Even in Sweden the sun shines sometimes, and as Spring begins to slowly reach even as far north as the Scandinavian peninsula, it means it is time for the outdoor racing season to begin in earnest.
Despite a cloudless sky and the sun beaming down, however, there was still a chill in the air as Winter was leaving it late, not quite willing to release its icy grip just yet as Grabko Grand Prix arrived for the first of the six rounds of Gokartcenter's 2017 Summer Cup Series.
If it wasn't warm, as least it was dry, and the long, sweeping circuit that is home to the championship was in prime condition, all things considered, and all was set for an exciting first round. Free practice would be followed by two qualifying sessions that would whittle the almost 40 strong field down to 12 for the feature final, a 10 lap race to decide the winner.
It is was a strong entry list as well, featuring many of the top local talent, including that always dangerous André Palm, Filip "Rippe" Persson, Mahras Neghabian, and Gokartcentralen test driver Johan Templin in addition to Grabko Grand Prix's entrants, though there were several notables missing - Team Horrdins drivers Mattias Horrdin and Anders Karlsson as well as Hesus Autosport men Adriano Voric and Jonas Svanberg all conspicuous in their absence. Also sorely missed was Viktor Osberg, due to other commitments with his Axxon Racing team.
This is a drivers' championship, so the team would be supporting its three drivers independently, and on equal terms. Management had mandated no team orders, just straight up racing for its three racers. They would be giving their all to emerge victorious, or at least finish as high as they possibly could.
They didn't disappoint. After Q1 it was the Grabko Grand Prix men setting the pace, with Dan Grabko holding down 6th overall on 58.52s, while Erkin Bour's 57.99s lap had been beaten out by just 14 hundredths of a second by Daniel Svensson who was sitting on provisional pole with a 57.85 best time. Palm and Persson had scored 3rd and 5th place after that first round while Daniel Hoffman showed his pace early on by getting in with a provisional 4th best time after the first qualifying session.
As the sun began to get lower in the sky, however, more and more of the track was being cast in shadow, and air temperatures were falling fast. By the time Q1 had been completed it was under 10 degrees celsius and the drivers could see their breath in the pit area.
It meant that the track conditions were deteriorating quickly, and it was going to be hard to improve on qualifying times during Q2. Despite this, there were a few key drivers who made enough of an impact during the second session to shake up the starting grid a bit.
André Palm was determined to get himself on the front row, whatever it took, and he managed, if only just, scoring highly ranked kart 11 for his second run and wrestling the excellently set up machine to a 57.97s lap midway through the session to prevent a Grabko Grand Prix lockout of the front row by just two hundredths of a second, beating out Bour’s Q1 time, which he couldn’t manage to better in the less than optimally set up kart 6, which was having turn-in problems into the track's left handed turns, suggesting a possible front alignment issue.
The other big mover in Q2 was Robin Bandgren, who shot himself into the feature race with a 58.33s lap that saw him all the way up to 5th on the grid. It was extremely tight going in the mid-pack here, with Grabko Grand Prix man Dan Grabko on the short end of that 3 way qualifying battle, improving two tenths to post a 58.35s time that ended up only being good enough for 7th after Daniel Hoffman set a 58.34s time on the very same lap, and he himself losing out by the same minuscule margin to Bandgren.
Jack Milder, Mahras Neghabian, Oliver Silva, Kristoffer Dahl, and the venerable and experienced Mart Vaher rounded out the top 12 qualifiers who would automatically qualify for the feature final.
Earning a spot to join them was Joakim Johansson, who was fortunate enough to be gifted the victory in the B-final. Mikael Dahlin out-broke himself from the lead at the final turn 8 hairpin on the penultimate lap of that race, and spun, allowing Johansson through to victory, and a spot in the Feature Final.
So the stage was set for the feature race, to see who could challenge for the series’ first victory of the new season.
When the lights went out it was a mad dash around the long and protracted sweep of the double right-hander turns 1 and 2 all the way down in the turn 3 hairpin, where all 13 karts arrived in a clump. Somehow, everyone survived the bumper cars through the apex relatively unscathed, but it was the top 4 who were able to take advantage most and execute the turn most cleanly to get a jump on the rest of the field and pull away in an initial lead group.
Dan Grabko found himself tucked up on an exaggerated inside line going into the turn, which allowed him to momentarily pick up 2 positions, but all the karts on the outside of him prevented an optimal exit line and they were able to carry more speed out of the corner, and he was right back in the middle of the mid-pack battle, finding himself losing time to the top 4 ahead while at the same time having to compete for position and losing even more time, not being able to get any clean sectors in, let alone complete laps.
Meanwhile, further ahead, Daniel Svensson had maintained his lead from the start, while Palm had managed to keep himself wedged between the other of the front running Grabko Grand Prix duo, Erkin Bour, in 3rd. Filip Persson wasn't giving way either, hard on Bour's heels through lap one, and not losing much ground.
André was in a plucky mood and made the strategic decision to make an early move on Svensson, feeling that his kart 9 package was not up to it on pure pace. The risky maneuver backfired on him though, and allowed Bour to take him exiting turn 3 on lap 2 and the two Grabko Grand Prix drivers then were able to gap him quite quickly.
This also allowed Rippe an in to tangle with Palm, and they proceeded to duke it out for the final podium position for the remainder of the race. Their concentration on beating each other allowed Bour and Svensson to pull away even more, the two Grabko Grand Prix drivers working together nicely to ensure a 1-2 finish for the team before settling matters amongst themselves and going for the victory.
Back in the midfield, it was an all too familiar story for Dan Grabko, thick in the pitched battle for 5th spot. The vastly experienced Vaher had moved himself up all the way from 12th, having scored the best sleeper kart of the bunch, a very lively and racy kart 17, and Grabko found himself blind sided in the fast turn 4 left hander as he was lining up a move of his own to take 5th from Daniel Hofmman. Mart dove inside of Dan and flew past him to take 6th position from under his nose!
But Grabko had learned to be patient and instead of trying to take back the position immediately, he held back and followed Vaher, assessing his pace and using him to help both of them catch up Hofmman ahead.
He ended up taking himself out of the race for them both, however, making the classic mistake of leaving his braking too late at the final left handed turn 8 hairpin and spinning his kart directly in front of the hard charging Grabko.
Vaher got the better of the exchange, having already lined up to pass down the inside of the corner, and was able to zip past the hapless Hofmman on the inside, even hitting his apex on the way through, but Dan wasn't so lucky, Daniel's spin carrying him right into Grabko's path and forcing him to brake mid turn and make an evasive manoeuvre wide around the outside, losing about 2.5s to Mart in the process.
With only a few laps to go at this point, it was just too tall an order, even with Grabko putting in his fastest laps of the race at this stage. He managed to reel Vaher back into within 1.5s, but it wasn't meant to be, and he would settle for 6th in the end.
Up ahead, it was a hard fight for the top podium spot, with Svensson and Bour battling for supremacy and putting on an exciting display of good, clean racing. It was a back and forth, epic seesaw sparring session all the way up until the final corner, where Daniel got a good run on Bour out of the final double apex right hand turns 9 & 10 to maximize a tow onto the final run to the finish line. He pulled out to the side but Erkin edged it in the drag race to the checkered flag by just twenty-one hundredths of a second to take the first round victory over his teammate.
In an almost carbon copy of the photo finish ahead, André Palm only just snatched the final podium spot from Filip Persson, Rippe losing out by only the smallest of margins, just sixteen hundredths of a second separating the two as they crossed the line.
Mart Vaher took home an impressive 5th then, from 12th on the grid, and Grabko Grand Prix racer Dan Grabko moved up a spot from his 7th position starting spot to take home 6th. B-Final qualifier Joakim Johansson moved himself up nicely to come in 7th, a further seven tenths back, while Jack Milder was all alone in 8th, three seconds separating him from his closest rivals both in front and behind, the latter being Oliver Silvia of GOTeam Racing, similarly isolated, taking 9th spot.
The last four finished another few seconds adrift, with Kristoffer Dahl heading up the final group in 10th, Daniel Hofmman hot on his heels following his spin on lap 7, in 11th. He would be especially disappointed with that, having had a much better result on the cards before his turn 8 mishap. Robin Bandgren, after an impressive qualifying, had a disappointing race and had to settle for 12th in the end.
Bringing home the rear in 13th was Mahras Neghabian, who had qualified 9th, but just as Erkin Bour in the Q2 session earlier, found his kart 6 race package lacking, and wasn't able to compensate for it in the end.
Speaking at the podium press conference afterwards, Erkin Bour and Daniel Svensson were both positive.
Erkin said, "That was pretty enjoyable. We were expecting more of a challenge from Palm and Persson behind, but when we realized their karts weren't quite up to it today and Lilleman (Daniel Svensson) and I started pulling away together, we knew it was going to be a two horse race. Always a pleasure to race with him, hard and clean!"
Svensson was equally pleased, "We definitely weren't expecting a 1-2 finish here in the first round, so this is a real bonus for the team. To have all 3 of us in the top 6 is a real testament not only to the quality of our guys on and off the track, but also to the time and resources we've put into this, to get where we are. You can't just show up on race day and expect to win. We've never done that as a team, and we're not going to start anytime soon!"
Team Principal, Dan Grabko, was thoroughly impressed, "We knew when we signed these guys that they were quality, and today Erkin and Daniel showed just how good they can be on their day. Really impressive stuff from all our drivers today. Great for our sponsors, Jobtip, Cemedia, KarriärFöretagen, and Keep-IT as well, happy for them and for us today, as we've gotten a dream start to this championship. Also a big thanks to all the race officials and track crew here at Gokartcenter's Gothenburg Karting Ring. It is always a pleasure to be involved out here, and they have done a great job putting on a quality event and racing series. We can't wait for the next round!"
So there you have it! The team couldn't have asked to start the summer season any better than this, and are now well positioned to make a real impact on the series championship this year!
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