Round 9: Monza 2.4-Hour Endurance 4/24/2021
After a short break, Pineapple Racing Club is back with Round 9 of the GT Challenge Season of 2021.
We are once again in Italy visiting Monza for a special 2.4-hour endurance race.
In the runup to the event, unknown driver D. Pozzoli joined the roster. I was unable to spy the driver during any practice sessions, so whilst we know they’re a new driver for AM class, their pace is a mystery. So, it will be interesting to see how the race pans out.
During practice, Lipponen, Heesch, Winegarden, and Brown were all displaying fantastic pace and it looked like the front runners were going to be close in lap times; however, a 2.4-hour race is almost certainly going to throw some additional challenges to all drivers. Outright pace is less important, as consistency and avoiding trouble is more important over the longer duration of the race.
Qualifying starts, and once again, Banana is first to hit the track, setting a flying lap early. Valtonen took an early provisional pole before being tipped off in the final few moments by Lipponen. He was not safe, however, as Dominiak snuck in an extra lap in the final moment and pinched the pole spot.
Jackson has been working hard to climb through the field, and his work appeared to be paying off as he claimed AM pole position, denying Bartocci four consecutive pole positions.
Drivers lined up in formation, and five green lights signaled the start of the race. Drivers showed caution through Turn 1, allowing everyone to make it through without incident. Lap 1 was clean from all drivers, and it was only Lap 2 when Valtonen used his superior top speed to gain the race lead from Dominiak’s Porsche.
Valtonen led the race until lap 7, where he rode too much curb through Ascari, upsetting the balance of his car and pitching him into the barrier. Valtonen was forced to watch his rival slip behind him as he faced the barriers. Dominiak regained the lead, and Heesch followed closely.
Just a few places back, Jackson was pressuring Winegarden for the race lead of the AM class. Jackson made an extremely bold move around the outside of Ascari. Racing just millimeters between their wheels as Jackson successfully completed the overtake. High on adrenaline, Jackson tried to run away with his prize, but succumbed to the pressure and spun into the wall. This, regrettably, set the tone for the rest of Jackson’s race.
As Valtonen tried to recover, he slipstreamed Brown down the long straights, but pulled out of the tow too late, resulting in contact with the rear of Brown, sending the Bentley driver sideways into the wall. The damage sustained sent Brown to the pits, putting him on an alternative strategy from the majority of the field.
Meanwhile, Banana made an attacking move against Lipponen, resulting in a little contact. Unfortunately, the incident escalated as the cars came together again, ejecting Banana into the wall. Sent to the back of the grid, Banana, too, opted to pit early with an alternative strategy. By cutting his first stint short, Banana would have to be aware of fuel usage, to ensure he could reach the checkered flag without making an extra splash and dash stop.
Silver driver Roulee took an early retirement from the race, having hit the wall. He was able to make it back to the pits, but the driver was unable to continue with the race.
Bentley driver Brown caught the eye of the in-game stewards again, this time as he was slapped with a drive through penalty for gaining an advantage by surpassing track limits. Brown, seemingly, cannot catch a break, as his race goes from one misfortune to the next.
As drivers served their final pitstop, Bartocci was able to perform an overcut overtake on Winegarden, for the race lead. Unfortunately, Bartocci could not keep Winegarden and his charging Mercedes from his class win.
Coming into the final stint, Banana had worked his way back up to 5th position, behind Langaard and Lipponen, but was not able to maintain pace to challenge them for position, rolling to the finish line with just 1.1 litres of fuel remaining in the tank.
After being pressured by Heesch for a full 2.4-hours, Dominiak crossed the line to take the race victory, once again extending his lead in the Silver Class Championship. Lipponen claimed 3rd position, which, although is not enough to overtake rival Banana in the standings, does close the gap created over the past couple of events.
Winegarden was able to secure another class win ahead of Bartocci. Brown and Valtonen, who came home in 8th and 9th places, respectively, and Cruijsen rounded out the AM podium in 10th place.
As always, I rounded up a few drivers for a quick chat. Let’s see how their race went.
Banana: Dominiak, you and your Porsche have been on fine form this season. We were expecting our Porsches to struggle here due to the high-speed nature of the circuit. How were you feeling coming into the event?
Dominiak: I was a bit worried about the car in general. Lack of top speed didn't make the practice easy, but I was hoping for the best. Confidence came when I started qualifying and managed to put our car on pole position. Also, the car was set in a very specific way so with long stints, as the fuel was consumed, it became really understeery. But all in all, I wasn't particularly confident.
Banana: Regardless, you rose to the challenge presented and still pulled off the win. Who were you most worried about, pre-race?
Dominiak: I was worried about Lipponen and Banana because they're my biggest rivals, but Heesch showed some really good pace at Barcelona and was kind of a dark horse here. Valtonen’s pace was also really solid so he had to be taken as a serious threat during the race.
Banana: Today was still the best result possible for you, but you had to work very hard for it. Is there anything you wish you’d done slightly differently?
Dominiak: Definitely a bit more practice with the setup. I wasn't happy about the behaviour of the car late in the stint and it really hurt the general performance. Also, some mistakes at Ascari, Lesmo corners, and braking into T1 were totally avoidable. A good performance but I set my goals higher.
Banana: Congratulations again on running a brilliant race.
Banana: Winegarden, congratulations on climbing back into the AM class win position. How do you feel with your performance today?
Winegarden: Mostly I was just happy to have a clean race. I started to lose focus around mid-race, and took some damage through Ascari, but I’m happy.
Banana: By all accounts, a fairly uneventful race. But these are typically the ones that yield the results. What were the most dramatic moments of your race?
Winegarden: I had to pit for some repairs, which cost me about 45 seconds. Banana and Bartocci overtook me. Bartocci pitted a few laps later than me and with around 30 minutes left in the race, he exited the pits and I was right behind him. I was thinking to myself, “I’ve got to catch this MF’er and win the AM class!” We had a battle going, but he must have made a mistake in Ascari because all of the sudden I was 15 seconds ahead again. After that it was a comfortable cruise to the finish for a decent overall placement. Most of the race was just a mentality of being consistent, not pushing too hard to avoid big mistakes, and it led to a good result.
Banana: I remember I was hunting you down as we came into our last pit window. With your strong pace, it took me a very long time to catch up. Good racing. What do you look forward to as the season enters the final three events?
Winegarden: I’m enjoying the budding rivalry in the AM class with Jackson and Bartocci. The next three races should be entertaining to finish out the season.
Banana: Pozzoli, Welcome to Pineapple Racing Club! Do you have much experience in your racing career?
Pozzoli: I only have some experience with Prototypes and Formula 4. GT racing is a whole new world for me.
Banana: What are your hopes and expectations for the remainder of the season?
Pozzoli: Since GTs are so new to me, I don’t have any expectations. I just hope to learn as much as possible about GT styles and setup and how to use ACC features.
Banana: It’s always a challenge when entering a different sport. What’s your game plan going forward? How will you adapt to GT racing, and ACC?
Pozzoli: Seat time is most important. I had too much positive camber, which made it harder. Next time will be better for sure.
Banana: It’s great to see new faces on the grid, and I’m certain drivers will be more than happy to help you transition into the world of GT racing. We’re all looking forward to seeing you on the grid at Laguna Seca. Thank you.
As drivers celebrated the end of the torturous and tiring event, they once again voted for ‘Driver of the Day’.
The result was unanimous, as Winegarden was awarded ‘Driver of the Day’ for his outright pace, consistency, and pleasant on-track manner, which brought him back into the AM class top spot for the second time this season.
Join us again in 1 weeks’ time, as we head across the Pond to Laguna Seca for Round 10 of the GT Challenge Season.