ARL GT Championship | Round 5 at Road Atlanta
Defending champion, Tom McMahon, arrived at Road Atlanta with a commanding lead in the Apex Racing League GT Championship. After a shaky start to the season, McMahon soon found his groove and embarks on the fifth round of the championship in fine form.
For this round, the customary sprint race format has been replaced with an eighty-minute endurance race. Coupled with a reversed grid based on championship standings, this new set of ingredients presented an alternative ARL GT recipe for drivers and fans to enjoy.
Following a busy ninety-minute practice session, thirty-seven drivers lined up behind the pace car to begin eighty gruelling minutes of racing around Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
Steve Brown and Rob Winter started on the front row of the grid after a reverse grid jumble. Championship protagonists – McMahon, Crouch and Ipenburg – started deep in the pack.
On the green flag, Steve Brown rocketed away from the pack in his Porsche 911 RSR-17. A few cars behind, Nick Brown impatiently tried to move forward in his BMW M8 and slipped off into the barrier. Rob Winter failed to capitalise on his front row grid spot and found the barrier at turn one, on the second lap.
By lap four, Steve Brown’s early lead evaporated and the Porsche driver faded out of the top ten. Meanwhile, championship contenders – McMahon, Ipenburg and Crouch – patiently picked their way through the pack to the fringes of the top ten.
A lap later, disaster struck for Denis Ipenburg. At the end of the back straight, Ipenburg slammed on the anchors from 170 miles per hour, desperately trying to slow his BMW. However, a slight lock of the brakes at the end of the braking zone, sent him spearing into the wall. A rare mistake from the Dutchman.
Evo SR’s Matty Chambers led a Porsche 1-2 for the opening portion of the race with Emil Winbo. However, Jonas Bodin spoiled the Weissach party and pinched the lead in the Munich built BMW M8.
After only twenty-five minutes, Tom McMahon fought through to third place in his Ford GT. However, the championship leader had been shadowed all the way by his nearest challenger in the standings, James Crouch. Much to McMahon’s delight, Emil Winbo hindered Crouch’s progress, refusing to give up fourth place without a fight. Winbo and Crouch’s squabble gave McMahon crucial time to stretch the gap ahead. However, the gap would be inconsequential, following the deployment of the safety car on the lap twenty-one.
With fifty-one minutes remaining, swarms of exotic GT machines bundled into pit lane. Road Atlanta’s short pit straight now resembling the Champs-Élysées. Vital track position could be gained with a slightly shorter fill of fuel but would require fuel saving. Who would have the quickest wits?
Bizarrely, the wounded Matty Chambers decided not to pit during the safety car period. Undoubtedly, a strategical gamble for the EvoSR star.
Following the safety car, McMahon and Crouch had to fight through the pack all over again. For several laps, the PRO class contenders stalled behind the AM class BMW of Dean Powell. A phase of the race which would be pivotal.
With thirty minutes to go, Matty Chambers and Daniel Lee led at the front. However, Chambers required a pit stop to reach the end. Lee had pitted early in the race following an incident and required an hour’s worth of fuel to reach the end. No easy feat for a thirsty BMW V8.
Nevertheless, despite a relentless Tom McMahon reeling him in, Daniel Lee held firm. Lee eventually limped his BMW over the line on fumes, with McMahon a whisker behind. An extraordinary recovery from the MSignsUK.com driver to claim his first Apex Racing League GT race win.
Kevin Kittelman took the AM class win, in twelfth place overall.
In the immediate aftermath of an eventful encounter, several drivers joined the Apex Racing TV commentary team to share their thoughts.
An ecstatic Daniel Lee couldn’t contain his elation from his first ever win in ARL GT: “YES BOYS! How can we come back from getting punted twice in the first half an hour of the race and do that?! I knew that if I could run on a leaner engine map, I could make it last the distance” beamed the Englishman.
Tom McMahon remained philosophical after a hard fought second place finish: “I gave it a good go. It was just the timing of the safety car, just one of those things.”
On Sunday, the Apex Racing League GT championship heads to Imola for the sixth round of the season. Tune in to all the action on Apex Racing TV and the iRacing Esports Network at 19.00 GMT on the fourth of October.