcast and commentators Ryan Callan and Toby Davis by rocketing from 8th to 1st by turn 1! He was briefly challenged by Villar, but won out by turn 2 and began pulling away almost instantly.
Mathieu Jaminet's bad luck continued – starting last, he tagged Paul Wood in turn 2, but ended up spinning off while Wood continued on. The racing on the first lap was mostly clean, but there was a fair amount of tapping and ever-so-light contact as drivers jostled for position.
A gaggle of cars followed Vandoorne, but gradually fell behind as he settled into a rhythm. Villar was not having as good a race as he did at this track last season, but was able to keep pace with his teammate Neto.
The single-file waiting game returned for some laps, until there was a double incident at turn 3 – Reggie Blain misjudged his braking point and there was contact with Amaral. Amaral spun, and then just behind them, Domingos Vaz contacted heavily with Dariusz Swiderski. All cars, however, were able to continue.
As Vandoorne continued his domination, the pit window opened. There was the usual shuffle of places, and certain drivers gained time in the pits. As the drivers now knew how their freshly-tyred cars coped in wet conditions, they began to battle harder – there was close racing in the midfield. Among these battles was a 4-car fight in the lower top 10, with Gary Lennon, Pedro Amaral, Yuri Braham and Eric Nelson all getting a bite of the cherry.
Some of the final action of the race was the most thrilling. FDR CanDen teammates Keith Barrick and Jesper Taulborg were running together very closely, when all of a sudden Barrick locked his brakes and ran wide at the southern end of the circuit. This allowed Taulborg to snatch 4th place from his teammate, but as they negotiated the Schumacher-S, Taulborg lost grip and slithered off-track, restoring their positions to what they were before.
Stoffel Vandoorne was bothered by none of this, however, as he took the race 2 win, followed by Team Portugal's Miguel Neto and Francisco Villar.
Vandoorne thus became the second driver in ATCC history to score pole position, set two fastest laps and win both races in the same round. But his achievement was rendered bittersweet when it was found that he had cut turn 4 consistently throughout the event, netting him a 5-point penalty. This penalty, however, did not stop him from joining former ATCC racer Adam Vaughan in the Touring Pro Series history books.
Taulborg has taken back the championship lead by the smallest of margins – he has only one point's advantage over Francisco Villar. Is it possible that they will continue their rematch over last year's title fight? Entirely so – but with Stoffel Vandoorne having blasted onto the scene in the way that he has, keep an eye out for the speedy Belgian.
At the time of writing, the teams standings have not been updated. They will be posted when they become available.
Tonight, ATCC returns yet again. Only one week separates round 3 from round 4, and this is the round to watch. The oval round of the championship at KW Superspeedway has always drawn a large crowd, with the racers strapping in to an all-BMW field to race wheel to wheel and nose to tail at 270km/h. You can watch our marquee event tonight at 9:15pm EST by going to http://www.touringproseries.com/race-liveview/ . Share the link with everyone you know, and let's get a massive viewer count for the halfway round of the season!