SimSport Racing International’s Touring Car Racing Championship continued its march across the globe with its third instalment at Oran Park, a former race track that was located near Sydney, Australia. Whilst the site is now a housing estate, the track lives on in virtual form in iRacing, as its 2.6 km of twists and turns provided some very intense action for the competitors in the SSRI iRacing TCR Championship.
Stephen Haley currently leads the championship with a comfortable 13-point lead over Olda Stepanovsky, who is in turn 23 points ahead of Martin Bridson. The battle for third to eighth place is very hotly contested between Steve Proudley, Adrian Softic, James Meade, Simon Wilks and Daniel Williams, with the quintet all separated by just six points.
Having set the fastest time in the preceding practice session, Haley had the expectation to continue his leading charge into qualifying for the first race. He was the first to get a time on the board with a 1:11.942, which was a full second off his best pace in practice, and was followed by most of the field setting their banker laps. Dan Williams briefly claimed the top spot with a 1:11.907, but the Brolcolli-emblazoned Hyundai was swiftly dethroned by Haley, who was almost six tenths faster with an impressive 1:10.976. Meade was a little late joining the track, opting to stay in the pits for the first 4 minutes of the session, but the pecking order had started to take shape, with Haley continuing to dominate the fight for pole.
The Audi army was well represented in the first quarter of qualifying, as Softic, Mattus Niga and Tim Fulbrook were the trio hanging onto second to fourth place, until David Wressell went second fastest, posting a 1:11.510 in his Jason Plato 1990’s Renault yellow and blue tribute band liveried effort. Times tumbled as the halfway point in qualifying was both hit and passed, apart from Haley. The tight and twisty nature of the circuit, along with the huge rises and falls that the tarmac offers, was proving to be a challenge for drivers to find improvements. This was especially with the case of a lap being so short with no margin for error, but Haley was still able to improve his pole time to a 1:10.874 by the 15 minute mark in the session, three tenths clear of Niga.
Proudley in the sole Honda was struggling a little more at this circuit, with a mid-1m12 being his best of the session. He was looking to improve on the time but instead of finding time, ended up finding the wall on the final corner that put an end to his efforts. Series newcomer Ryan Leech was doing very well on his maiden voyage with a 1:11.608, putting him into eighth with three minutes left on the clock. Fellow newcomer Moritz Wagener was not enjoying his maiden voyage as much with his time being two seconds off the pace, landing him in 12th. Despite there being a constant flurry of laps being completed and no one spending very long in the pits, most of the laps were set without incident, though the gravel on the outside of turn two was regularly visited by drivers pushing a little too hard. The session concluded with Haley remaining unchallenged in pole, followed by Niga, Wilks & Fulbrook behind.
With Haley where he wanted to be to continue his grip on the championship lead, Niga was not so ready to let the leader dance off into the sunset as the lights went out to start race one. Niga had a dream start and drew alongside Haley before turn one, with Wilks flying backwards and Proudley not moving off the line at all initially. Niga couldn’t keep the mighty Hyundai of Haley behind, and the championship leader regained the lead by turn one, as the three W’s of Wressell, Williams and Wilks went three-abreast. Jakub Jurasik was the first victim of what would prove to be a magnetic gravel trap on the outside of turn two, dropping him two seconds behind the rest of the field.
Softic & Fullbrook were side by side on the exit of turn two, with the latter winning the position by turn three. Leech had also had an incredible start, and by the halfway point in the lap (as the field cross the bridge) was up to fifth place from eighth, whilst Wilks had fallen to ninth in the first lap melee. By the end of lap one, Bridson had pulled out of the field and slowed dramatically, seemingly serving a slow-down penalty. Proudley was first into the pits again, which seems to be a habit for the Honda. No sooner had Proudley got his car to his pit box, turn two had claimed even more cars, with Fullbrook and Softic off into the dust on this occasion. They dropped to 11th and ninth respectively as they both had experienced a half spin going into turn two independently of each other.
Fulbrook was facing the right way when his car came to rest, but Softic was not so fortunate, as he went backwards towards the wall. With lap two completed, Haley led Niga by 3.4 seconds, with Leech’s maiden flight getting even better as he was now up to third. He was closely followed by the trio of Wressel, Williams and Wilks, who now were also joined by Meade. Wagener was up to eighth with Fullbrook and Bridson just behind, Softic a distant 11th, Jurasik still struggling in 12th and Proudley yet to leave the pitlane. The magnetic gravel trap claimed another victim on lap three, as Wagener ploughed through in the dust and fell to tenth in the process. Along with this, Softic again felt the need to build sandcastles in the very same place. Proudley didn’t want to be left out of the party entirely and rejoined one lap behind the field, which is always worth doing in this series. It is always impossible to predict if there are going to be any issues, and considering how tempting the turn two gravel trap has been for the drivers, Proudley could still have recovered well at the finish.
Lap three and Wressel’s Renault-flavoured Hyundai almost got out of shape coming through turn one, with the tail getting very excited on the run to turn two. Whilst he recovered his car in time to make the corner, Williams right behind got completely pole-axed by Meade who had got turn one completely wrong, pitching his car onto the inside grass which turned his vehicle into an unguided missile, of which the former was on the receiving end. This impact caused Williams to return to the pits, but that wasn’t the end of troubles for the Brolcolli bunch, as Bridson also went off on his own accord at the same corner, All of this transpired within the first five minutes of the race. Meade rejoined in 11th in a now heavily reshaped Audi with an inevitable pitlane visit to come.
A lap later, Wilks followed Bridsons example and wandered off the road at turn 2, but Wilks found the outside barrier on his travels and whilst the impact managed to bounce him back towards the track, the damage would definitely take its toll on the performance of his car. Wagener’s early progress was beginning to come undone a little as Softic made easy work of the newcomer into turn 3, Bridson had to work a little harder to get past Wagener, and a couple of laps later, pressure from Bridson forced a mistake on Wagener, gifting the Hyundai eighth position. With eight minutes of the race now gone by, the battle for third between Leech & Wressell was very fierce, as Niga was 1.6 seconds ahead of them in the lead Audi. Fullbrook was looking to join the fight, having closed the gap to the fighting Hyundais to just one second. Haley was leading by 4.5 seconds ahead of Niga, as Wressell had a good run from the bridge down through Fosters towards Momo Corner to challenge Leech for third, but to no avail.
With Fulbrook now fully involved in the battle for the last podium spot, with half the race gone and plenty of action remaining to be seen. Leech found himself at the mercy of two very fast and determined drivers. Softic lost out to Bridson on the run to turn one, grabbing seventh for the Brolcolli bunch, and whilst the rest of the field were settled into their own pace. Third place remained fiercely contested as corner after corner, lap after lap, Leech was assaulted with pressure from Wressell, as Fullbrook enjoyed the best seat in the house right behind them in his Audi. Wressell was constantly positioning his Hyundai in a position to maximise his visibility in Leech’s mirrors to try to put off the newcomer, and as the battle continued into the final quarter of the race. Wilks was closing in to try to make the conga line for third place four cars long, whilst Leech seemed to lose a little bit of pace at the 15:30 mark of the race as Wressell was determined to make his move. However, Leech was able to keep him at bay, with Fullbrook becoming more determined to move up the field as well, which thereby allowed Wilks to destroy the gap behind.
The chance Wressell needed finally presented itself, having a much better run through the final corner, going side by side with Leech through turn one, but the move was not yet complete. Leech did his best to hang on to the outside of turn two, getting a “friendly” nudge from Wressell, but Leech had to yield, allowing Fullbrook the opportunity to capitalise on Leech’s wide run through turn two, claiming fourth. Now Wilks had caught the pack and Leech was thrown very much to Wilks’ mercy as Fulbrook and Wressell continued their fight for third. In only half a lap, Wressell and Fulbrook had opened a seven-tenths lead over Leech, and by the end of the lap, Wilks stormed past the latter for fifth. With two laps remaining, Haley had six seconds to himself over Niga, and Proudley’s race was concluded with a visit to the outside wall of turn two. Wressell had to work very hard to keep Fullbrook at bay, and Wilks had his eyes set on joining the battle on the final lap. Wressell had to defend everywhere, Fullbrook pulled alongside at turn three, but Wressell would not be denied. Haley took top honours by seven seconds in the end over Niga, with Wressell managing to keep third to himself, setting the stage for an ever-exciting reverse grid rac
So with the expectations now set, it was Proudley and Meade on the front row, ready to fend off the pack behind into what is already a very testing track for the drivers. It was a perfect opportunity for those that had the pace to show, but bad luck prevented them from doing so in the first encounter. The lights went out, and it was Jurasik with an incredible start, flying straight through the middle of Williams and a slow-starting Meade before they were anywhere near turn one. Alas, in his excitement, the next corner claimed him as an unwilling victim, and off into the dust went the DHL-liveried Hyundai. Proudley was supposed to start on pole but was sadly unable to take part, whilst after turn two, the field was already seeing dramatic changes, as the race was now led by Softic from Williams from Meade and Bridson. Fullbrook and Leech were side-by-side down from the Bridge through Fosters and up to Momo corner, as the Hyundai initially fended off the Audi’s advances.
Wagener’s race was already compromised with a spin, dropping him eight seconds behind the pack as lap one was concluded. Turn two saw even more action as Bridson went on the inside line on Meade, but Meade was able to fend off through turn three, resulting in the Brocolli car being forced onto the grass heading down to turn four, which promptly invited Leech to make an attempt on the inside for fourth, ending up unsuccessful. Right behind them was the duo of Fulbrook and Wilks, who picked up where they left off from race one, being side-by-side over the bridge, seeing the latter managing to claim sixth by Fosters. By the end of lap two, the only significant gap in the field was 1.3 seconds between Williams and Meade for second, as Wagener was now nine seconds adrift the pack. Haley was up to ninth by the time lap three began, and whilst pressuring Niga for eighth, Haley had a slide through the first corner, which considering how deadly turn one was in the first round that must have been quite unnerving.
Speaking of turn two, it laid claim to another, as this time Softic had fallen foul of the magnetic gravel from the lead of the race, rejoining in sixth ahead of Fulbrook who went for an outside move at turn three to make Softics day even worse, which Fulbrook achieved by the time they came over the bridge. At the end of lap three, it’s the Brocolli bunch together again, with Williams leading the race from Bridson, as Meade had Leech and Wilks for company in third. The rest of the field was still very close, the notable exceptions being Wagener and the rejoining Jurasik, who was now two laps down. Lap four saw a little gap forming behind Fulbrook in sixth as Niga caught Softic by surprise into turn four to take seventh. That being said, Softic didn’t delay in mounting a counter-attack at Momo corner, but in doing so he had a slower run out of the corner and Haley was quick to capitalise and claimed eighth for himself. This as before Wressell followed the championship leader on the inside of the final turn to then take ninth.
Disaster was only two turns away in lap five, as a lock-up from Leech as he ran too wide from turn one and on to the dust saw him into the back of Meade, causing both cars to return to the pits. Meanwhile, Fulbrook and Wilks started arguing for third, side by side all the way down to turn three, and with a brave outside line through the turn, Fullbrook took the place. Haley was now up to sixth by quarter-distance following on from the events of Leech and Meade and then starting putting moves on Niga to gain another spot, with Wressell right behind ready to pick up any pieces that would go his way. Bridson had closed in on his teammate, the Brocolli boys still over two seconds over Fullbrook, and every corner that goes by, Haley was making his car as large as he can in Niga’s mirrors.
At the halfway point, Fullbrook was pushing very hard to close in on the lead pair, closing the gap to 1.8 seconds, Haley made a very bold move on the outside of the final turn, which saw the pair side by side through turn two. But Niga managed to fend off the championship leader, which also allowed Wressell to catch the pair up as he had fallen a little far off the back of them. Niga against Haley, Audi versus Hyundai, corner after corner and lap after lap, the battle for fifth was relentless. Turn two yet again tempted another car into its gravelly clutches, as Bridson was too deep off of turn one, but managed to keep the car partly on the tarmac but the off dropped him to fourth, leaving Williams at the mercy of Fullbrook.
Now the three-way fight for fifth had Bridson in their sights to make the warring trio a quartet. Wressell was now pressuring Haley for sixth, as the Hyundai looked at the inside at turn one, but not following it through. However Haley made a rare mistake and was unsighted through turn one, and the barrier of turn two suddenly had some more company. This dropped Haley to 8th, and before the dust had settled from that incident, Fullbrook had destroyed the gap to Williams in the lead. Williams now faced the prospect of defending against Fullbrook for 6 minutes until the chequered flag fell, all the while allowing Wilks to close in and thus forming another warring trio, this time the podium positions arguing over who is to be where.
The final quarter of the race saw Fullbrook goes for a lunge on the inside of the final corner, but at the same time Fulbrook committed, Williams committed to the racing line, resulting in an impact between the two. Whilst Fulbrook emerged in the lead, he allowed Williams back up into the lead and thus resuming the three-way fight for the lead. Sadly it was not to last upon turn four, where the pair came together again (although the replay shows that this could have been a netcode problem is there still seemed to be space between the two), this time seeing Williams off into the dust. Wilks moved up into the lead, with Bridson now back in the battle coming past his teammate into third, with Fullbrook again slowing to allow Williams to go ahead, although they got back on the pace when Bridson came past, so it could be that he mistook Bridson for Williams.
Either way, Wilks now led by 2.4 seconds, with five cars now in the fight for second, consisting of Bridson, Fullbrook, Williams, Niga and Wressell. This pack were all pushing hard in the closing stages of this race, where Niga went wide through the dogleg chicane and did some lawn mowing as a result, with Williams bouncing off the pit wall on the exit of the final turn trying to catch Fullbrook. Bridson and Fullbrook were side-by-side all the way down the start-finish straight, Bridson remaining ahead for now but Fullbrook remained relentless. Fullbrook nearly made contact with Bridson on the final corner, as he maintained his pressure for second place. Fullbrooks persistence paid off by the time they came over the bridge for the final time, and the inside line going down to Fosters granted second to Fullbrook. The victory belonged to Wilks this time, ahead of Fullbrook and Bridson, who completed the rostrum.
The series returns to British soil for round four, utilising the 2008 layout of the Silverstone GP circuit.
Images – SimSport Racing International