Here we are in the familiar environs of Sebring Raceway. Following Our visit here with the Backfire/VRA series for the GT4 /TCR’s last Wednesday and the 24 Hours of Sebring event with GTE’s mixing it up with the LMP2 cars ending just 4 hours before the start of things here this evening. With some drivers just having time for a quick cuppa before climbing back into the car for some more laps after a long day and night behind the wheel.
A lot of drivers think very highly of the place and look forward to driving here, including myself. It’s a fairly technical circuit with a whole gamut of bends to be successfully manoeuvered around, through and occasionally up. Turn 1 and Sunset are famously tricky with a fine selection of bumps and a vicious narrowing of the track as the cars funnel through.
Being an old airfield with a distinguished past as a base for Flying Fortress Bombers, you wouldn’t expect much in the way of hills and you would be correct. It’s flat, very flat indeed but that lack is more than made up for by the tooth-rattling bumps, surface changes from concrete to tarmac and back again; and a virtuoso array of corners that demand all the skill you can muster.
There is one notable addition to the grid tonight as Mr Clyde Whiting himself is honouring us with a visit partnering with Scott Malcolm. With his usual artistry he has created another themed car with colours inspired by military history for Remembrance Day with the very cool touch of the black and white ‘Invasion Stripes’ which adorned the allied aircraft in the skies over Normandy on the 4th of June 1944. That day saw some very ordinary men and women do an extraordinary thing; and begin the process of freeing Europe.
The qualification round bought no surprises with the fast guys at the front in the form of Thijs Simons and Adam Watson. Both from Pace Worx eSports with Tom Sluiter for Dutchies Gaming, Adam Wright BSTV eSports, Abdul Al Amry Driving for Asimetric and Chris Shaw Ascari Autosports Rounding out the top 5, err 6!
There was also the slow guys at the back and Mr Whiting driving for Forza Haggis was here among the more modest qualifiers including myself; firmly located at the rear. It would be unjust to say I am turbidly slow because that’s not the case. The fact is, if you can lap within a few seconds of the class of driver here you are doing pretty well.
As the lights changed to green no one was hanging about, Thijs Simons and Adam Watson showing conclusively that Team Orders don’t live at Pace Worx as they immediately started to fight over the lead. The rest of the field was coming to terms with the change in condition from the nice hot rubber we had enjoyed in qualifying and the much cooler version of the first lap where the inevitable spins and off tracks were happening. David Eyers and Andy Maxwell were among the first to have a brief excursion but in general it was a very tidy start. Rather disappointing if you depend on people crashing to gain places!
Against the commonly held belief that it’s a mistake to battle with someone because it slows you down Thijs and Adam were racing hard but still creating a gap. From my end of the field I don’t see much of this. I am all about putting in the best laps I can, driving within myself so I’m not making mistakes and trying to stretch the time to being lapped as far as possible.
By the 5th lap Triple A, Abdulkeir Al Amry was making a bit of headway in closing the gap from 3rd when Adam had a close encounter with a bridge. Well he would have, except for a bit of skilful recovery driving but there was enough of a loss of pace to enable Triple A to swoop past into second. My friend and partner in diverse and sundry sim races, Roger Morton had tried his luck with a close encounter of the grassy kind and despite his ‘Autograss’ experience still lost time to a field that was still tightly packed after 10 laps.
In fact the whole race was beginning to resemble the breathless mad scramble of a sprint race rather than the more controlled long distance pace of an Enduro. Clyde was going well and Pete van Gool had to work hard to pass him. Thijs was still leading with Triple A in second Tom Sluiter and Adam Watson 4th.
Then the half-expected Random Safety Car was launched accompanied by a barrage of Yellow Flags. Yes! The stroke of genius or blight of racing.. whatever your opinion of this phenomena, they change races.
As soon as the Pit Lane opened there was a deluge of cars; some just in for fuel and risking a double stint on the tyres maybe some taking no chances on a track that has a reputation as a bit of a tyre eater. Anthony Jacobson elected to stay out and try the one stop strategy by fuel saving throughout his stints and was on top of the leaderboard as the race picked up pace again.
Meanwhile Clyde had risen to 21st and although my notes say something about a few minor encounters.. piffling skirmishes of no moment I assure you.. he did lose the odd spot here and there slipping from 21st to 29th with 15 laps to go.
In a 90 minute race with a grid of over 40 cars it would take a very long time to describe all the action in a race, and no chance at all in this one. The standard of driving in these event’s is high; even the perpetual back-markers such as myself can hold a line. But this started like a sprint from the get-go and didn’t relent one bit. With a constant stream of battling cars for the whole duration of the race and the whole length of the field.
Scott Malcolm driving for Forza Haggis was delighting his fans by securing a top 3 position only to be passed by Ralph Cullinan for Result before taking a closer look than he would have liked at one of he tyre walls; eventually becoming a victim of low fuel and losing places at the end. Ralph had also picked up the AM lead along with his overall 3rd but there was trouble coming from behind and he slipped down the grid.
Clyde did a fine job on his recovery to claw his way back to 22nd and I got a surprise as my name rose into sight on the board saying I had made 16 places from my lowly starting spot. It always amazes me that steady reliable lapping pays dividends and enables me to score some points for the team.
If you would like the full story then get over to Backfire and watch the re-play. Anthony’s valiant attempt at a one stop strategy came within yards of working; running out on the last lap and being pushed over the line by Roger who had secured a 4th place in the AM race with Ralph close behind in 5th.
What a race.. It is noteworthy that I am the slowest chap out there and inevitably I am going to face many overtaking cars but once again I had a damage free race due to the skill of the drivers as they came past me. Thanks chaps! This is turning into a real highlight series for me. I enjoy driving this class of car, It’s very different from my Mazda Mx5. But I am happy to report that the coaching I am receiving for that car is transferring to the much larger and more powerful Z4 with a gradual improvement in pace and car handling.
See you next time at Spa in Belgium..