The third round of the Gokartcenter Winter Le Mans Series was a chance for the team to make up for the previous round's disappointing performance and the team came focused and determined to show what they were capable of.
However, there was a pre-race worry as Daniel Svensson injured his hand just the day before the race and went into the day nursing a sore wrist with a brace. Going into the free practice sessions he was still a question mark but luckily reported in that he was ok to race after recording a very decent 25.27 lap in the FP1 session.
The team decided to rest Svensson for qualifying in any case, just to be safe, so it would be up to Grabko and Bour to try to rectify last round's qualifying result and try to put the team back where they thought they should be, on pole.
The pre-race drivers meeting saw the team allocated kart 1 for the race, Grabko having driven the kart during FP2, and reporting that there was nothing particular to complain about, tires and setup were decent with just mild understeer while power was just okay, nothing spectacular, but equally not particularly bad. The overall feeling was that it was a decent machine, and much better than kart 6 had been the round before. That machine had been overhauled as a result of the previous round, however, and was also taken up in the race machine pool again, this time though, it had been allocated to Nissene pa Laven.
Dan would again take the first stint of qualifying, this time a longer first stint due to Svensson's hand being saved for the race, and he took advantage of the extended run, posting a respectable 25.60 lap time that was good enough for 2nd place just behind early series leaders, The Team GP, with 5 minutes of qualifying left when he came in and gave over the drive to Erkin.
Bour set about putting on a master class in what turned out to be the closest and most competitive qualifying session of the season to date. Times reduced lap after lap as the cold sub-freezing temperature track developed the racing line, and the tires for all the karts started coming up to temperature.
Erkin set an early time of 25.08 that looked safe until the final two minutes of qualifying, when Team Horridinis driver Mattias Horridin set a blistering 25.09 lap putting real pressure on Grabko Grand Prix, while The Team GP in the form of Andre Palm also came in with a shout at 25.16s. Erkin smashed both of their aspirations at pole, however, with a 25.06s lap squeezed out in the last seconds of the session, crossing the line only a few seconds before the checkered flag came out to end qualifying.
It was an exciting session, to be sure, and the team were able to redeem themselves in their own eyes, taking pole for the second time in three races and setting themselves up well for the long endurance race to come. It was Grabko Grand Prix on pole from Team Horridinis with The Team GP in 3rd, and a quality performance by Team NFJF to beat Hesus Autosport to the final 2nd row grid spot, and Nissene pa Laven bringing up rear in a field shortened due to driver illness with both KRT 30kg and Bonnarraser AB forced to withdraw late on.
Grabko himself would line on the grid for the start, again leading the charge for the team, but he would have it all to do with both Mattias Horridin and Andre Palm holding a significant weight advantage, and it would be impossible to keep them behind more than a few laps. The best he could hope to do would be to not lose too much time in the first stint to the other two teams' quickest drivers.
In a much more focused and controlled performance, Dan acquitted himself well managing to hold the gap to under 15s after the first stint, putting in several 25.5s lap times and above all avoiding any glaring mistakes to cost the team major time. As Svensson jumped took over the wheel, things were looking in decent shape for the team. However, not all would go according to plan during Daniel's first stint.
He drove well, closing up the gap to Team Horridinis quickly as hoped, but getting by was another matter. Anders Karlsson was defending aggressively and when he made a slight mistake, getting a less than optimal exit out of the Pizza Slice complex, Svensson got up the inside and tried to make his move. Anders was having none of it, however, and turned into the Grabko Grand Prix man, forcing him into the inside barrier as Svensson moved past and caused them both the come to an almost complete stand still. Svensson got underway quickly but almost 3 seconds were lost in the incident, and as they both came down the dogleg straight to turn 10, he had opened a 2 kart length gap to the Horridinis driver.
Unfortunately this was not the end of the exchange. In a moment of either poor judgement or just a matter of seeing red, Anders tried to come back at Daniel from way back and out brake Svensson into the hairpin. It was a move that was never going to work, and the inevitable contact was made right as Daniel was in the apex of the corner. Both karts predictably swung around, with Svensson again being lucky enough to get underway quickly, but the damage had been done. It was another 3-4 second delay that Grabko Grand Prix couldn't afford to give in their chase to catch up the leaders, as The Team GP gained precious time, taking advantage of the fight to extend their gap.
Curiously, race officials chose not to penalize Team Horridinis for the incidents, citing the fact that they did not gain track position and Grabko Grand Prix had come out ahead of them. While this was true, it in effect all but gave the race to The Team GP, who by the end of the stint now were enjoying a 20 second lead instead of a 10 second margin when the red lights flashed for the next driver change and Erkin Bour got into the hot seat for his first drive of the race.
The driver exchange was clean for the team, but the leaders also were able to make a unhampered pit stop, both 1st and 2nd place not being delayed out of the pits exit by oncoming racers. So it was all to do for Bour as he laid down personal best time after personal best time, fighting to close down on The Team GP's gap. It was a yo-yo effect fight, as both team's took on lapped traffic and blue flags, with Bour doing what he does best, closing the gap down to 15 seconds at one point. By the time Grabko got back in the kart it was a 17 second gap to contend with.
The middle stints went almost as expected. Grabko drove well extending the gap down the 3rd placed Team Horridinis, faster on track than all except for the leaders, and only losing a few tenths a lap to first place. Despite this is was a disheartening moment as Dan was forced to give up the lead lap when he was shown the blue flag towards the end of his stint, and The Team GP were on their way to a comfortable victory.
Svensson again did his part, losing only a 3-4 seconds more to the leaders, and this time his now familiar run in with Horridinis Driver Karlsson was less eventful, as Anders was shown the blue flag and duly gave Svensson room to go through without incident.
Erkin was faced with a 30 second gap up to the leaders and a 35 second gap down to Team Horridinis and Hesus Autosport, who were now in a vicious dogfight for position again, this time around battling for the final podium spot. It meant that Bour was alone out on track, focusing on doing consistent fast laps at his own pace. He ate considerably into the time deficit, but didn't quite challenge to unlap himself as time ran out on him and it was Dan's turn to take his final run out on the circuit.
His final stint was slightly hampered at the start having to yield out of the pit lane for oncoming traffic, but was otherwise uneventful, Grabko enjoying clear track both in front and behind, and he quickly got down to business and put in a consistent, businesslike performance, but it just wasn't quite quick enough to keep up with the pace of The Team GP, who were again able to stretch out the gap that Bour had managed to shrink, and any thoughts of a comeback were put to rest as Grabko was forced to yield to blue flags for the second time during the race, and went a second lap down.
Svensson, now tiring and nursing his injured hand, wasn't able to push to the maximum, and unable to fully close the gap to challenge to take back the lost lap, but did execute a flawless pit stop when the red lights came out to signal the final mandatory driver change, allowing Erkin to unlap himself in the process.
Bour was able to relax a bit as the win was no longer in contention, and the nearest competitor behind was a further two laps down. He took advantage of the situation, driving freely and on instinct. He duly put in the team's fastest lap of the race, at 24.93s exactly one tenth off of The Team GP's best race lap of 24.83, and pulled well away from them to finish only 1 lap down when the checkered flag finally came on 90 minutes.
Team Horridinis ended up squeezing out the final podium spot in front of Hesus Autosport in a tense fight for 3rd that went down to the final lap, followed by Team NFJF in 5th with Nissene pa Laven, who will have been disappointed after a strong qualifying showing, bringing in the rear.
It was a bit of an anti-climatic end to a race in which the entire team felt it had taken its own personal revenge on the poor showing in round 2, a redemption of sorts and a good springboard into the second half of the season.
Speaking at the post race press conference, Erkin Bour had this to say, "We always knew it was going to be tough. The Team GP, all credit to them, they didn't make any mistakes and they took full advantage of being in arguably one of the best karts in the field. We won by more than 2 laps in round 1 when we got the number 10, and were able to compete to within a lap of them when they got that kart this time around. We've got a lot of positives to take from this. As a whole we showed that we are a Championship contender, and that round 2 was a fluke we don't intend to allow to happen again. It's going to be hard to beat those guys, as they are super quick on their day, but we are too, we have to keep our focus and get creative and keep fighting until the end. That's what we do. Right now it is just disappointing the next round is 6 weeks away!"
So there you have it! Another exciting round of the Gokartcenter Winter Le Mans Series!
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