In a turn of misfortune, the team was allocated kart 6 by circuit officials in the driver meeting before the race. It was the only machine that team race engineers had identified as being overtly undesirable, and as luck would have it, that was the very kart the team ended up with. One could almost feel that it wasn't going to be Grabko Grand Prix's day before qualifying even started, and this was borne out as the race day unfolded.
The internal qualifying order was established in the team's pre-race briefing, with Grabko leading off the session, followed by Svensson and then Bour on the final charge for a quick time.
In what amounted to a tire temperature preparation stint, Dan ended his qualifying stint leaving the team in 4th place with a blushable 26.34s best time, behind Horridini, Hesus, and The Team, and handed over the kart for Daniel Svensson to see what he could do. Grabko had reported horrible understeer from the get-go, poor performance from the engine on corner exits, and overall unwillingness to turn in, especially on the all important left hand turns of the clockwise circuit.
It was already starting to not bode well for the the team, and as Daniel came in from his qualifying stint, he reported in the exact same issues Dan had, and his best time of 25.55s wasn't enough to move the team up the qualifying standings, leaving them still in 4th with 4 minutes of qualifying left as Erkin took to the track to test his meddle.
Unfortunately he was hampered by poor track position, getting stuck for several laps behind first one slower kart and then another after he managed to get by the first. It was a real hinderance to the team's chances of competing for pole. When Bour finally was able to get in a few clean laps in a row, the karts poor driving characteristics were really shown, as the champion driver was only able to improve on Daniel Svensson's time by 0.1s on his final flying lap, with only 3s to spare of qualifying left, setting a best lap of 25.45s only just edging out Hesus Autosport for 3rd position on the starting grid.
So the grid lined up with Team Horridinis in pole position with a solid 25.13s lap time, following by The Team GP, then Grabko Grand Prix, Bonnarräser AB, Hesus Autosport, Låven, Team 30, and bringing up the rear in 8th position, NFJF Racing.
Driver order was unchanged for the race, so Dan Grabko took the formation lap, and lined up on the grid for the start. Right from the get go it was evident that kart 6 was not going to be competitive, and on lap 2 things got even worse. Trying to compensate for the kart's inferior general grip and pace, Dan had a half spin incident at the turn 10 hairpin, losing the back end trying to brake late into the 180° turn. Luckily he ended up being in a position where he wasn't stuck and forced to reverse to get going again. However, the blunder cost the team seven seconds right off the bat, time they couldn't afford to lose given the circumstances, and Dan would have to fight his way back through the pack as well, losing even more time.
The rest of his stint was spent doing just that as Dan made up three places during the rest of his first drive, lapping in the low 26s range, topping out with a best time of 25.83s on lap 21. The Team, driving kart 3, which was showing itself to be an excellent performer, had no such troubles, and even as Grabko made up lost places, he found himself forced to give up the lead lap as the sheer pace of the lead kart brought out a blue flag even before the first 10 minutes of the race had passed.
As he handed off to Svensson during the first driver change, Grabko Grand Prix found itself in the unfamiliar position of being a lap down early and 5th overall. Daniel did his best to move up the field, but found himself also having been lapped by Horridinis during the driver change, coming out just behind the 2nd placed team. Svensson's pace was better, but it took several laps before he was able to make a move coming out of the Pizza Slice chicane at turns 4 and 5, which allowed Hesus Autosport and Bonnarräser to maintain and even stretch out their gaps ahead.
Daniel fought desperately to close in on them, at the same time having to deal with other lapped traffic as well, in a vicious circle of unlucky track position and traffic that hampered his progress. It would turn out to be the story of the race for the team, as the good fortune they enjoyed in the first round seemed to have completely abandoned them this time around. Even so, when he got in a few clean laps, he was able to squeeze the most out of poorly setup kart, setting a 25.25s lap near the end of his stint before handing over to Erkin. It would be a time that held up as the team's best for the race, a testament to the lack of overall pace of the number 6 machine.
Bour did his best to fight an uphill battle, and progress was made during his stint, but the gap up to 4th position refused to budge much despite his best efforts. He drove well, and recorded a best lap of 25.32 during his stint, but like Svensson before, was plagued by unfortunate track position, having to deal with more slower traffic than the teams ahead, and thus having to fight to make up for both the kart's deficiencies and time lost to getting through the back markers.
The middle stints for the drivers continued in the same vein, with the team slowly closing the gap to the 2-4th placed group fighting for the podium, while The Team continued to stretch their lead and were clear favorites to win the 2nd round of the series by the time the halfway point had been reached. Despite another setback when Svensson came together with Horridinis while un-lapping himself at the Pizza Slice section and losing another 5 seconds in the process, there was still an outside chance of a podium for Grabko Grand Prix, but they would most likely need a mistake from the teams fighting ahead for them to have a realistic chance at saving what was quickly becoming a forgettable race for the team.
In Grabko's final stint, however, they finally got a bit of a smile from lady luck. Bonnarräser, Hesus Autosport, and Horridinis were all in a tight pack, fighting for race position 18s ahead on track when another turn 10 incident happened, this time to Grabko Grand Prix's advantage. Bonnarräser dove in and out-broke themselves trying a passing move on Hesus Autosport, and stuck their nose up against the apex barrier, requiring assistance from the track stewards to extract him and rejoin the race. Dan flew by in the process under the yellow flags and assumed 4th position with free track between him and Jonas Svanberg.
The slightest opening had been presented to them and Dan did his utmost to take advantage, setting his personal best times of the race during the final laps of his stint, managing to maintain the 15 second gap up to Horridinis and Hesus Autosport when he handed off to Svensson for his final stint with 20 minutes of the endurance race remaining.
Daniel fought hard, and in spite of being forced to deal with more backmarker traffic than those ahead managed to close the gap down to 12 seconds by the time he raced into the pit lane for Erkin Bour to take over for the final 10 minutes of the 90 minute event.
Hesus Autosport managed an excellent driver change, timing it to perfection and managed to get out just ahead of Horridinis, with Adriano Voric less than a second in front of Mattias Horridin as he exited the pit lane. It was a case of Horridin being quicker but Adriano defending well, and the scrap for 2nd and 3rd place gave Bour a tantalizing hint of a chance to catch the duo in front.
He began reeling them in by 0.5 to 0.8 seconds a lap, but time began running out on Erkin as he pushed hard in his chase. With 4 minutes to go, Horridin forced himself passed Voric for 2nd, and quickly started pulling away, but this also played to Hesus Autosport's advantage in that Adriano could drive at his own pace, and his lap times immediately improved as well. Erkin was not one to give up, however, and he continued to close in on Voric. With only 2 minutes to go, he had closed the gap all the way down to 3.7s, but with only 4-5 laps to go before time ran out, and his needing to not only catch the Hesus Autosport driver ahead but also find a way past him, it appeared that the valiant effort was to go unrewarded in any case.
The nail in the coffin came one lap later, as runaway leaders The Team GP came up behind Bour to add insult to injury by lapping him, and Erkin was forced to give way to blue flags, ending any further challenge for the podium. A couple of laps later, he followed the winning kart to the checkered flag, 4 laps down and a disappointing 4th place finish for Grabko Grand Prix was a reality.
In the post race press conference, the drivers were understandably not impressed. Grabko said, "For all the little things that went right for us in the first round, it was the exact opposite here. We had to fight the kart the whole way. There were alignment issues, power issues, overall grip was low, and in general the machine was not set up well and very difficult to drive. Over and above all of that, there were uncharacteristic driver mistakes, we were very unfortunate with track position, getting stuck behind slower traffic more than those ahead, and being at the wrong part of the track when the driver change intervals occurred...I mean I could go on and on about all the things that didn't go our way today, and in the end we were still in with a shout for a podium spot. Take away those mistakes, and you've got us most likely in better track position throughout the race, etc...it is like a domino effect, a nast spiral effect of circumstances that builds upon itself. I just want a redo, and am glad that the next round is so close so we can have another crack at it in 2 weeks again. There isn't much positive we can take away from this, so it is about getting our heads down and making sure it doesn't happen again."
So there you have it folks! Round 2 of the Gokartcenter Winter Le Mans Series is complete!
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