Grabko Grand Prix did what was required of them to keep the title race alive, taking the checkered flag for the second race on the trot, and setting up a tantalizing final round showdown with fellow Championship hopefuls, The Team GP.
It was a race the team needed to win if they didn't want to concede the championship to talented racers, The Team GP, and was the perfect birthday present for Grabko Grand Prix racer Daniel Svensson, who celebrated his birthday by driving a blinding race personally, and reaping the just rewards of the hard work put in during the weeks leading up to the fifth round of the Gokartcenter Winter Le Mans Series.
Grabko Grand Prix had put in the hours on the test track, going through every aspect of the race from pit stops and driver changes to braking points, alternative racing lines, and right through to the details of the setups on the racing machines.
Special focus was laid on getting Dan Grabko back in focused, top racing form, after having been forced to miss out on the last round with an ankle sprain.
The extra effort seemed to have paid off, with all three racing drivers posting personal best times in the last testing sessions leading up to race day. The mood in the team upon arriving at the track was one of upbeat, focused energy.
All the karts had received a pre-race overhaul in the buildup and thus the optional free practice was the only chance for the teams to get an idea of what to expect, though word in the garages was that karts 2 and 8 were the top performers of the pack.
The only thing that could put a spanner in the team's mood would be yet another disadvantageous kart allocation. With the way the kart lotteries had gone for Grabko Grand Prix during the run of the series, it only seemed right that they should get a chance at a well setup kart before the competition came to an end.
In the end, it was yet another mystery tour, as both The Team GP, and Grabko Grand Prix were assigned karts that hadn't ever been at the front of the pack, karts 4 and 3 respectively. Team Horrdinis scored 8, new challengers Martin's Angels got 2, NFJF Racing 10, newcomer number two Steaming Racing received 9, while Nissene på Låven were allotted 1. Rounding out the field was Hesus Autosport, receiving kart 6.
So yet again, the team went into qualifying a bit blind. Luckily, the kart was very drivable. Dan took honors and drove the first stint of the qualifying period, getting tire temperatures up and getting a feel for the kart. Reporting in over the radio, the news was positive, with decent pickup out of the corners and stable turn in going both directions. Something was not quite right with the left side of the vehicle though, as the final corner resulted in the chassis bouncing and skipping through the corner. This was a phenomenon reported in by both Svensson and Bour as well during their qualifying runs. Tire degradation was the suspected culprit, but there was nothing the team were able to do about it now that the sessions had started.
As has become custom, and a source of proper entertainment for the fans, the qualifying session was extremely competitive and extremely tight. It was a shootout right to the end again, with Hesus Autosport's Koskinen, The Team GP's Palm, and Grabko Grand Prix's Svensson, trading the top spot back and forth throughout the middle stint.
In the final minutes, with Bour out for his run, both Grabko Grand Prix and The Team GP had set equal lap times down to the thousandth of a second, at 24.863s. With only 27s left in the session, it was another masterful last gasp show of driving prowess that settled matters, Erkin Bour finding another 0.05s to cross the line with only a couple of seconds remaining in the session to secure a 3rd pole position on the trot for Grabko Grand Prix with a 24.81s lap time.
The Team GP filled out the first row with their 24.86, while Hesus Autosport took 3rd spot on 24.95. Team Horrdinis had to settle for 4th with their 25.05s effort while Martins Angels debuted with a very respectable 25.38 to take 5th spot from the continuously improving NFJF Racing who were able to muster a 25.61s lap for 6th. Rounding out the field was the other debutant team, Steaming Racing, with a 25.61s time, and a disappointing 8th for ever present Nissene på Låven, who were not happy with their kart's performance, only able to muster a 25.97s time out of the twitchy number 1 machine.
Taking a wholly different approach strategically, it was Daniel Svensson at the wheel of Grabko Grand Prix's kart 3 on the starting grid, with Erkin Bour taking the 2nd stint, and Dan Grabko taking the final stints.
The Team GP started out strongly André Palm's 2nd driver making a strong impression as he shadowed Svensson relentlessly until finally making his move on lap 10 in turn 10, coming out onto the short start/finish straight. The move put Daniel off line for turn 1 and Mattias Horrdin took full advantage, forcing himself by and leaving Grabko Grand Prix in 3rd position halfway through the first stint.
However, Svensson recollected himself and made an excellent comeback, overtaking the surprised Mattias at turn 4, on the exit of the pizza slice section. The move allowed Daniel to bear down on The Team GP, which had managed to open up a 3s lead in the mean time. Daniel fought hard and reduced this to 2.5s when the lights went on for the first driver change.
Both lead karts read the pit lane situation and stayed out an extra lap, but Grabko Grand Prix's training paid off. Daniel and Erkin executed a flawless change, and when Palm drove off out of the pit, Bour was right on his rear bumper.
It was a matter of where Erkin would attempt the overtake. Setting up for the entrance to the pizza slice at turn 3, the Grabko Grand Prix man dove in, beating Palm to the apex, but couldn't quite make it stick, out-braking himself slightly and getting too wide, allowing Palm to retake the lead heading out of turn 4.
The premise had been set, however, and Erkin was in a deadly mood. Three laps later, he was right back on Palm's bumper through turn 1, and again made the passing move on the inside of turn 3. This time he made it stick, and once he was by, he started to pull away, laying down blistering lap times that culminated in the fastest lap of the race, an impressive 24.66s as the gauntlet was laid down with a vengeance. The staggering performance saw Grabko Grand Prix building up an over 3 second lead as the track lights turned red again for the next driver change.
Again, a well executed and unimpeded pit stop by the team, saw them gain precious seconds on the rest of the field. However, as Dan exited the pit lane, Hesus Autosport's Jonas Svanberg was just ahead on track, and was being lapped. Grabko needed to take him immediately to continue to build the lead, but a misunderstanding between the drivers almost ended in disaster. Dan made a clean pass down the turn 3 entrance to the pizza slice, but Svanberg misread Grabko's line out of the turn 4 exit and clipped him in the inside rear, turning him around. Luckily for Grabko Grand Prix, Dan could start again without having to backup and only lost 5s from the incident.
Things just were seeming to pan out for the title chasers as well, as The Team GP lost power on their kart on that same lap, being forced to come in for an unscheduled kart change. Due to a combination of their poor 2nd pit stop, their track position when kart 4 gave up the ghost, and a rock solid stint by Dan, seeing him set personal best after personal best, The Team GP found themselves 21s behind by the time the red lights started flashing again.
Birthday boy Daniel Svensson maintained the advantage in yet another solid drive, despite yet another unlucky setback during his stint. Kart 3's choke locked itself in a partially closed position, robbing Svensson of full power from the engine. Frantic radio communication ensued, and it was decided, based on the lap times, that it would be better for Daniel to stay out until the next regular driver change than to come in to fix the problem. This allowed The Team GP's André Palm to reduce the gap from 21s down to 18s by the time the lights started to flash for the next mandatory pit stops. It was a menacing foreshadowing of what was to come for the number 3 racing machine, as this would not be the last of Svensson's woes when all was said and done.
However, with the shape of the race beginning to unfold, Svensson was given the green light to continue and push hard, setting up Bour for his stint. Again, the pit stop gained Grabko Grand Prix two full seconds on The Team GP, and Bour exited the pit lane less than 2s behind them, and immediately got on with setting them up to go a lap down. In irresistible form, he made clean work of the passing maneuver and just like that, Grabko Grand Prix had gained an all important full lap gap on the nearest challengers.
As the middle stints played out, a fierce battle for 3rd was developing between Team Horrdinis and Hesus Autosport, two teams who were also only separated by 3 points in the Championship going into the day. It was a seesaw battle, and debutants Martin's Angels were also keen to get in on some of that action in a midfield that was just as exciting to watch as the leaders!
Dan's second stint was highlighted by more personal best times, and keeping pace with the light-as-a-feather, and quick-as-lightning Mattias Horrdin as they both drove away from The Team GP.
Indeed, as Grabko handed over to Svensson for the golden boy's final stint, it seemed that only a mechanical failure could get in the way of the team celebrating a victory to toast his birthday. Unfortunately, this was exactly what happened as even on his special day, Daniel's race incident gremlins could not be shaken.
With two minutes to go in his stint, kart 3 lost drive as the engine simply revved to the max without putting any power to the rear wheels. Losing half a lap just to get in to the pit lane, Erkin was force to wait until Svensson had exited the now crippled kart before he was allowed to mash the loud pedal and exit back onto the track.
It was a nail biting few minutes while the race stewards determined the proper track position of the the new kart, and when the timing board went up again, it showed Grabko Grand Prix still held the lead by 40s, so had only lost 17-18s on the failure. It could have been a lot worse, but Erkin was reporting immediately that kart 5 was not in the same class as the number 3 machine had been, struggling for consistency and acceleration even after getting tires up to temperature.
Nevertheless the gap did not get smaller, and when Dan hopped into the car for the final ten minutes of the endurance race, all that was required was to keep it clean and solid to bring home the victory.
He did just that, taking home the team's 2nd win in a row, and leapfrogging them ahead of The Team GP in the championship standings by a single point. So it was job done for the day, but the real challenge awaits in the final round, where it will be a winner take all sudden death showdown!
At the post race press conference, Erkin was in a focused mood, "We came here and did what we had to do today. We got an average kart, not the best of the bunch, but not the worst either, and we made the most of what it had to offer, all of us. It was a great tea, effort, but we are only halfway there. We need to do it all over again next round, it is all to race for."
Grabko himself was more buoyant, saying, "What a great way for Daniel (Svensson) to celebrate his birthday. Everyone of us did really well. Bour was in irresistible form, there was no stopping him today! We worked really hard in our prep for this one as we knew it was a must win situation to keep our hopes alive of a first championship for this young team, and it paid off for us. Now we redouble our efforts and go again in the last round. It's going to be exciting, that is for sure!"
Svensson had good reason to be happy, "After a win like that we will definitely savor this for a day, and then get right back to work! We deserved this and we got it done. Plus, it's my birthday, and I've gotten the perfect gift, a top spot on the podium with a great team!"
Tune in next round for the final race of the 2017 Gokartcenter Winter Le Mans Series, it will be an epic race with the championship on the line!
Support #GrassRootsRacing, support Grabko Grand Prix! ---> Patreon | Webshop
Make sure not to miss out, subscribe and follow us on all your favourite social media! Look for Grabko Grand Prix on: Youtube | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO DANIEL SVENSSON FROM THE TEAM
Svensson celebrates a birthday victory medal properly after a hard race