Round 4 of the Raceroom Endurance Series saw the competitors go to the Slovakia Ring circuit in (you guessed it) Slovakia. We had an amazing race at Silverstone which saw G.Ortner and J.Dalton go across the line with 0.3 seconds between them, along with close battles for the top position in GTR3. Drivers had to push that bit harder for this round if they wanted to keep their championship hopes alive.
Slovakia Ring is a very flexible, dynamic circuit. In my opinion is it very underated, offering a clever and challenging mix of high speed corners in the likes of sectors 1 and 3, followed by the tight hairpins that can be found in sector 2. Deep gravel traps surround the circuit at key high speed points, meaning room for error is limited and the racing action becomes very intense.
This became apparent as we went into the qualifying session. Both classes went flat out in order to obtain the front row of the grid respectively. It would once again be G.Ortner who took the pole position in the LMP2 class, with J.Schelstraete Behind with a gap of 0.247. A bad session for our class leader J.Dalton would see him start on the second row, with his qualifying time 0.610 seconds off the fastest lap.
GT3's leader R.Arella put on a show at round 4, siezing the top spot in Qualifying with an amazing time, however right behind him was M.Sanderson with only 0.073 seperating them! Mattew's team-mate D.Boon, also put in a good time, stealing P3 in class for the Audi driven by C.Mathieson. Re-joining the grid was also L.Mook, who was unable to attend the race at Silverstone. He started from 5th in class in his Red Bull Ford GT.
The flag dropped and the race to conquer Slovakia Ring had begun. It felt like an age as the cars all piled down into turn 1. An amazing start from J.Dalton saw him take the lead from G.Ortner by going around the outside of turn 1, his team-mate S.Jansen also gained a position, going up to 4th place. Also making a good start was newcomer A.Bonaparte, the Brazilian started 8th in class, but had made his way up to 5th place by the end of lap after some minor panel contact.
In GT3 A.Arella made a good start off the line, holidng his pole position as they entered the second sector. Behind him was the Audi of C.Mathieson and J.Mook as both the Mclarens of Garage 59 got off to a bad start, resulting in them losing 2nd and 3rd place before turn 1.
The top 4 in both classes showed true pace for the next 20 minutes or so as no one was able to pull away from the rest of the grid. In fighting and skirmishes took place as the drivers settled down for the long drive, probing for weaknesses and opportunities. One very eager driver was M.Sanderson in his Mclaren 650's who was bitter about having lost the positions at the start of the race. Despite having superior pace in the second sector and going 2 wide in certain places, the Mclaren just didnt have the speed to finish the job to overtake the very powerful Ford GT of J.Mook.
D.Boon in the other Garage 59 car took the helm and lined himself up for a go as M.Sanderson went wide into turn 8 the next lap. J.Mook was doing a great job at holding off the two drivers, however sadly made an error going into the long right hand turn in sector 2 (turn 7) which would see him spin into the barrier and damaging his engine, forcing a retirement.
In LMP2, J.Dalton found himself in a troublesome position as he tried to fight his way through traffic along with the rest of the front runners. Making minor contact with the GT3 of L.Bitala, allowing S.Jansen, G.Deurwaerder and G.Ortner passed. The next few minutes would see John go on a frenzied charge, as he was able to fight his way back up 2nd place with a bold move against G.Ortner into turn 3.
The first round of pitstops occur, with different fuel loads and strategies being implemented across the field. G.Ortner was able to retake the lead at this stage of the race as he exited the pits, with J.Dalton only 1 second behind. In GT3 M.sanderson's progress was hindered as C.Mathieson drove past having only taken fuel for his next stint. The Audi driver decided to stretch his tires after having a moment in turn 7, collecting D.Boon in the process.
M.Sanderson was able to attach himself to the gearbox of the audi as they entered the second stint. However going into turn 1 Connor braked early as he allowed 2 LMP2 drivers down the inside, catching the Mclaren driver off guard, who had to take the gravel trap as an escape route or risk making contact.
Further back in GT3, a fight ensued between N.Relvas and K.Sulkiewicz, with the two drivers going neck and neck as they entered sector 1. Krystian was able to make his way past as the two drivers exchanged a bit of paintwork before settling back down in their respective positions.
The drivers entered the last stint of the race as the strategies came to a head. G.Ortner was leading the race but suffered a drive through penalty, destroying his chances of taking home a victory at Slovakia Ring. J.Dalton took the lead as a result, followed closely by J.Schelstraete who had made his way up the grid, with only 1.2 seconds seperating the two drivers.
R.Arella continued to extend his lead in GT3, as the rest of the front runners suffering mistakes and fighting with one another. M.Sanderson was able to take back 2nd place from Connor while exiting the pits, however once again he was caught out by lapping LMP2's, which forced him to take a line that offered a lack of traction, resulting in a small off track moment.
With only 6 laps remaining in the session, C.Mathieson was unable to hold on to 2nd place as his tyres succumbed to attrition, allowing the Mclaren to one again go back into 2nd place in class. In LMP2 J.Dalton struggled to hold onto the lead of the race, with the German driver of J.Schelstraete right on his tail, who was showing very good pace at this stage of the race.
We also saw action further down the pack in GT3, with J.Mitchell in his Grey Mclaren 650's fighting off the charging #84 Bentley of K.Sulkiewicz with only 2 laps remaining! The Bentley, using every ounce of horsepower made its move going over the hill in sector 1. However it was not to be as the Mclaren slammed the door shut, making contact with their respective panels, both continued the race however, lucky not to be sent flying off track as a result of the collision. A few corners later it turned into a three way battle, as L.Bitala in his BMW went off circuit and into the gravel. J.Mitchell was right on his tail, once again making contact but this time with the BMW's rear bumper. Both drivers departed from the tarmac, allowing the fiery red bentley driver to pass through (by the skin of his teeth), taking P5 as a result.
Then disaster struck J.Dalton, who had to dive into the pits in order to top up for fuel, allowing J.Schelstraete to take a comfortable lead. Also having to take extra fuel was the Garage 59 driver D.boon, along with C.Mathieson, both drivers would still come out in their respective positions.
Slovakia ring has once again shown just how competitive RES is. This circuit offered its own unique challenges for our drivers to overcome, some fairing better than others. R.Arella extended his championship lead, however it was Garage 59 who closed the gap in the constructors championship and they both finish the event in good positions. J.Schelstraete stated after the event that he didnt expect to win against the like of J.dalton and G.Ortner. Good pace and strategy however meant he was able to take the overall win here for round 4.
That concludes this round of the Raceroom Endurance Series. Let us know what you thought, who was your favourite driver? what was your favourite part of the race?
Thanks for reading, we will see you at Suzuka
Standings (Coming soon: incident under investigation)