The most prestigious sim racing series from the Czech Republic’s 5th round of the season returns to British soil for the penultimate round in the GT3 machinery. Donington Park, near Castle Donington in Derbyshire, has seen many racing categories race on the fast and flowing track since its opening in 1931, from dirt bike racing to Touring Cars, and a brief visit from Formula 1, Donington Park is a very popular track, which VGP is a regular visitor of. Last year, it was Entropiqs Lukáš Podstata who stood on the top step of the podium, one of his four wins in 2021, chased home by ERTs Lukáš Přáda and Martin Sirotek, racing for ESET.
Qualifying was very close, with less than half a second separating the top ten. Sirotek claimed pole ahead of the Přáda brothers, Lukáš ahead of David, with new championship leader Martin Štefanko starting in 4th, and Podstata starting in 6th. As the lights went green, there was a lot of movement in the front three rows in particular, Štefanko managed to get past both ERT Racing cars to claim 2nd, but disaster struck before the rest of the field arrived at Redgate. MECA/ALL4SIMs Michal Limon, Lenovo Legions Martin Nejedlík, and Big Shocks Tomáš Hora all tangled, causing Hora to slam into the side of Limon, the trio collecting the fast-starting Podstata, which sent the champion backwards into the dust, with Hora and Nejedlík also grinding to a halt. Also caught up in the melee was Štefankos teammate Tomáš Koreny, after which the safety car was deployed.
Once the dust had settled, Miroslav Svoboda had retired his Carvago car from an unseen issue, and several cars were somewhat redesigned. After the safety car had completed the mandatory complete lap, the field was released, Sirotek came under immediate fire from Štefanko into Redgate, the ESET car claiming the lead for himself, Lukáš Přáda following suit through the Craner curves, demoting Sirotek to third. David Přáda had to defend hard against Koreny and Limon, which prevented him from following his brother in attacking the Entropiq pole starter. Korenys day was made no better by a huge sideways moment coming into the old hairpin, seeing him off into the dust and falling to 14th place. Just as his tyres had found tarmac, Horas tyres decided to forget what traction was, the tail letting go on the Big Shock car to Macleans, sending Hora to the barrier and booking an appointment with him his pit crew.
As the race continued, Limon’s wounds were becoming very apparent, as he was dropping to 12th as he struggled to keep his car going to his scheduled pit stop. The returning Aleš Danda, who drove in place of Štěpán Kysel at the PUMA team, is now signed at Benzina ORLEN to try to recover from a very difficult start to the 2022 season, replacing Pavel Šeps in that seat, was up into sixth place, chasing Erik Vizi of Lenovo Legion. Nejedlík joined Hora in the pits early on to repair from the first lap incidents, David Urbančík for PUMA was also beginning to fall a few places following a good start, and also a very spirited recovery drive from Podstata and Koreny. The racing order is taking shape by the end of lap six, save for the aforementioned recovering drivers.
Lap eight, Danda was defending against MECA/ALL4SIMs Martin Krejča for sixth place, Navitels Michal Šembera led a five-car conga line with Carvagos Petr Hermoch, Limon, Podstata and Koreny. Podstata was furiously flashing his lights at Limon as they raced along Starkey’s Straight, through the Esses and towards Melbourne Hairpin, but a misjudgement from Podstata saw impact between him and Limon again, this time the MECA/ALL4SIM car was sent into the side of Hermoch. Limon rejoined in 15th place, but Hermoch came off much worse and hobbled his car back to the pits. Podstata continued his charge by claiming ninth a lap later from Navitels Michal Šembera. Koreny was not so quick to dispatch Šembera, almost having another slide at the old hairpin in the process, and allowing Podstata to chase after Big Shocks Pavel Mareček in eighth place. It took the ESET driver until the end of lap 10 and a lunge at the Melbourne hairpin to dispatch Šembera.
End of lap 10, Podstata came into the pits, which seemed rather early as there were still over 37 minutes on the clock. Meanwhile, Limon had found some pace again in his dented car, as he was fighting with Urbančík, and VGP veteran Oldřich Štěpanovský in the other Benzina ORLEN car, for 12th position. This battle went on for several laps and even caught up with Navitels Jan Bruna by lap 13. By lap 17, Limon had managed to get into 10th place ahead of both Navitel cars, and Danda finally had some respite from the pursuance of Krejča, courtesy of Mareček now pressuring the MECA/ALL4SIM driver for seventh, with Koreny lurking behind to join in the battle. A big move from Mareček into the Melbourne hairpin saw a spin for Krejča, as he turned into the apex seemingly unaware that the Big Shock car had committed to the move, dropping Krejča to ninth.
Lap 19, and again a car is found in the barrier, this time the Navitel pair had come together at Schwantz Curve. Limon was recovering from a mistake, allowing teammate Krejča through to 8th, and as Šembera took a more cautious run through Schwantz, Bruna was unsighted and tapped the back of his teammate, sending Šembera into a very sudden argument with the wall, the result of which was a lack of bonnet and a lot of smoke from Šemberas car. This exchange allowed the next trio of Koreny, Urbančík and Štěpanovský to catch up, making six cars in short succession, all fighting for sixth place.
Lap 21, Štěpanovský pits, and the rest of the quintet he was on continue to fight, with almost constant side by side moments for position. Limon had used this time to get away from this pack, Krejča now leading this quartet for 9th place. And then there were three, as Urbančík pitted a lap later, but Koreny was somewhat bullish with a moment into the old hairpin which sent Krejča into the dust. Moments later, Koreny is disqualified from the race, for the impact with Krejča and other indiscretions that the stewards were not happy about. Very uncharacteristically for a VGP race, with 20 minutes still to race, seven cars were no longer running, a stark contrast to the one or two retirements seen in the rest of this season’s races.
15 minutes remaining, the pitlane suddenly fills with almost all of the remaining 13 cars, except for leader Štefanko who went for another lap before coming in. By the time the ESET car had returned to the track and still in the lead, it was Lukáš Přáda in second, brother David in third, Sirotek now fifth following a longer pit stop. Vizi hadn’t had much company for most of the race and now was in fourth place with Sirotek on his tail. In the closing 10 minutes, Štěpanovský was up to seventh place as a late drive-through penalty for Mareček dropped Pavel to eighth. Vizi was fighting hard to keep Sirotek behind him, and now Štěpanovský was fighting with Mareček, only a few seconds ahead of Limon and Urbančík, setting up for a thrilling closure to an action (and incident) filled race.
It took several laps, and side-by-side racing from Redgate through to the old hairpin, for Sirotek to at last get ahead of Vizi, but sadly the Lenovo Legion car made a small mistake in the tyre tracks of Sirotek at Macleans, and a small tap sent the Entropiq car into a spin and the infield, gifting fifth to Danda. Štěpanovský was having the fight of his life in seventh place against Mareček, now with Limon in tow, and by lap 35, with less than three minutes of the race left, Limon passed Mareček for eighth place, giving Štěpanovský a small breather.
Štefanko cruised home to the win, making three in a row, the Přáda brothers completed the podium, but a final sting in the tail awaited for Štěpanovský. Having fought long and hard to hand on to seventh, both Limon and Mareček had gotten past the veteran on the final lap, only for the Benzina ORLEN car to grind to a halt before seeing the chequered flag, fuel tank completely dry.
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