ARL GT Championship | McMahon marches on at Imola!

Defending Apex Racing League GT (ARL GT) champion, Tom McMahon embarks on the final three rounds of the season in a strong position to retain his title. However, the Ford GT driver’s lead is by no means insurmountable. Fresh from his first ever ARL GT win, Daniel Lee arrives at Imola full of confidence and in striking distance of McMahon. James Crouch fronts a three-dimensional attack with Lee and Dennis Ipenburg to dethrone the king of ARL GT.

2020 marks the seventieth anniversary of the foundation of the Imola circuit. With the ever-imposing Enzo Ferrari in attendance, ground was broken on what would become a notoriously challenging circuit. Thanks to an increased demand for races in mainland Europe, Imola will make its return to the Formula One calendar after a fourteen-year hiatus. For a circuit that still carries the harrowing legacy of motorsports darkest weekend in 1994, a return to the Formula One calendar is a huge boost for the facility and surrounding community.

Although not often associated with sports car racing, Imola’s sporadic flirtations with this form motor sport provide some fascinating anecdotes. In 1970, Brian Redman won the 500 kilometres of Imola, piloting a brutal early iteration of the notorious Porsche 917K. As if this weren’t impressive enough, Redman endured all 500 gruelling kilometres by himself. Redman’s competitors shared driving duties with teammates. Thankfully for the ARL GT contenders, a mere twenty-five-minute sprint followed by a forty-minute feature race lay ahead.

Race 1

In qualifying, Jonas Bodin mastered the curves of Tamburello, Tosa and Rivazza to claim pole position. Tom McMahon joined Bodin on the front row of the grid but a quarter of a second behind Bodin’s blistering pace. Dean Powell continued his AM class title charge by qualifying ninth and crucially ahead of his championship rivals.

Straight from the off, Jonas Bodin was in dazzling form. The Hellracers BMW star converted pole position into a perfectly executed win. McMahon couldn’t match the pace of the Swede and finished 2.7 seconds in arrears. Dennis Ipenburg confidently claimed third position, 4.3 seconds behind Bodin.

In the AM class title fight, Dean Powell fumbled a prime opportunity to gap his championship rival, Adam Coles. Coles completed a trouble-free race, besting Powell for AM class honours.

Race 2

Following the customary ARL GT reverse grid, race one pacesetters – Bodin, McMahon and Ipenburg – faced a contrasting challenge. Leading from the front is certainly impressive but wrestling through a bustling pack is another discipline entirely. In previous meetings, McMahon has strengthened his championship campaign in the raucous reverse grid encounters whilst his rivals faltered.

Emil Winbo enjoyed the clearest view to Tamburello for race two. Joining Winbo on the front row of the grid, was Tom Stevens. Super Swede, Winbo, sped away to a handy lead on the opening lap. Dean Powell followed in his BMW M8 but fell out of podium contention shortly after.

Meanwhile, unmitigated mayhem unravelled behind. Imola’s unforgiving contours take no prisoners when tyre temperatures are perilously low. Many of the ARL GT field discovered this, to their cost. Most notably, was Dennis Ipenburg. At the Alta chicane, Ipenburg tripped over an incident ahead and spun. Ipenburg’s main rivals – McMahon and Crouch – were safely up the road. A pivotal point in the ARL GT championship battle?

James Crouch was the man in a hurry and carved his way through the field like a butcher’s knife through a leg of fine Parma ham. After only eight minutes, Crouch charged to second place in his BMW M8. Next up, Emil Winbo.

Just before half distance, Winbo surrendered his comfortable lead to Crouch. A mistake at the Rivazza double-lefthander sent Winbo’s BMW into the gravel and Crouch swept by. Winbo would quickly re-join in second place but fell immediately into the clutches of fellow Swede, Jonas Bodin.

Winbo would eventually fade to fifth behind Bodin, McMahon and Mads Gravsen. However, it had been a commendable performance from the Apex Racing Academy driver.

Four minutes from the end, a BMW brawl for the win emerged between James Crouch and the transcendent Jonas Bodin. Crouch had enjoyed the lead for most of the race but Bodin had ambitions to swipe victory from Crouch’s grasp. Double victories are rare in ARL GT and Bodin craved this accolade.

Sadly, the promise of a thrilling last lap battle eroded in front of viewers on Apex Racing TV and the iRacing Esports network. With two laps to go, Crouch and Bodin approached Tamburello in top gear. Appearing to miss his braking point, Bodin biffed the rear of Crouch’s BMW and sent the Briton into a spin. Bodin continued in the lead and Tom McMahon swooped in and pinched the lead.

A potentially controversial row was swiftly extinguished by a magnificent display of sportsmanship from Jonas Bodin. Aware of his high-profile blunder, the Swede backed off to allow James Crouch by. The benefactor of this incident? Tom McMahon. One must wonder if this race will be the pivotal point in the ARL GT championship. A surprise win for McMahon. Disaster for his two main rivals.

Mads Gravsen drove beautifully in his screaming Porsche 911 RSR-17 and claimed a well-deserved second place. Despite a last corner trip into the gravel, Dean Powell extended his AM class championship lead whilst Adam Coles faltered early in the race.

Post Race

In the immediate aftermath of a dramatic race, several ARL GT drivers revealed their appraisals:

Tom McMahon was happy to be a position to steal the win, following Bodin and Crouch’s clash: “I’ll always take a win. Obviously, it’s the luckiest win I’ve ever had. On the other hand, I did pick up damage that wasn’t my fault. I worked my way up to third and was in the right place at the right time.”

Emil Winbo rued what might have been: “Race one was bad. There’s no other way to put it. Somehow, I got the reverse grid pole and ran away from the carnage in race two. I had a seven second lead but I just carried too much speed into the penultimate corner and dropped it off the circuit. After that, I lost my rhythm a little bit.”

Mads Gravsen: “I got a pretty good start and chugged away at the laps. The Porsche isn’t great here at Imola, it’s down on straight line speed and it’s pretty bad over the bumps. It was a good result in the end though!”

Dennis Ipenburg: “Race one was actually pretty cool. I was able to keep up with the guys in front. In the last couple of races, I’ve been caught up in some silly accidents that have cost me a lot. I really wanted to be as cautious as possible. That worked for about three quarters of lap one. It was a rough race but eventually I finished ninth.”

On the eighteenth of October, the ARL GT season reaches the penultimate round. With a handy championship lead, can Tom McMahon defend his crown? Find out on the iRacing Esports network and Apex Racing TV at 19.00 GMT.

Images by @Groove_Media (Link to 4k versions)

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