Boogity boogity boogity, let's go sim racin' boys!
ATCC held its marquee event on Friday the 17th of February, at the fictional KW Superspeedway. Converted to the RACE series by Andrew Evans in 2009, this high-banked oval originally appeared in the “King of Ovals” expansion pack for SimBin's GTR, and has thus far been the only track that ATCC has visited in every one of its seasons.
Every competitor is required to use the BMW for this event, and drafting (as well as not crashing!) is the main skill required for success at this round. This particular round at KW was quite possibly the most exciting yet!
One-lap pace is not much of an issue at this track, but we still saw some fantastic times from the front runners. Francisco Villar put in a super-fast time to take pole ahead of his Team Portugal teammate, Miguel Neto. 3rd place was taken by quick Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne, who was followed by Keith Barrick, Pedro Amaral and Vincent Kan. The fourth row of the grid was assumed by Andre Caiado and Jesper Taulborg, and the top 10 was completed by Hugo Barbosa and Hugo Goncalves.
The race started in an orderly fashion from a rolling start. Kan was bumped slightly by Amaral, but the action didn't heat up until the back stretch. There were cars scrambling for position, and everyone tried to get into single file to assume the draft formation. Elio Luchessi stayed out of the main drafting column to try and make a move up the inside of his opponents, but hit the apex of the last turn too early and as a consequence was slowed down. This left the door open for Rhys Gardiner to take 16th place from Luchessi. A colourful snake of cars extended far behind the leaders as they started their second lap.
Drivers began settling into drafting groups over the next few laps. However, one driver who was slightly unlucky in this respect was Dariusz Swiderski, who made contact with Hugo Goncalves as they exited turn 2. Up the front, more well-defined groups were forming: The lead group consisted of Villar, Neto, Barrick and Taulborg, drafting line astern; behind them was a second group consisting of Kan, Vandoorne and Amaral; and the rest of the field streamed along in single file, headed by Danny Asbury.
All seemed to be going well up front. However, Murphy's Law came into effect for the second drafting group, when Kan hit the apron in the final turn and began to slide. He was hit by Vandoorne, and Amaral was caught up in the confusion. This resulted in all three cars strewn across the track and trying to get going again – at the worst possible time. The rest of the field came up on them with nowhere to go. A mass wreck ensued – cars flew everywhere, bursting into flames and losing splitters, taking 6 cars out of the race.
This wreck happened just as the mandatory pit window opened, and amazingly enough, Stoffel Vandoorne saw this as a prime opportunity to get his out of the way. Having avoided the wreck, he went straight into the pits and took his stop.
Neto and Villar joined him soon after, but Barrick and Taulborg stayed out and traded places. When it came time for them to pit, Barrick surprised his teammate by outbraking him into the pitlane. Despite this, however, they were able to gain time on Team Portugal and ended up ahead of them on track. Meanwhile, Gary Lennon suffered some bad luck when he hit the wall after losing control of his car, retiring from the race.
In the battle for the race lead, Neto got a run on Taulborg. As Villar used his teammate's slipstream to his advantage, Team Portugal split the two FRD CanDen drivers for the shortest of moments. That moment was then shattered when Taulborg clipped Villar on the exit of turn 2 – Villar crashed heavily and ended up on his roof, giving commentators Ryan Callan and Toby Davis a near heart attack in the process. Villar was fortunately able to continue, albeit with a damaged car.
Taulborg fell behind after this incident, which meant that for the final few laps, it was Keith Barrick vs. Miguel Neto for the win. As the race reached its dying stages, the two drivers bumpdrafted and swapped positions many times, but it all came to a head in the final turn. Barrick pulled out of the draft and attempted a move up the inside, but contact ensued. He slid, and Neto ended up hitting the wall. This slowed down Neto just enough for Barrick to make a move around the outside as they entered the tri-oval – Barrick initially took the race 1 win, but was later demoted to 2nd for his move in the final turn. Taulborg was also demoted, in his case from 3rd to 6th, for his contact with Villar.
Thus, the final post-event podium was Miguel Neto in P1, followed by Keith Barrick and Stoffel Vandoorne.
Due to his 8th place finish in Race 1, Terra Australis Racing's Paul Wood started from first position in Race 2. He was followed in the top 10 by Elio Luchessi, Francisco Villar, Andre Caiado, Stoffel Vandoorne, Jesper Taulborg, Miguel Neto, Keith Barrick, Reggie Blain and Robert Isles.
At the start, Villar and Vandoorne got the jump on Wood instantly, with Villar leading, while Barrick and Taulborg immediately started bumpdrafting. Caiado was compromised slightly on the opening lap, and Neto had to avoid him as he slowed. Caiado was then bumped by Taulborg twice on the opening lap, the second time resulting in both being swallowed by the advancing field.
A few laps later, ATCC veteran Michael Carver was bumped off by Amaral, sending both onto the grass infield of the tri-oval. This was soon followed by Danny Asbury hitting off Hugo Goncalves, with the latter being the only driver to crash heavily.
Taulborg fell back to 7th place in the running order, and began battling with Blain. Meanwhile, Robert Isles and Alessio Luchessi were involved in their own incident, both being involved in a crash with Caiado. Amaral was the first to take his mandatory pitstop.
Vandoorne and Villar had pulled away from the main pack by this time. But then there was contact between them, and Villar was sent into the wall for the second time in as many races. This meant that Vandoorne assumed the lead, quite a distance ahead of other competitors. Villar recovered from his incident well, holding on to the rear of the Neto and Barrick drafting duo after falling behind them. Neto and Villar would later enter the pits side-by-side, in the hopes of mounting a co-ordinated attack on those in front of them.
As Vandoorne took his stop, he exited just in front of Barrick, and the two drivers began a battle for the lead that was to last until the end of the race. In the final few laps, Barrick made a move up the inside of the tri-oval, and made it stick – if only for a while. Vandoorne could not be held back, as he went side-by-side with Barrick through turn 4 and kept it clean. He eventually succeeded in getting the lead back, winning the race. Keith Barrick finished 2nd, and Francisco Villar finished 3rd.
Barrck's successful run at KW Superspeedway means that he now leads the championship from Miguel Neto by 4 points. Villar is running 3rd at the present time. Jesper Taulborg isn't far behind, but keep an eye on Stoffel Vandoorne – his fantastic run since he entered Server 1 means that he runs 5th, and can only go up from here.
In the teams standings, FDR CanDen leads from the Team Portugal squad. There is a very small gap between these teams, which means that one bad result at the next round can swap first and second positions!
To look at the standings yourself, and see how your favourite driver is doing, check out http://results.touringproseries.com/league.php?leagueid=2&type=introduction&menu=season to view the standings as they are!
The next round of the championship takes place tonight. We are now racing at Laguna Seca, an iconic American road course. Home to the famous Corkscrew corner and some challenging elevation changes, who will triumph? Will it be the front-wheel drive squad, or the rear-wheel drive BMW aces? Go to www.touringproseries.com/broadcast tonight at 9:15pm EST to find out!