Grabko Grand Prix were on hand for round 5 of the Gothenburg Gokartcenter Summer Cup as part of the team's continuing preparations for the forthcoming season. It was a brisk and overcast evening, foreshadowing a fast approaching Autumn, that promised lowering temperatures as the event went on into the evening. Rain was not a threat, but the prognosis was lowering grips levels as twilight approached, so the order of the day was to get a time in for qualifying as soon as possible.
The team joined up with last season's Open GP Champion, EB Karting, for pre-race preparations, and the championship winning team was kind enough to provide transportation for both outfits. A big shout out and thank you to Erkin and his team for their hospitality!
Dan opted for a reconnaissance run prior to the start of qualifying, and felt right away that the team's assigned machine, kart 20, was not up to snuff. The brakes were mushy, the chassis was over-prone to oversteer, and there was little top speed to speak of. Unfortunately, not much was to be learned from the session because the driver was busy fighting the kart around the track the entire session, but Grabko was able to get a general feel for the track again after having been away for two months, and clocked in a decent introductory time of 58.77 in what was felt to be a sub par kart.
As Bour and Grabko discussed kart setup and attempted to find out which karts were going to be fast and which were dogs, the qualifying heat schedules were posted. The team was assigned kart 14 for Q1 and kart 17 for Q2, both in the third qualifying group. Word in the paddock was that 17 was a decent machine while 14 lacked grip in the tighter sections but had good acceleration, if not top speed. So all in all it appeared there wasn't too much to complain about at that point.
That's when it all went sour for Q1. Simply put it was a throw away session. Despite reporting in that kart 14 felt quite racy in contradiction to the scouting reports, Dan failed to get in a clean lap in the 8 he had to work with. In an unlucky turn of events, the Grabko Grand Prix driver found himself lining up 3rd to last in a qualifying field of 18. Trying to find space to run a clean qualifying lap proved to be all but impossible. Two laps were lost due to drivers further up the track spinning out going into the first hairpin at turn 3, and another four flying laps were ruined due to traffic. Radio transmissions were full of frustration and calling for others to get out of the way, and as another lap was ruined by both understeer and oversteer due to low tire temperatures, a frustrating 59.06 was all Dan could manage in the end. With grip levels expected to deteriorate as twilight began its slow approach, it was felt it was a chance missed to set a time that would qualify for the feature.
Karts 11 and 6 were proving to be in a class of their own, setting best times in each of the individual qualifying groups regardless of the driver behind the wheel. They also were responsible for 3 of the top 4 grid spots overall, including pole position. It was a frustrating and disappointing situation, as on such an open and fast circuit, it was clear that the differences in top speed the fossil fuel karts achieved had an unduly large influence on the qualifying results, as well as on the races to come.
Going into Q2, the EB Karting crew reported in to Grabko Grand Prix that Erkin, driving in the 2nd qualifying group, had managed a 57.75 with kart 17, having taken advantage of a good draft down the front straight behind the high performing kart 11 near the end of the session. It was an encouraging time, to be sure, as it appeared that the number 17 machine was indeed at least a decent package. Things were also looking up as Grabko lined up in the pit lane waiting for the green light to start the session. He was at the head of the right side of the line waiting to go out. However, it was just one of those days. The pit lane steward signaled for the left hand line to exit the pits first on this occasion, so the Grabko Grand Prix driver found himself once again stuck in the middle of an 18 kart field, with slower drivers ahead. He was given the instruction from the team to try to rectify the situation and pass as many as he could on the out lap. Setting down to it, Dan managed to get by 5 of the 8 ahead before the first flying lap began and slowed into the final turns 8 and 9 to let out a gap to the final 3 down the long straight. Almost immediately, the team got a result out of its revised strategy, with Dan improving on his Q1 time by almost a half second on only the 2nd flying lap, banking in a 58.67 with help from a draft down the long start/finish straight. Unfortunately, this was when the driver caught up with those last 3 karts ahead of him on track. Dan reported in declining grip levels, and struggled over the next four laps to pass the lead group of three, ruining any chance of a competitive qualifying time, before finally getting clean air on the final flying lap. Unfortunately Dan simply didn't take his chance, missing the apex slight at the turn 7 hairpin and losing the rear accelerating out as a result, and then having the same happen while trying to compensate for the mistake through the final turn 8 & 9 combo.
So, the team had to content itself with a time that was a full second off the pace, with pole being set by William Lundin in kart 11 with a time of 57.67, with EB Karting's Bour on his heels only 0.08s behind with a 57.75, made all the more impressive being that it had been set with kart 17.
Grabko's time was only good enough to see the team line up 6th in the B-final, and Dan would have it all to do to try and win it for a chance to take the team into the feature race at only the second time of asking in this series. There were some good drivers ahead of him, Jörgen Haraldsson and Jonas Svanberg, for example, fierce competitors who had only just clipped Dan for 5th in last season's Open GP Championship, were starting on the front row for this race.
Having been assigned kart 5, nothing really could be gleaned from inspecting its qualifying times as there were no reference drivers the team was familiar with having driven it. However, after reviewing the qualifying data and noting it was mid-pack in all qualifying groups, it was probably an overall acceptable package. The team did instruct its driver to revert to seat position alpha, however, in an attempt to combat the chronic understeer experienced during earlier in the day.
Dan was able to hold his own off the start, immediately noting that kart 5 was not the liveliest off the line, but he was able to hold position around the sweeping opening turns 1 & 2, and was relieved to find that the field survived its first run through the turn 3 hairpin. As the first lap was completed, the team realized that they were quicker than all the carts ahead in the more technical sections of the track, but lacked pace in the long full throttle sections. The only way to advance was going to be getting right up behind going into the long front straight, and getting a good draft to make a move at either turn 1 or getting alongside into the entrance to the turn 3 hairpin. Grabko was on the same wavelength and so quickly confirmed when instructed to get up behind on the next go around.
Then disaster struck.
Accelerating hard out of turn 7, Dan barreled down to the turn 8 hairpin getting right up behind the kart ahead. The next thing he knew, he was pointing the wrong way, watching the entire field pass him by. He'd lost the back end on turn in to turn 8, and spun the kart.
As soon as the last kart made its way by, Dan mashed the accelerator to the floor and got back underway, having lost 13.1 seconds as a result of his mistake. Team race engineers tried without success to contact Grabko on the radio, but only got one curt response, "Sorry guys, karts fine." Total radio silence from the driver ensued for the rest of the race, despite regular time interval transmissions from the team.
The truth of the matter was that Dan's predator instinct had kicked in. He had immediately begun to hunt down the time he had lost, even as both he and the team realized how futile the chase ultimately was. The final races in the series are 10 lap affairs, so a spin even as early as lap 2 effectively ended the race as a contest for the team.
Nevertheless, Dan was in a zone that wouldn't accept defeat. He showed a focus and sense of purpose that defied the reality of the situation. The driver quickly closed the gap to the pack and started to pluck them off one by one, making several impressive passes as the laps ticked down, managing to get by 6 karts in the process. With 1 lap to go he caught the 6 kart pack battling for 11th to 5th place. Alas, the laps ran out, and as Grabko crossed the finish line, he had to settle with 12th place, 11.93 seconds behind the leader.
The Grabko Grand Prix driver had set the second fastest lap of the race, and with lap 2 taken out of the equation, had the fastest average lap time as well. According to team calculations, he would have won the race by over a second if he hadn't spun on lap 2. If nothing else, Dan showed that he had the pace to have won and gone on to race in the feature. All of this didn't make it any easier to accept for the driver, of course.
"Yeah, it was a really stupid rookie mistake. I tried to get to close and left braking slightly too late into (turn) 8, and lost it. Really a shame, I had the pace today to challenge for the win, and I didn't take it. Just looking at the time sheets says it all. So yeah, really irritated and disappointed with myself right now. But everything is a learning experience. I will take that on the chin, and won't be making that mistake again, I can promise you all that!"
Meanwhile, in the feature race, the pole sitter, William Lundin, scored the perfect stroke of luck, not only starting out front, but also again being assigned kart 11, by far the best machine on the grid, and also the same kart he drove to pole position. It proved to be decisive as well, as although EB Karting's Erkin Bour made a brave show of resistance, temporarily taking the lead on laps 4-5 in his obviously inferior kart 16, his lack of pace down the long straights cost him dearly and he wasn't able to compete with the kart 11, 6, and 17 combination, even with a good draft, and was finally forced into settling for 4th position after some very hard fought racing as they took the checkered flag.
But racing isn't all about skill and work, you need a good bit of luck as well, and it definitely cannot be said that the victors didn't deserve their results on the day. Luck tends to even itself out over the course of a championship season, even in one as short as the Summer Cup competition. So congratulations and well done, we'll see you at the next one!
For Grabko Grand Prix's part, as only a guest entry, the standings weren't as important as the data gathered and the lessons learned, as they prepare for the Gokartcentralen Open GP Electric Karting Championship. The series' new karts that comply with the newly implemented technical regulations are less than 10 days from delivery, and the team are scheduled for their first run with these new karts on Wednesday, the 14th of September.
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