MAIDEN VICTORY AS NEW DRIVERS SHINE
Grabko Grand Prix celebrated the recent drivers signings in style, putting in a professional performance that despite an adventurous final stint, saw the team winning round 1 of the Gokartcenter Winter LeMans Series with what turned out to be a more comfortable margin than expected.
Team race engineers laid out the planned strategy, but in order to be able to run plan A, the drivers needed to deliver pole position in qualifying. So the pressure was on for the new signings to live up to their billing.
The circuit itself is short, fast, and physically demanding, with the course record having stood for many years now at 24.04s. The start finish line is oddly situated so that it serves directly as the entrance to the apex of the high speed 180 degree turn 1 at the end of the short start/finish straight. Turn 2 then is just a slight junk to the right before the first of two hard braking zones at the turn 3 and 4 chicane complex, known by the drivers as the "pizza slice." Accelerating out through the high speed right hand combinations of turns 5, 6 and 7, powering through the slight left handed at turn 8, and then entering the second hard braking zone at the turn 9 left handed hairpin. Getting a good exit is key as carrying speed is all important at the final inverted apexed turn 10 hairpin that brings you back onto the front straight to do it all over again.
At the pre-race drivers meeting, Erkin, Daniel and Dan weighed in, and were assigned kart 10. With the prior week's testing session as a reference, Bour had driven a 24.92s lap in the kart, and while Grabko hadn't driven that machine, Svensson had managed a 25.04s time, and the team had good data on it supporting a positive feeling about the allocation. Things were already looking positive.
Still, the field was an extremely strong one, with several race winners and veterans of higher classes littering the grid, the team would be hard pressed to deliver the important pole position to take full advantage of the primary race strategy.
The driver order was determined during a quick consultation with the race engineers after the drivers meeting. Grabko would head up the session, with Svensson taking the middle stint, and Bour driving last to hopefully take most advantage of tires in their optimal operating window at the end of the session.
Dan had managed only a 25.61s lap in free practice earlier in the day, but that was with an ice cold kart 5, which also had its driving characteristics problems. However, he was in for a rude awaking, as condensation had built up in the intervening period between free practice and qualifying, compromising the fast turn 1 and under braking at turn 3. The unexpected development almost caught Grabko out on several occasions, and although he managed to keep it together, the conditions compromised any chance he had of setting a good time during his qualifying stint. This relegated him to trying to warm up the kart and help create a dry line through the affected areas of the track. Still, he managed a 26.03 which left the team in 4th position after 3 of the 10 minutes of qualifying had gone.
Daniel Svensson hopped into the kart for his stint, and immediately set about taking advantage of the preparatory work Dan had done, setting a 25.76s first flying lap. He did have a moment during his run, however, approach turn 1 slightly too wide and catching the slippery condensation off the racing line with the rear left, causing him to lose the kart and spin. However, he recovered well, and came barreling into the pits for the driver change having recorded a 25.41 lap time, vaulting the team up to preliminary pole with just under 4 minutes remaining of qualifying.
Erkin then took the helm for the final minutes in what was expected to be the shootout for pole as the tires started to really come into their optimal operating window, and the dry racing line was well established. This turned out to be exactly the case as an exciting back and forth developed between the top teams, with Team Horridinis, KRT E&J, and The Team GP all swapping top times with Bour, one after the other in a hectic last stint as time wound down. In the end, though Erkin delivered the final blow, with a blistering 25.20s lap that was good enough by just 0.06s to see Grabko Grand Prix secure the coveted pole position for the start of the championship's first endurance round.
Hesus Autosport put in a stunning lap, and took home the second placed spot, while Team Horridinis locked in 3rd position, the most optimal position on the starting grid for a fast first lap. The Team GP followed another 2 tenths back, with KRT E&J having to settle for 5th while NFJF Racing and Nissene på Låven rounded out the grid.
So all the pieces were in place for the team. They had earned themselves the optimal circumstances to fight for the win, and now it was all down to the drivers to execute the race strategy. Grabko again lead the charge, and when the lights turned green, he got a decent start off of the P1 grid position, and led the pack through to the turn 3 and 4 pizza slice section for the first time.
Mattias Horridin, however was flying behind Dan, using his weight advantage to full effect. Instead of trying to fight him and lose time to the rest of the field, race engineers wisely instructed him to let the faster man by and try to optimize the their own strategy against the rest of the field. So on lap 3 Dan let Horridin by on the back straight coming out of turn 1, and tried to keep pace with him instead. It was a futile exercise, however. With an over 20kg advantage, the Team Horridinis number 1 driver easily pulled away. However, the team strategy was working well as Dan was able to pull a gap on the rest of the pack, all jostling for position from 3rd to 5th while Grabko was able to run in clean air with no distractions. By the end of the first stint, Team Horridinis had built up 12s lead from Grabko Grand Prix, followed another 6s back by KRT E&J, The Team GP, and Hesus Autosport.
Then Daniel Svensson got in the hot seat. He immediately began eating away at Team Horridinis lead, lapping over a second faster in the second stint, hunting down Anders Karlsson who was having a much tougher go up ahead in his first stint. It was less than 10 laps into this second session before he got by, making a clean move down the inside of turn 3 and exiting out of the pizza slice section clear of Andersson and with a huge section of clean track ahead. It was a lead the team would not relinquish for the rest of the race as he set about gapping all of those behind putting in consistently fast lap times and building over a 20 second lead. In the process, he set the fastest lap of the race, clocking two 25.04s time near the end of his stint. Svensson managed to lap the 2 back markers, and get up in behind the rest of the pack just as the lights flashed to signal the next mandatory driver change. It was an impressive debut for Daniel as he showed just why he was such an important addition to Grabko Grand Prix.
The timing of the change came ideally as Svensson just rounded the second to last turn when the lights lit up, and he dove into the pit lane, making the driver change of the race, clocked at just 0.7s between the kart stopping and Erkin driving off for his first live drive as a Grabko Grand Prix driver. The change was typical of the team's day, as everything seemed to go its way.
Bour made the most of the advantageous timing and well executed change, with a blistering out lap that saw him fly by the start/finish line as the rest of the field came in for their pit stops. It was now Grabko Grand Prix a full lap ahead from 2nd placed KRT E&J, then The Team GP, Hesus Autosport, and an unfortunate Team Horridinis now in 5th after having lead going into the 2nd stint. Nissene på Låven and NFJF Racing were fighting their own fight at the back, 2 laps down on the leader.
Erkin continued to impress in his first stint, leaping in low 25.0Xs times for the majority of his stint, and dipping down in the last half to a few 24.9Xs laps, finally setting his best, and what would stand up as the race's fastest lap, a 24.93s screamer, near the end of his stint. He showed why, on his day, he is the fastest driver in the series.
Now 2 laps ahead of its nearest competitors, the team was having a much easier go of it than expected, but the race was only one third complete, and there was still a lot of work to do. Dan's 2nd stint was a solid one. KRT E&J, and The Team GP, managed to unlap themselves, but Grabko hung with them the rest of his stint, not letting them get away, and put in his personal best lap of the race, an impressive 25.43s time given his strategic weight load.
Another well timed pit stop gave the team an opportunity to take back that 2nd lap lead and Svensson put in a professional and consistently fast stint before handing over the reigns again the super star Erkin Bour. While he didn't quite manage to match his ear-splitting 24.93s time, he ensured that the team was well set to drive home to its maiden victory. Only an unforeseen catastrophe could stand in the way now.
It almost happened. As Dan hopped in for his 3rd stint, he came out on track about 15s behind back markers Nissene and began reeling them in. He had caught up to them 10 laps later when that very catastrophe that the team ddin't need almost happened. As the two karts came diving down into braking for the pizza slice section, Grabko misjudged the kart ahead's speed, clipping the rear of the slower kart. Dan made the rookie mistake and nudged on the brakes right in the middle of his turn in to the apex and the kart obliged his incorrect input, swinging the kart around in a half spin, the kart's nose ending up right up against barrier of the apex to the turn. Grabko lost 15 seconds due to the incident, allowing the closest rivals to unlap themselves as Dan struggled to get the kart pointing back in the right direction before resuming.
It was the worst moment of the race for the team, but due to the hard work put in by all 3 drivers up to that point, it ended up not affecting the result, as Dan came into the pits for the penultimate driver change of the race.
Svensson's last stint was flawless and fast, cementing Grabko Grand Prix's lead position, and it was Erkin Bour who did what Championship drivers like him do, as he had the honor of driving home the team's first ever victory as he crossed the finish line on the 210th lap of the race, a full lap ahead of 2nd placed The Team GP.
It was a fantastic way to start the series for the team, and all the drivers were expectedly happy with the result.
Erkin Bour said, "It was important that we took advantage of our opportunities today. We got a good kart, and things went our way with the pit stop timings as well. Our strategy worked out just the way we had hoped and apart from Dan's incident near the end, we executed well. That's what we need to do to win this series. Grabko will learn from that and hopefully come back stronger for it, and for the team it was a good thing that we can learn these lessons without it costing us precious points in the Championship."
Daniel Svensson was equally pragmatic, "We deserved the victory because we all drove exceedingly well, and it feels great to get my Grabko Grand Prix career off to a good start like this. We did have it easier today than we expected. We had our way with kart 10 being very well setup, and pit stops were really good. It is not always going to be like this, things are going to go against us, and being able to exclude one result in the Championship standings means that there is all still to play for and there is some really strong teams that are going to come at us all season. We need to see how we can continue to perform to this high level when we don't have a great setup on the kart and maybe get caught in driver change traffic in the pits etc. But all in all we have tons of positives to take away."
Team principal Dan Grabko said, "Really big milestone moment for the team. It feels great to get that first win under the belt, and now we can work on trying to repeat that result again and again. Really disappointed with my lack of judgement there in my final stint, but luckily we had done enough as a team at that point so it didn't affect us too much. I'll definitely be getting a lot of stick from the guys for that one though!"
So there you have it, Grabko Grand Prix's very first win as a team, and the future looks bright!
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