It was another drama filled and exciting round of the Open GP Championship at Gokartcentralen. The penultimate race of the season had everything a racing fan could ever want - controversial restarts, devastating retirements, and dramatic overtakes in the final laps.
Going into the day there were several key battles for final Championship positions. Adde Motorsports was leading Scuderia Jacobi for the final top 3 spot with only 3 points going into the race. Likewise our own Grabko Grand Prix driver, Dan Grabko, was in a 3 way fight for 5th position, hungry to close the 2 point gap up to Hesus Autoport's Jonas Svanberg, with the extremely fast Jörgen Haraldsson of Haraldsson GP equal on points with Dan at 308.
The other treat of the day was the return of last year's champion, Alonso Motors, back as a guest entry for this round. A welcome addition to entry list.
Dan got off to an excellent start almost rounding Modin before the first corner, but as expected, the Hesus Autosport driver dove in from behind unfairly, forcing Grabko wide. Dan wasn't having any of it though, and gave no ground, holding his line and beat Svanberg to the inside of the second hairpin. But, just as he has done before, most notably last round, ruling Lilleman Racing's race, Jonas then drove right into the Grabko Grand Prix driver, pushing him into Modin and causing him to spin. Track officials immediately invoked the new restart rule, deploying the virtual safety car for the rest of the opening lap. Svanberg somehow avoided a penalty on this occasion.
The restart went more smoothly, and Dan, driving kart 15, again got a much better start than Mikael. Sensing he may have the superior cart, instead of attempting to pass around the outside of turn 1, he dove in behind in order to defend against any designs Jonas had to take advantage of a first turn overtake attempt. Getting through sector 1 without incident, the race began in earnest. Dan had the advantage and he took it with aplomb. On lap 3, Grabko set up for a pass on the long back straight. Getting a much better exit from turn 5 he accelerated past Modin and was ahead before the turn 8 hairpin.
From then on, our driver bore down and drove a flawless race, putting in lap after lap of personal best 35.1XX times and executing two excellently timed and well driven joker laps, pulling well away from the one-handed driving, Svanberg, not giving him a chance to get close enough to cause any trouble.
Dan took the checkered flag by a healthy 6 seconds and was well worth his 5th straight appearance in the feature race, clocking a personal best time of 35.139 on his way to the win.
The first hurdle overcome, now was the time to try to take advantage of his position. With Hesus Autosport out of the feature race, Grabko Grand Prix had a chance to make up the points gap with a good performance in the final.
He delivered, putting in lap after lap of 35.0XX times in a row, setting personal best after personal best, culminating in Grabko Grand Prix's first ever sub 35 second lap. Dan's 34.990 was a milestone for the team, but the work was not done. Voric was also on form, matching Grabko's times, trading tenths back and forth as the laps ticked off. It was going to be very close!
Crossing the start/finish line for lap 13, Dan got word that Adriano was taking his final Joker lap. Barreling down to turn two, he exited the corner just as Voric came back onto the main track, and Grabko Grand Prix and Adde Motorsport were side by side into turn 3. Dan found himself on the outside line and tried the classic over/under maneuver, but Voric was awake to the danger and was able to defend well. So it was status resumed and a valiant but ultimately failed effort by the team to get Dan ahead.
The excitement didn't end there, however. While the two battled all the way to the end, ahead was a disastrous engine failure for Scuderia Jacobi on lap 14. Watching Adde Motorsport and Grabko Grand Prix fly by him as he was forced to pull off to the side in the turn 9/10 's' section of the track, he knew his fight for 3rd position in the Championship was effectively over.
With 6th position now secure, Grabko renewed his efforts, fighting hard and putting on a performance previously unseen by the team, with consistent lap times in the 35.0XX and 34.9XX range throughout the last 10 laps of the race. Despite putting in yet another personal best 34.943 lap time on lap 19, he was unable to seriously challenge Voric, who drove an incredibly solid race, and the pair crossed the finish line 5th and 6th in the end.
Just 5 seconds ahead of them another drama unfolded that had an impact on the fight for 5th place overall in the Championship. Lilleman Racing's Daniel Svensson had qualified fifth, just behind Jacobi. He passed the Scuderia driver early on, and set his sights on a podium spot. Meanwhile, having started from pole position, Haraldsson didn't have the race pace to keep up with Erik Bour or Alonso ahead of him, and was sucked back into an all out pitched battle for 3rd. Svensson had been on his rear bumper for several laps going into lap 19, and on the final turn before the start/finish straight, he was finally able to pull off a sensational pass that had the crowd rising to its feet, and then held on to lift himself up onto the podium, leaving Haraldsson to rue a missed opportunity and come home with 4th place in the race.
The other big story of the day was EB Karting's Erkin Bour. The prolific driver has dominated the entire season, and cemented that position by clinching the 2016 Open GP Championship, and at the same time setting a series record with his 9th consecutive victory. He drove a controlled and smart race, showing his racing craft to take home what was in the end a comfortable victory after starting from the relatively disappointing position of 3rd on the grid, the first time he found himself on the second row all season.
The race result sees Haraldsson GP leapfrog both Grabko Grand Prix and Hesus Autosport in the race for 5th place, his extra point for pole position seeing him 3 points clear of the two on 354 points. Grabko and Svanberg are left tied for 6th on 351 points going into the final round of the Championship. The 3-way battle is the tightest left in the standings, and will likely be the main focus of attention going into the final round of the Championship.
In the end an incredibly satisfying result for both team and driver here at Grabko Grand Prix, and we can't wait to bring the fight in the final round in one month's time!
Speaking to the media after the race, Dan had this to say about the evening, "It was an amazing day, really. I want to thank the team, our sponsors Jobtip, Event Logic, Guestlogic, Vita Stenar, KarriärFöretagen, Ocean Group, and all the rest for the incredible support throughout the season. We wouldn't be here without them. Secondly to Gorkartcentralen, who really put on a first class racing series. To Martin, and all the staff who put in the effort so we can race here like this, it is just a great experience here. Also, congratulations to Erkin and EB Karting, they've been brilliant all year and deserve their championship, the guy is a great driver."
When asked about having to race in the qualifying heat to get into the feature race, he had this to say, "Yes, we had to take the long way home today, but that's just a credit to the other guys out here. Competition in qualifying was intense. When you've got four other teams putting up 34 second times like we had today, you know it is going to be tough. Hats off to those guys, they just out drove us in qualifying today. In the end we got our just rewards though. With 6th place, and a string of personal best times, it all was worth it."
That's it from Grabko Grand Prix for this round, don't miss the exciting conclusion to the season on June 6th as the teams face off for the final round of the Open GP Championship, hosted by Gokartcentralen. Support #GrassRootsRacing, support Grabko Grand Prix!