The penultimate round of the American Touring Car Championship’s 4thseason was the usual mix of excitement, drama and unpredictability, with a new championship leader being produced.
Join me as I recap Round 7, held at the amazing Adelaide Street Circuit!
The name that has been appearing at the top of the tables for much of the season secured his place there once again – Stoffel Vandoorne took pole position, followed by Team Portugal’s Francisco Villar. Villar’s squadmates, Hugo Goncalves and Andre Caiado, took 3rd and 4th. Alessio Luchessi and Miguel Neto filled the 3rd row of the grid, followed by Keith Barrick and Yuri Braham. The top 10 on the grid was completed by Jesper Taulborg and Vincent Kan.
From the rolling start, Vandoorne kept his lead. The field began approaching the first set of turns, the Senna Chicane: a high-kerbed complex bounded by tyre bundles at either apex. Initially, all got through the chicane with little incident, apart from Braham, who had to sidestep turn 2 and take a shortcut through the gravel trap. However, as they exited the complex, Elio Luchessi and Alexander Lauritzen were turned around by Reggie Blain and Dariusz Swiderski respectively. This left them at the rear of the field.
As Vandoorne did his party trick of pulling away from the field, Rhys Gardiner took advantage of incidents in front of him to move to the cusp of the top 10. Meanwhile, FDR CanDen teammates Barrick and Taulborg found themselves racing closely as positions were shuffled.
“Single file waiting game” has to be the term I’ve used the most in these reports this season. This round was no exception for some laps – the tension rose as it has so many times this season, with everyone waiting for everyone else to make a mistake. The poor competitor who was the first to slip was season 1 champion Barrick, who caught too much of the turn 2 tyre bundle and flipped. Braham, Kan, Swiderski, Gardiner and Michael van Scheppingen were all involved in the incident, either having made contact with Barrick’s upside-down car or having to swerve to avoid it.
Swiderski ended up with a puncture and had to pit for repairs, while Kan’s car was too damaged to continue, forcing the season 2 champion into retirement. Braham and Gardiner, however, benefited from the incident, moving up to 7th and 8th respectively.
As the mandatory pit window passed and everyone had taken their stops, little overtaking happened. Considering that this was a street circuit, with walls all around, this was not really a surprise – one small mistake and the least one could expect was a damaged car. Jesper Taulborg found this out the hard way, flipping at turn 2 in the same manner as Barrick did earlier in the race. Goncalves narrowly avoided Taulborg’s out-of-control Honda to take 5th place, leaving Taulborg splitting Braham and Gardiner in 7th.
There was no trouble, yet again, for Stoffel Vandoorne, as he cruised to victory ahead of Francisco Villar. Andre Caiado finished the race in 3rd place. After Keith Barrick, Vincent Kan, Alexander Lauritzen and others had races to forget, Race 2 was their chance to make things right again…
Rhys Gardiner finished 8th in race 1, which meant he started from pole for race 2 with the top 8 being reversed. He was followed in the top 10 by Jesper Taulborg, Yuri Braham, Hugo Goncalves, Miguel Neto, Andre Caiado, Francisco Villar, Stoffel Vandoorne, Reggie Blain and Michael van Scheppingen.
At the standing start, the BMWs of Villar and Vandoorne made the expected fast getaway, scything past either side of the pack as they approached turn 1. As Gardiner led the way, chaos erupted behind him: Alessio Luchessi’s late braking manoeuvre went wrong as he clipped Pedro Amaral, who then careered into Gary Lennon. Lennon then touched Alden Edwards, who then went into Dariusz Swiderski. Daniel Wood slowed up to avoid this large incident, but it was only compounded when Michael Carver accidentally ran into the back of his car, completing the conga line.
While Gardiner continued leading from Taulborg, Villar and Vandoorne continued to climb up the order, but that would be the last time the two BMW drivers would be close to each other for the rest of the race. Villar started making small mistakes, letting his teammates past, while Vandoorne made a conceited effort to snatch positions off Taulborg and then Gardiner. Vandoorne attempted an epic move up the inside of the Dequetteville hairpin, and only just managed to avoid contact with the two leaders. He ended up on the inside of Taulborg for the next three left-handers, and pulled the criss-cross on him by the end of the lap to take 2nd, setting his sights on Gardiner.
As Lauritzen and Barrick made good recoveries to 7th and 11th respectively, Villar’s luck was worsening. Various large errors, including a flip at the Senna Chicane, left last season’s championship runner-up in 18th place.
Meanwhile, Vandoorne was really putting the pressure on Gardiner. The Belgian eventually got right up to the Australian’s bumper, and Gardiner cracked under the pressure – he became another casualty of the turn 2 tyre barrier. Taulborg was slowed up slightly by this incident, and Neto took advantage to take 2nd place off the season 3 champion, but by the end of the race, Taulborg had retaken his position.
As the race wore on, Gardiner suffered much the same problems as Villar – small mistakes, big mistakes, contact with other drivers, all conspiring to drop him down the order. As the drivers began taking their mandatory pit stops once again, a familiar sight emerged: Vandoorne far out in the lead, with no-one putting up enough of a fight to keep up with him.
The final carriage in a train of humiliation for Villar came when he made a slow exit from turn 3, and ended up being turned around by Blain. Later on in the race, the last victim of Turn 2 was Paul wood, who hit the tyres and flipped into retirement. This ended up gifting a place to Villar and Gardiner – 14th and 15th, the last two finishing places.
Up front, after a long and arduous race for many, Stoffel Vandoorne came home the victor yet again, with Jesper Taulborg in 2nd. Alexander Lauritzen put in a fine recovery drive to finish 3rd from a 14th-place start.
In a scenario that could never have been imagined at round 1, Stoffel Vandoorne now leads the drivers championship by 13 points from Miguel Neto. Jesper Taulborg lies in 3rd place at the moment, with 515 points, while his teammate Keith Barrick is only 1 point behind with 514. He is followed by Francisco Villar and Andre Caiado, while Yuri Braham in 7th is the lowest-placed driver who can still take the title at Sebring. Granted, this would only be possible if Braham won both races and none of the other contenders showed up (hey, it could happen!), but it’s still an amazing fact that goes to show how competitive this league is.
In terms of the teams championship, Team Portugal leads with a nicely-rounded 1111 points – but FDR CanDen is not far behind with 1108. We shall see at Sebring who will take the crown – but with Sebring being suited to both Villar’s rear-wheel drive BMW and Neto’s high-top-speed Chevrolet Cruze, Barrick and Taulborg in their Hondas will have their work cut out for them!
Check out the standings here: http://results.touringproseries.com/league.php?leagueid=2&type=introduction&menu=season
This is it. The last round of the championship takes place tonight. Sebring International Raceway, hallowed ground in American Sports Car racing, plays host to the championship finale for ATCC Season 4. Who will take the champion’s laurel? Will it be the dominant Vandoorne? The Iceman, Taulborg? The seasoned campaigner, Barrick? The in-form Neto? The highly skilled Villar? Or will another competitor surprise us all? Find out at 9:15pm EST tonight, by going to this link: www.touringproseries.com/broadcast
See you all there!