In only its second year of existence, Grabko Grand Prix has secured its first series championship after winning the 6th and final round of the 2016/17 Gothenburg Gokartcentrer Winter LeMans Series.
The team was in a must win situation going into the day, leading the championship by only a single point against massively tough competitors The Team GP, lead by star driver André Palm. Grabko Grand Prix had to overcome a mid-series slump to get in this position, having only managed a 4th place finish in round two followed by a 2nd place in round three after taking the team's maiden victory in the first round of the championship.
They had done just that, winning rounds 4 and 5 under increasing pressure, as The Team GP challenged hard on their tails, never letting up and taking never worse than 2nd spot throughout the series. So the final round saw Grabko Grand Prix with only the slightest of advantages, on 47 points to The Team GP's 46.
The equation was simple. Grabko Grand Prix had to finish ahead of The Team GP to win the championship, and that most likely meant that a victory was required to ensure the title.
In the pre-race build up it was revealed that team owner and racing driver Dan Grabko would be taking a step back for the final round in order to optimise the team's options strategically. He had this to say about the decision, "It is simple really. We are a race team. We are here to win. That means there is no room for egos. That includes the whole team, including myself. Analysing the data, we saw that using only two drivers increases our chance for victory. Our testing program was very thorough, and all our drivers had a fair and equal chance to be be one of those two drivers. Based on several parameters the team strategists came out with Erkin and Daniel as the two to go with.”
When asked about how he felt about the decision, Dan was relaxed, “Well as team principal and owner, it was ultimately my decision to make, right? So I’m pretty comfortable with it! In all seriousness, though - Of course as a racing driver I want to be driving and in the fight, but I wear many hats in this team, and I’m confident our guys can go out there and get it done, even without me driving!”
So the stage was set, Erkin Bour and Daniel Svensson carrying the flag for Grabko Grand Prix into the final race of the WLS season, with everything to play for and it all on the line. Win or go home.
The atmosphere was tense from the get go, and it seemed that all the teams were holding their breath as the kart assignments were read out by the race director at the pre-race driver meeting. This is how lottery panned out:
2 - Grabko Grand Prix
4 - The Team GP
10 - Hesus Autosport
9 - Team Horrdinis
3 - NFJF Racing
5 - Steaming Racing
8 - Nissene på Låven
6 - Martins Angels
It was a good draw for both Grabko Grand Prix and The Team GP, with both karts 2 and 4 being solid performers in all testing leading up to the race, and a real fight for pole position was anticipated going into qualifying, with both Hesus Autosport and Team Horrdinis eager to get involved with the championship contenders for top spot on the starting grid.
In yet another nail biting 10 minute session, the top four teams duked it out, blow for blow, as they traded top times back and forth. Mattias Horrdini set the bar high putting in a low 25.15 time immediately only for Grabko Grand Prix's Daniel Svensson to go 0.05s faster moments later, followed by The Team GP's André Palm with a 25.05. Hesus Autosport's Koskinen then laid claim to the first sub 25s time with a 24.99s lap before Svensson reclaimed top spot momentarily until Palm did one better again. So it went, back and forth until the second stint. It evolved into a two horse race at the front with Grabko Grand Prix trading top spot with The Team GP until Erkin Bour set a 24.71s lap for Grabko Grand Prix with 2 minutes to go. It proved to be the pole setting lap as The Team GP's Max Sjölander came up just short, taking second spot by only 0.05s with a 24.76s lap with just 20s left in the session and not enough time to complete another lap.
So it was Grabko Grand Prix with the all import pole position, an impressive 5th of the season, followed by The Team GP. Hesus Autosport shared the first of the two second row grid spots with rivals Team Horrdinis, clocking 24.96s and 24.99s times respectively. NFJF Racing continued their impressive improvement with a solid 25.39s effort to take home 5th, with Steaming Racing returning to the series after an absence and putting in good showing with a 25.43s lap. Rounding out the grid was fan favourites Nissene på Låven in 7th on 25.59s while returning for their 2nd race was Martin's Angels, who will have been disappointed with their 25.67s effort after having been stronger in their debut outing a month ago.
Erkin Bour was nominated to take the start for Grabko Grand Prix, and what a start it was! He was immediately under pressure from the moment the green lights lit up to start the race. The first ten minute stint gave the fans some of the closest and most intense racing seen all season between the two championship contenders, with The Team GP not giving an inch of breathing room.
Bour had gotten off the line well, and was first into the turns 3 and 4 Pizza Slice section, with The Team GP's talented Max Sjölander right on his tail, breathing down his neck. It was bumper to bumper racing as they came around the back side of the track and Erkin got a love tap on braking into the turn 9 hairpin. He kept his nerve though, and as they crossed the start/finish line for the first time, it was Grabko Grand Prix in the lead, with The Team GP less than one tenth of a second behind.
Erkin continued to push as hard as he could, willing the tires to come into their operating window, as the lap times quickly dove under the pole setting time, with both Bour and Sjölander setting lap times in the mid 24.6s range lap after lap. Bour could not manage to gap the relentless challenger, and halfway through the first ten minute stint there was only 0.6s between the top teams, who had driven away from the rest of the field in their fight for the race victory and the series championship. Even the normally strong starting Team Horrdinis couldn't keep pace, with Mattias finding himself having to deal with the pacy and in form Hesus Autosport driver, Koskinen, as they found themselves in an early battle for the final podium position.
Back at the front, it was so even that it seemed it was going to become a battle of attrition - who would be the first driver to make a mistake? Which team or driver would lose their nerve first? The answer seemed to be neither of them. Erkin Bour was in a serious racing mood and despite Max's consistent onslaught from behind, he managed to create the smallest of gaps as the first stint came to a close, and the lights flashed for the first driver change, he had managed to give Grabko Grand Prix the smallest sliver of breathing room with a 1.11s lead.
Both the front runners found themselves in perfect track position for the first driver change, coming in together while the rest of the field were on the front straight. Grabko Grand Prix's excellent preparation again paid off in the change, as they doubled their lead in the pit lane, making their stop 2s faster than The Team GP, and when Daniel Svensson came around to complete his first lap the lead had gone from 1.11s to 3.89s.
All that hard work seemed thrown out the window though, when Svensson came upon the first of the back markers for lapping. In an honest but clumsy mistake, Nissene på Låven's 2nd driver caught Daniel's right rear as the Grabko Grand Prix man made his exit from the Pizza Slice section at turn 4 and it was only an amazing and heroic effort brought on by lightning quick reflexes and pure adrenaline on Svensson's part that saved him from what would have been a disastrous spin.
As it was, the incident allowed The Team GP's André Palm to gain back all that had been lost in the pit stops, and more, and was right back on Daniel's tail, closing the gap down again to an identical 1.11s.
Svensson was in an extremely determined mood, however, and after his victory at the Gokartcentralen Hesus Autosport Invitational the week before, was high on confidence as well. An incident that normally could have ruined his mojo only spurred him on, and the crowd roared as they saw him begin to build the gap back up during the rest of the second stint, tenth by tenth, lap after lap.
That smooth and consistent driving in combination with good fortune in lapped traffic saw Grabko Grand Prix open the lead back up to just under 5s by the time the teams came back in for the second mandatory driver change. Still far too uncomfortably close from Grabko Grand Prix's point of view.
Again, Daniel and Erkin executed a flawless and clean pit stop, their track position helping them on the way. In contrast, The Team GP got caught in traffic during their pit stop and lost another 5s in the exchange, also having difficulty with their seat insert exiting the pit lane, losing several more seconds because of the problem on their out lap.
The combination of these factors and the continued immaculate show of driving prowess being put on by Svensson and Bour meant that before the half hour mark, the lead had grown to over 15s.
To make matters worse for The Team GP, Team Horrdinis' Mattias was on an especially quick stint, and was able to make a passing move stick to unlap himself from The Team GP, who were then not able to take advantage of a blue flag to get by, and the evenly matched drivers then were fighting for position for the rest of the stint, clashing several times as Sjölander was desperate to get by and continue to try and hunt down Grabko Grand Prix.
But it just wasn't to be for The Team GP on the day. Erkin was in no mood to hand out favours, and he just kept pounding the pavement, putting in lap after lap of consistently fast times in an error free drive that anyone at any level would have been impressed with.
The third driver change cemented the development of the race after the first three stints. Grabko Grand Prix made another quick and clean pit stop, one lap after The Team GP, who had again met with momentary delays during the driver change which had cost them precious seconds in the pit lane. So when Svensson exited the pits he found that he was only two turns from catching up Palm and having the chance to cement victory by passing him and putting The Team GP a lap down with just over one third of the race distance completed.
Daniel did just that, roping in the The Team GP man within two laps and them setting himself up for the passing move into the final turn 10. It was a psychological nail in the coffin for The Team GP, and for Grabko Grand Prix it served as a release of tension felt throughout the team.
As Svensson pulled away from Palm, the message through the team radio was clear, "Keep it clean and smooth, don't do anything stupid, let's bring this one home!"
There was still almost an hour left in the race, anything could happen, and nothing had been settled yet, but it was hard to imagine that unless there was a breakdown or some other disastrous incident on track, the result was now fully in Grabko Grand Prix's hands.
As the middle stints of the race came and went, the race continued to develop in the same way, as Grabko Grand Prix continued to use their superior track position to their advantage and stretch their lead lap by lap, tenth by tenth and the minutes ticked by. Erkin highlighted this period of the race by setting the fastest lap of the night, and a new personal best for himself, a blistering 24.47s that left a wave of commentary up and down the paddock.
Meanwhile, Hesus Autosport was putting in their strongest performance of the season, both Adriano Voric and Koskinen showing their driving virtues to see them an entire lap ahead of rivals Team Horrdinis. Unfortunately, they would have to finish two places above Horrdinis in order to challenge them in the championship standings, which would have meant beating The Team GP to 2nd spot on the day, leaving them to ponder what could have been had things gone differently for them in earlier rounds.
At the hour mark it was all over as a contest, again barring any unforeseen calamity, as Grabko Grand Prix's award winning driver changes saw them pass The Team GP again, this time via the pit stops to go 2 laps ahead with only a third of the race left to run.
Still, Bour and Svensson refused to relax, driving controlled, consistent, and fast. They kept their distance from lapped traffic in blue flag situations and hit their braking zones and apexes, avoiding any glaring mistakes or potentially troublesome on track encounters.
During the final three stints, Grabko Grand Prix race engineers instructed the drivers to keep their helmets and gloves on as an extra precaution in case the number 2 racing machine developed a problem requiring the reserve kart to be employed. Nobody was ready to celebrate until the checkered flag was actually taken.
When it finally did arrive, it was an outflow of emotion as Erkin Bour took home the checkered flag to record Grabko Grand Prix's fourth victory of the season, and crown them worthy Champions of the 2016/17 Gothenburg Gokartcenter Winter LeMans Series!
After the podium presentations and celebrations, and mandatory photo sessions, it was time for the official press conference.
Erkin Bour said, “It is a great feeling. We came here determined to win. We put in more work than anybody else, optimised every aspect of our race strategy, and it paid off in spades. Really happy not only for myself but for the whole team. Everyone’s done their part and we should all savour this victory and this championship now, job well done! All credit goes to The Team GP as well, they are a quality outfit with talented drivers and they pushed us hard throughout the season. It makes this win that much more special when you had to beat guys like that to achieve it, so congratulations to them on a great fight to the end.”
Daniel Svensson was equally buoyant, “That was an awesome race. Once we had established track position in the first 2 stints things started to go our way, but it could easily have been the other way around. Max (Sjölander) was fast today, man that guy can drive! As Erkin said, The Team GP deserve all credit as well, what great competitors! Now though we are going to enjoy this one for as long as we can, its been a long, hard fought season!”
Dan Grabko was inevitably asked the question whether he regretted the team decision to only go with two drivers after the final margin of victory was so large, “Absolutely not. We came here to win, and that’s exactly what we did. A lot goes into the race, and the fact that we won by 2 laps in the end just shows we made the right decision in the first place. The Team GP are definitely not 2 laps slower than we are. There are so many variables, and track position is vital, for everything from pit stops to timing of lapped traffic. I completely stand behind the team’s strategy. It could so easily have been The Team GP’s day and we could have had the same traffic and pit stop troubles as they did, that’s why it is so important to manage track position, and you can do that best when you are in front, hence our decision to go with two drivers today. And again, hats off to The Team GP. They’re a real class act, and André Palm and Max Sjölander are quality racing drivers. If they hadn’t pushed us so hard we wouldn’t have been forced into working as hard as we did throughout the season to take home this championship. What about that first stint? Incredible racing! That’s what we want to see, it was the most exciting racing we’ve seen all season!”
He went on to thank everyone involved with the team, “First off, thank you to our family and friends who put up with us and our passion, without their support and patience, none of this would be possible. Secondly huge thanks to our sponsors, Jobtip, Cemedia, KeepIT, KarriärFöretagen, and our parent company The Grabko Group. Without them we would definitely not be standing here, we so appreciate the support! Finally, big hats off to the circuit personnel, race stewards and track marshals. This is a great facility and they put on an excellent racing series, so big thanks to the Gothenburg Gokartcenter for putting on a great show for us all!”
So there you have it, folks! At the first time of asking, Grabko Grand Prix are 2016/17 Champions of the Gothenburg Gokartcenter Winter LeMans Series! We here at Grabko Grand Prix want to extend a very special thanks to all of you, our fans, who support us by visiting and following us on all of our social media sites, youtube, and this website. We are spurred on to win by your support!
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