The Team's preseason program continued this weekend with a guest entry in round 7 of the K1 Speed Circuit's San Diego Challenge GP.
Not really knowing what to expect from this series, the team was pleasantly surprised upon arriving to the circuit to find that the atmosphere was very friendly and informal. After checking in with the track officials, the race stewarts informed them that due to this being a summer round, not many entries were expected, and they were welcome to having inexperienced drivers take part to round out the field. After double checking the sporting regs for the series and conferring with the team, it was decided to register a second entry representing the admin staff as a thank you for all their hard work.
Thus joining Dan in the hot seat for this race was Grabko Grand Prix's own Sara Grabko, PR Chief and wife of the driver and team principal. Needless to say, she was excited about the prospect of taking part, "I'm super nervous! My main goal is not to embarrass myself, and if possible do something positive for the team testing program. Most of all though, I just want to take the opportunity to go out there and have fun!"
Also again joining Grabko Grand Prix on the day was the local outfit Cobborama Racing, who similarly took the chance to give one of their non-racing staff a chance behind the wheel, with Finance Director Yulia Cobb taking to the track alongside her husband and team driver Eric Cobb.
The race format was very familiar, with two 14 lap qualifying sessions followed by a 16 lap final. However, in contrast to the Swedish series the team has taken part in, no weighing in and no minimum weight requirements were being enforced. Also, due to the 13 kart field, all participants would take part simultaneously in the qualifying sessions, and all would qualify for the feature race during this round.
Unfortunately for Dan, the relaxed feeling of the event spawned some unwanted bad luck. He started off ok, down in the 22.5 second range within 2. laps. Then, after getting by slower traffic that ruined his 4th lap, he was able to bank a 22.511 before he suddenly felt a loss of power coming out of the final chicane complex on lap 6. After some confused radio chatter, the team was able to confirm with track officials that the kart had simply given up due to battery charge levels halfway through the qualifying session. Given the order to carry on, Dan did his best but with the underpowered vehicle not helping him at all it was impossible and his 5th lap best time only qualified him for a 6th position grid spot after the first session. Sara acquitted herself well on her first ever drive, not crashing the car and got faster as the session progressed. She ended Q1 with a 25.295, good enough for 12th position.
So both Grabko Grand Prix drivers had it all to do for the second qualifying session. Dan sat down with Sara beforehand and discussed the racing line, brake use and other advice to think about to help get her times down. The race talk seemed to get him back into the right frame of mind as well, as he started off much more positively than in Q1.
Q2 started out better for both of them. Dan was down in the low 22's from lap 2 and aside from having a few laps ruined when going by slower traffic, was starting to show better form, putting in first a 22.163 and the a 22.150 on laps 11 and 12, with his lap 13 split time on pace for a 21.950 when his bad luck struck again. As in Q1, Dan's kart gave up the ghost with no warning, losing power exiting turn 3 onto the back straight. With nothing more to do than cruise around in the crippled machine, Dan still managed two final sub - 23 second laps to end the final qualifying session. It was only good enough for 8th spot on the grid - needless to say, a very frustrating and disappointing result for the experienced driver. Sara's Q2 was more enjoyable for her personally. She took the team instructions to heart and improved 1.3 seconds on her time to creep into the 23 second zone, banking a 23.989 on lap 9, which allowed her to maintain her 12th qualifying position going into the feature race.
Meanwhile, in the camp of Grabko Grand Prix's host team here in San Diego, Cobborama Racing, things were looking very positive indeed. Experiencing no power issues with the kart, Eric had managed a 21.795 in Q2, surprising not only himself, but the rest of the field. He expressed his suspension of belief very simply, "Where in the heck did that come from?" But Cobb was feeling racy on the day, maintaining high 21 second times throughout the qualifying sessions. His Q1 time was good enough for 2nd on the grid, a very nice starting position that would play to his advantage during the race. His partner for the day, Yulia, also did well, eeking out the battle between the administrative executives by posting a 23.576 and qualifying 11th, just ahead of her colleague, Sara.
So going into the feature race it was Eric Cobb lining up 2nd, with Dan Grabko slotting into the 8th grid position, with Yulia Cobb and Sara Grabko near the back, but not dead last, a feat in itself which they both should be proud of, in 11th and 12th position respectively.
With the team feeling that Dan should have been lining up in 4th or even 3rd position had his kart not died on him in Q2, the aim was clear. Get a good start and make your way up through the field as soon as possible. Unfortunately, that would prove easier said than done. The series employs a rolling start, lining up the karts during the formation lap and activating full power as the pole sitter approaches the start/finish line. However a hesitant track official failed to green flag the race as pole sitter Sean McQuaid approached the starting line, reducing the grid to confusion. Dan caught the worst of it as he was boxed in behind the kart ahead as the 9th and 10th place drivers continued by him before the green flag was waved. As a result, when the race got underway, Dan entered the turns 1-3 first complex having lost two positions down to 10th. Definitely not the way he wanted to start.
After a few frustrated expletives over the radio, Dan got down to business as best he could. He made up two positions in the first 3 laps with some nice skillful passing and then laid down some sub-22 second laps trying to make up lost ground as he closed in on the 6th and 7th placed drivers, who were in a heated battle for position and Dan reeled in on their rear bumpers. Approaching the duo, he nudged the kart in front of him under braking going into the final chicane complex. This must have put pressure on him as he tried to force his way past the 6th placed kart on the turn 9 hairpin, diving in and spinning out both drivers in the process. Dan was able to avoid the crash and zip around them both to move up to 6th. Unfortunately the incident resulted in a circuit-wide yellow for the duration of lap 7, so Dan wasn't able to take up the hunt again until lap 8, with only half the race to go. He'd lost a lot of time and track position, and realistically would need more fortunate racing incidents to get anywhere near a podium position.
That being said, Dan got down to business. 2 laps later and he had caught the 5th placed kart, but it took him a whole lap to find a way around the tenacious racer, who desperately tried to keep the Grabko Grand Prix driver behind. Dan finally made the pass on lap 11 down the inside of turn 5 the fastest corner of the track, having gotten a good run out of the first hairpin at turn 3 onto the back straight. The driver tried to close the door on Dan, and dove down into him, resulting in a spin for the defending driver, but the team was informed over the radio that race stewards agreed Dan had been high enough alongside and had the corner, so no further action was taken.
Dan was now in 5th place, but time was running out, now only 5 laps to go. Lap 12 and 13 saw the hammer laid down, with two 21.990 second laps in a row seeing Dan with the back straight of the 4th placed kart ahead, almost within touching distance. Then disaster struck yet again for the team. Exiting out of the final hairpin at turn 9 on lap 14, Dan felt the kart simply give up the ghost yet again, for the third straight run.
Things that shouldn't have been said out loud poured through the team radio as emotions on both ends of the microphone ran high. Dan drove angry, and to his surprise found that he was still catching the 4th placed driver ahead. Although neither Dan nor the team knew it at the time, the kart ahead had also suffered the same fate a half lap later. As a result, in spite of the half second slower lap times, Dan was able to reel in the man ahead of him with a half lap to go, and was able to give it one last gasp effort to pass, again out of the final turn 9 hairpin. However, the 4th placed man was having none of it, and even though Dan made a better exit, it only resulted in a nudge to the rear bumper as positions were held crossing the finish line and taking the checkered flag.
So a 5th place finish in the end for the team's main driver in an eventful and exciting race where it was felt much more could have been achieved. Elsewhere in the team, Sara finished where she started, in 12th, with her most eventful moments coming when she tried to help the team by holding up both Eric Cobb in 2nd and Christopher Gay in 3rd, which she managed for an entire lap before they got her on the back straight, highlighting an interesting and fun battle for 2nd. This is also where Eric’s most exciting moments came as he never challenged for the win, but rather had an intense defensive battle to hold on to 2nd culminating in a race down the back straight around backmarker Sara on lap 11. Eric chose the outside and Christopher chose the inside, with Eric just about managing to beat the veteran racer to the turn 5 apex and stay ahead going into the chicane complex to hold on for 2nd to the checkered flag. Rounding out the group was Yulia Cobb who quietly had one of the more impressive drives of the night, actually moving up a place to 10th momentarily when she was able to take advantage of the spin ahead of her on lap 7, but was unable to hold onto the position to finish where she started just outside the top 10.
All in all a really fun and enjoyable night of racing for everyone involved and another chance to develop as a team for Grabko Grand Prix! The final pre-season competitive outing will be August 31st as the team enters round 4 of the Gothenburg Summer Cup as a guest entry. In between, pre-season testing on track at Gokartcentralen begins on August 17th. New karts will make it an especially interesting first testing session.
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