Just days after having secured its first ever series championship in the Gothenburg Gokartcenter Winter LeMans Series, the team was back in action on the other side of the country, competing in Sweden's national rental karting championship, the 2017 SRKC hosted by Mattias Andersson GP's Gokarthallen i Linköping.
The circuit itself is an indoor short track format. It is very tight, fast and demanding, with only two short 30-40m straights, one off the back of the final hairpin at turn 7 and the other directly following the 90 degree final turn 8 across the start/finish line.
With the track record being just 16.88s, there was absolutely no room for mistakes, but the little monster of a circuit did allow for two proper overtaking opportunities, the first at the turn 3 hairpin that headed into the tight and fast turns 3-6 double apex complex, and the 2nd directly following at the turn 7 hairpin that exited out onto the short back straight. Both spots required getting excellent exits from the previous track section to dive down on the inside of the respective hairpins. This made the right angle turn 1 and the double apex turn 5-6 combination especially key spots on the track.
It was always going to be a tough ask for any of the team's drivers, being complete virgins to the circuit, having never even set eyes on the facility or its layout before arriving for the FP1 session on Saturday evening. Indeed, the field was heavily weighted with local talent, drivers who've driven thousands of laps around the tough little track over their careers.
But Grabko Grand Prix is not known for backing down to a challenge, and were determined to show their meddle on a national stage. The team's free practice program was a series of testing different karts to get a feel for their different characteristics, as well as progressively pushing for times as the session continued, in addition to observing local driver techniques, racing lines, braking points, and overtaking possibilities.
It was a full program designed to collect as much data as possible to go through overnight before Sunday morning's shorter FP2 session, with the competition itself to follow directly afterwards. In the end, all three of the team's drivers had clocked competitive lap times in the high 17s range, with Erkin Bour topping out the team's time sheets with a 17.66s lap during the more favourable FP1 session on the Saturday. This was followed by Daniel Svensson and Dan Grabko, both coming through the free practice with 17.8Xs and 17.9Xs laps under their belts during FP2, respectively.
The competition format was 4 rounds of 20 lap qualifying heats where the drivers would compete in four different randomly selected groups, and collect points on an inverted point scale based on their finishing position in each heat. After the 4 qualifying rounds, each driver will discard their worst result for the purposes of point collection. Drivers were required to weigh in at a minimum of 90kg and random weight control would be enforced throughout the race day.
The top 16 drivers with the least number of points after the qualifying rounds would then advance to two 25 lap semifinal races, adding to their inverted points collection. Finally, the 8 drivers who had the least number of points after the semifinal races would compete in the 30 lap feature final, with their points haul following through even at this stage to finally crown a national champion.
The driver with the smallest point total after the final would be crowned the national champion and secure an entry to the World Championship to be held in Barcelona the last week in July.
Each qualifying heat, as well as the final, would include a 2 flying lap micro qualifying shootout to establish the starting grid for that heat. Karts would be assigned at the beginning of each of the 4 qualifying rounds by lottery, with the race director nominating the 8 most equal karts for the entire event.
Total event duration was scheduled at 6.5 hours, and in a format where every heat and every position matters, it was going to be a gruelling challenge demanding every ounce of mental as well as physical discipline to emerge victorious.
Now that what limited preparation that could be done had been completed, there was nothing for it but to go out there and get racing! Daniel Svensson was the first of the Grabko Grand Prix drivers to take to the track, having been drawn in the first heat of the first round. It proved to be tough going. Svensson got caught out during the qualifying shootout and took up 5th position on the grid. He fought hard and drove well under the circumstances, but having home track advantage proved to have tangible benefits for the opposition, and he was unable to move up any positions, but did well not to lose any either. So he collected 5 points from his first heat.
Erkin Bour and Dan Grabko had been drawn together in the 2nd heat of the day, an unfortunate draw from a team perspective as it limited the potential for good finishing positions for both drivers. Again, lack of track experience cost the drivers, who started 5th and 7th on the grid respectively, after not really being on their toes for the 2 lap qualifying shootout. That's also the way it ended for the two Grabko Grand Prix men, who ended up starting off the national championship competition slowly, just as their teammate Svensson had done.
So after the first round of qualifying heats, the standings did not look promising for the team. They would have to step up their efforts and their focus if they were going to make any kind of real impression on the competition.
Having all raced early on in the first round, the team found themselves with a longer intermission until their next heats, and thus had the opportunity to come together and compare notes and come up with ideas on how to improve their on-track fortunes before it was too late.
It seemed to pay off. In the 2nd round, Svensson's qualifying times improved dramatically, but he was unfortunate to have been drawn into a heat that included last year's champion, Jonas Andersson as well as Micke Nicander, Thomas Färber, Peter Engvall, and Lars Carlsson, all experienced local drivers, and all but one who would go on to finish in the top 10 in the standings by the end of the day. He thus only managed to qualify 6th and despite a clean and smooth race, couldn't reel in the locals ahead of him and was forced to settle for a disappointing 6th.
Bour and Grabko were again unlucky enough to be drawn in the same heat for the 2nd round. Erkin was on his toes this time around, however, and just missed out on pole to score a 2nd position in the qualifying shootout. Dan faired a bit worse but still improved on his disappointing first round qualifying, scoring the inside spot on the third row with a 5th position effort. Both Grabko Grand Prix men got off to good starts and Erkin had soon gotten by Linköping native Johan Björnsson to take the lead. He would go on to successfully defend that position comfortably, scoring an all important 0 points for the victory.
Meanwhile, Dan was forced to play a more patient strategy. Philip Karlsson and Jonathan Elm were in a scrap for 3rd position just ahead, which allowed Grabko to close in on them. With 10 laps to go Philip dove in on Elm at the turn 3 hairpin, giving him a touch on the way through that spun him around. The altercation was not penalised and Dan sailed through to 4th and was now within striking distance of Karlsson for 3rd. The Grabko Grand Prix man thought he had missed his chance as Karlsson was able to open a half second gap again, but as they both came around with 5 laps remaining, they caught up the last placed Lars Larsson. In the lapping process, Dan was able to catch up Philip again and was right on his rear bumper. Not about to let this chance go for a second time, he lined up for a move into the final turn 7 hairpin with just two laps to go. He got the better exit from the double apex turn 5-6 combination he needed and was able to make the move down the inside of the high speed hairpin and hold his position through final lap to take an all important 3rd place.
So with half the qualifying heats gone the top 20 in the competition looked like this:
The team's drivers had it all to do in the final two qualifying rounds to make it to the semifinal stage. It was an uphill battle, but the feeling in the team was determined and upbeat in spite of the early setbacks.
To their great dismay, however, they found that all three of them had been drawn together in the same heat for round 3, along with hometown talent and bookies favourite to win the competition, Richard Trange. Erkin qualified 2nd behind Trange, while Grabko slotted in 5th with Svensson just behind in 6th.
Svensson and Bour got off to good starts, but Grabko got caught out, Svensson able to beat him to to turn 1 to swap positions from there on. Erkin drove a stable race, not losing any ground the the circuit's golden boy, but not able to really threaten for the victory, and settling for taking home a solid 2nd place. Svensson went one better, overtaking cleanly during the middle laps of the race to claim 4th which he held onto to the end. Grabko never really recovered from his poor start and ended up in a scrap for 5th throughout the race, unfortunately succumbing on the last lap to a similar move he executed at turn 7 in round 2. He almost recovered though, getting a better exit out of the hairpin, but lost by a half kart length in an exciting drag race to the finish line.
So 2nd, 4th, and 6th for Bour, Svensson, and Grabko in the 3rd round setting up a nail biting final qualifying round for Svensson and Grabko, who were right on the cusp of qualification for the semifinals. Bour was more comfortable, but he could not relax, as he aimed at feature final qualification.
Standings after 3 rounds:
Like round 2, the 4th and final qualifying heat round saw very different results for the team. Dan was up first, and qualified in the second row, in 4th spot, but again couldn't shake his bad start gremlins, losing out to Dan Andersson who jumped off the line like a rocket from 5th an beat Grabko to turn 1. It was there he would stay and a 5th place finish did nothing for his nerves as he was made to wait out his fate as the rest of the final round heats were completed.
For Daniel Svensson and Erkin Bour, it was a disastrous final draw, as they found themselves in the ultimate "Heat of Death" of the entire event. Along with Erkin, notable entries in this heat included local legend Royne Elm, who had won his previous heat and finished 2nd in his other two, lined up along with Micky Nicander who had finished 3rd in all his previous heats. Peter Engvall, another local who had set the fastest time of the day up to that point, and had finished 2nd once and 5th twice in two tough heats, was also present. Philip Karlsson, who had been bested by Grabko in the 2nd round had a 3rd, 4th, and 5th under his belt so far, and Sebastian Elm, had a 5th, 3rd, and unlucky 7th due to a racing incident recorded on the score sheets.
So Svensson was really up against it in a race he needed to finish well in. Unfortunately for him it just wasn't in the cards. Royne Elm set a blisteringly low 17.71s pole time in the 2 lap mini qualifying and the entire first 3 rows were locked out within the same hundredth of a second, including Erkin Bour, who despite being drawn the cold number kart number 8, which hadn't been used at all during the entire 4th round up to that point, had still somehow managed to qualify 5th in the unforgiving shootout with an impressive 17.76s time. It meant that even though Svensson put in his best qualifying time of the day, with a solid 17.82s lap, he only just managed to creep into the 4th row of the grid on 7th spot.
His race was equally frustrating. He put in arguably his best performance of the day, and looked to have a chance at 5th in the middle stages of the race when he took his joker lap earlier than the two just ahead of him on track, and started reeling them in afterwards. However, he just wasn't able to close the gap quite enough, as the more experienced locals aced their joker laps coming out only a hair's breadth ahead of Svensson with just a couple of laps to go, and Daniel couldn't quite get the run on them he needed to attempt a last gasp move during the final laps, and finished 7th in the end.
Bour's race was a bit less eventful, if more successful. He got off the line well but so did everyone else, and he was forced to fight his way through the field, making two well executed overtaking manoeuvres before he ended up following Royne through to the finish in 3rd having never been threatened from behind by the consistent performer Micke Nicander after passing him, but also not quite able to really press Elm for 2nd position.
So it was time to total up the standings to see who the top 16 drivers would be who went on the the semifinals of the national competition.
In the end it was a heartbreaker for Daniel Svensson, who missed out on advancement via the tie-breaking contingencies in an incredible 3 way tie for 16th, his unlucky draw in the last heat and the resulting 7th place dooming him to an early exit in the cruelest of circumstances.
For Dan Grabko the smallest of margins went instead in his favour. Thanks to his late passing manoeuvre to claim 3rd place in his second heat, he found himself in a 2-way tie for 14th spot in which he also found himself wrong side of the 2nd tiebreaker, which was head to head heat results. He’d finished 6th in his 3rd heat, and Sebastian Elm had finished 3rd in that same race, making the 14th spot his. So Grabko made it through but would start from a difficult 7th grid spot in the second semifinal race.
Erkin was now proving his meddle as a top driver, and was looking more towards how his disappointing 5th place finish in the first round could effect his chances of challenging for a top 3 spot in the entire competition. As it was he was was ranked 6th overall in the standings, which would earn him a 3rd placed start on the grid in the second semifinal, with all the chance in the world to make an impact.
Semifinal number one was taken home by 2016 champion Jonas Andersson, giving him all to play for going into the feature final race. Coming in 2nd spot was fellow overall championship contender Lars Carlsson, who with that result was also in with a shout for the whole bag of beans. Rounding out the top three was Johan Björnsson, who had been equal on points with Bour leading up to the semifinal stage, meaning that Erkin would need to finish 3rd or better in the second semi to keep pace.
For the remaining Grabko Grand Prix drivers, it was now or never. Grabko had no mathematical chance to advance to the final and so was left to let it all hang out and just savour his semifinal birth and enjoy the racing, possibly able to act as a spoiler should he manage to get in the mix further up the grid during the race.
Bour, on the other hand, needed a good result to keep his podium hopes alive. Overall leader Richard Trange would line up in the pole position grid spot by virtue of his points total, followed by Royne Elm in 2nd. Grabko Grand Prix's own Erkin Bour lined up just behind Trange in 3rd with Peter Engvall alongside him in 4th. Jimmy Nicander and Thomas Färber shared the 3rd row in 5th and 6th respectively, while Grabko Grand Prix's final remaining driver, Dan Grabko, on 7th, shared the back row with Sebastian Elm in 8th to round out the final semifinal starting grid.
It was a telling line-up as the only drivers in either semifinal not hailing from Linköping and calling this circuit home were in fact the two Grabko Grand Prix drivers and the two remaining Jönköping representatives, the pride of Småland, Thomas Färber and Sebastian Elm. It was an accomplishment just for them to be on this starting grid on the national stage.
When the lights went out for the start, Bour got off to a flyer. Richard Trange had his problems at the start, but managed to maintain his lead in the early stages, fighting off the pesky Royne Elm's early challenge before creating a more manageable gap for himself. Erkin was in 3rd spot still and was able to close up behind Elm as he pestered Trange. Meanwhile, Grabko had maintained his position in 7th, and was keeping pace well with Färber ahead, but Sebbe Elm was maintaining good pressure from behind as well, forcing Dan to keep his attention behind him just as much as ahead, which would end up costing him in the end.
Up ahead, Bour found himself with a golden opportunity. He was closing in on Royne in 2nd hundredth of a second by hundredth of a second, lap after lap, until he found himself just off Elm’s rear bumper. Unbeknownst to him, however, the accomplished Peter Engvall had made a charging comeback after a slight misstep at the start and was closing in on the 2 ahead with Jimmy Nicander following hot on his tail. Erkin had a decision to make. Would he try to settle for 3rd spot, or would he press Royne and go all out for the 2nd spot and the extra point?
He decided to go for it. With 5 laps to go he found a better line out of the turn 7 hairpin and got up just behind Elm as they rounded the final turn 8 and came out over the start/finish. He had planned to make his move down the entrance to the turn 3 hairpin. However, it wasn't to be, and what unfolded next not only ruined Erkin’s chances at an overall podium, but handed Richard Trange the semifinal win and the distinct advantage going into the final for the overall victory.
Royne felt the pressure over the start/finish straight, and the crafty and experienced driver knew he had to create a gap on Bour before turn 3. He let off 10m earlier than normal on the way into turn 1, effectively brake checking Erkin into the first corner and causing them to come together. They tangled, and both men lost precious momentum, although Elm was able to get back underway much more quickly and came out of the incident better off than the hapless Bour.
Peter Engvall sailed through past both of them, and Jimmy Nicander was also able to take advantage as well, using his Joker lap to good strategic effect to get it out of the way while at the same time bypassing Erkin who was still getting back into the race just before turn 2. Although there had been no spin, and no penally or warnings issued, it was a disastrous development for the Grabko Grand Prix man, who ended up having to settle for what was a disappointing 5th place result in the semifinal, with it finishing Trange, Engvall, R. Elm, Nicander, Bour, Fäber, S. Elm, Grabko in the end.
Both Royne and Bour laid the blame for the incident on the other driver, With Elm refusing to admit he had backed off earlier than normal, claiming Erkin had initiated the contact instead. Video replay evidence was ultimately inconclusive, although it did seem to show Royne letting off the accelerator earlier than in previous laps as they charged down the the start/finish straight. Either way, Erkin collected 5 points instead of 2 or 3, and thus was an overall 7th going into the feature final rather than what would have been a 5th spot.
This was especially important because for the feature final, the drivers would get to choose their karts based on the overall standings. As it was, Erkin was thus forced to be the 7th man of 8 to choose his kart for the final instead of 5th.
The only silver lining was that the regulations called for a qualifying shootout again for the feature final, so the last Grabko Grand Prix man left standing had a chance to improve his starting position.
He did just that, but only by one grid spot, qualifying 6th in the ruthlessly tough 2 lap shootout. The final itself ended up being a bit of an anticlimactic end to what had been an enthralling event. Trange took pole and drove away with the victory, clocking the fastest lap of the day in the process with a 17.640 on lap 15, halfway through the race, and claiming his first national title. Lars Carlsson took home 2nd, just unable to touch the in form Trange, while last year’s champion, Jonas Andersson, had to settle for 3rd spot, but maintained his 2nd position overall despite the setback. Royne Elm and Johan Björnsson took home 4th and 5th, also finishing in those same spots in the overall standings, while Erkin Bour, the only non-local in the final, drove a solid race but could not improve his position, having suffered from his semifinal incident and not having much left to pick from when it was his turn to choose his material for the final. Jonathan Elm and Peter Engvall rounded out the feature final results in 7th and 8th leading to final overall standings that looked like this:
So it was Richard Trange scoring a birth in the World Championships to be held in Barcelona the last week of July. A huge congratulations to him, and Grabko Grand Prix wishes him the best of luck representing Sweden on the world stage.
Afterwards, Erkin was reflective, saying, “If we had known at the start of the day what we know now, I think the whole team could have produced better results. Everything from track experience, joker lap strategy, racing kart familiarity, being knowledgable about how the event format develops and when it is important to push for a result and when you should settle - all these things were huge advantages for the local guys."
"We were basically clueless," he went on, commenting, "...and even though it all went wrong for me in the semifinal, I actually look back to that final qualifying heat, where if I hadn't drawn the unused and cold kart 8, I could have qualified higher and finished with a lower point tally going into the semifinals. I would have had a much better chance to do even better, so for me that is one thing I would like to have back."
He then concluded his thoughts for the press, "...but overall, I think collectively the team has got to be satisfied with how we performed today, even if the results were not as we would have liked. Rumour has it that event organisers are looking at Gothenburg as the host of the 2018 event, so if that pans out, look out for us to make a real impact next year. We will take all we’ve learned here and be stronger for it!”
There you have it folks! Grabko Grand Prix’s maiden voyage on the national stage ending with two out of three drivers making the semifinal stage and Erkin Bour carrying the flag for the West Coast in the feature final!