ARLTC Championship | Round One Report!
2020 Season two of the Apex Racing League Touring Car Championship (ARLTC) kicked off in style at Spa Franchorchamps on Thursday. Over fifty Audi RS3 LMS TCR machines took to the Ardennes based circuit, following a successful media day at Snetterton, a week previously.
With only fifteen minutes of qualifying, a long lap distance and a busy circuit, drivers had no room for error. With the slipstream effect vital around the wide expanses of the 4.3-mile circuit, many drivers could be found in flying formation with teammates, working together to maximise lap time.
For Scotsman, Ross Macfarlane, it was a dream start to the season. The PureSims Esports driver took pole position by twenty-nine thousandths of a second from Ross Balfour. 2017 British Touring Car Champion, Ash Sutton, swapping real-world Infiniti for virtual Audi, qualified fourth.
As drivers lined up for race one, the fifty-seven-car grid snaked all the way back to the entry of the bus stop chicane. Quite the endorsement for the ARLTC’s popularity.
On lap two, it was Donington Park déjà vu for Sutton. Notorious for his aggressive driving style in the BTCC, the Englishman battles with equal ferocity in sim racing. An altercation at Les Combes rumbled on to the Bruxelles hairpin, resulting in a brief flirtation with the gravel trap for the Laser Tools Infiniti driver. After being mired back in seventh for most of the race, Sutton recovered to a strong fifth place finish.
At the front, Balfour and Macfarlane duelled throughout the race, regularly exchanging the lead. On the final lap, with Balfour leading, Macfarlane attempted to pounce at Les Combes. After multiple corners side by side, Balfour rebuffed the Scotsman’s advances. Meanwhile, Jack Sedgwick shadowed closely behind, awaiting any opportunity to profit from the squabble in front. However, Northern Irishman, Balfour, held strong to take the opening victory of the season. Macfarlane held onto second. Sedgwick was third. AM class honours went to Adrian Campfield, who finished fourteenth overall.
With no chance for rest, it was on to race two. Following a reverse grid shake up, AM class driver Marcel Fritsch, would start on pole position. Championship contenders like Balfour, Macfarlane , and Sutton et al, faced a journey through the pack.
Inevitably, the acute hairpin of La Source generated typical chaos. A cluster of drivers collided on the exit of Spa’s opening turn. Claiming defending champion, Ross Macfarlane , in the process.
On lap two, the calamity continued. Mild contact heading down to Eau Rouge ignited a catastrophic pile up. With little room between either wall opposite the endurance pits, an Audi RS3 LMS roadblock made it impossible for following cars to make it through safely. Race one protagonist, Ash Sutton, one of the many victims of the clash.
Apex Racing Team driver, George Simmons, left race two reeling over what could have been. A spin on the brakes at Bruxelles, took him out of a four-car tussle for the lead. After applying relentless pressure to Marcel Fritsch all race long, Craig Williams finally managed to swoop by at Les Combes and pinch the lead on the penultimate lap. Williams then pulled way with ease to win in the #127 Audi. AM class driver, Marcel Fritsch, would be agonisingly close to an outright victory but would have to settle for an impressive second place. Jason Stehney took the final podium spot. Ross Balfour managed to avoid the reverse grid melee and finish in eighth spot. With his championship rivals encountering issues, the Northern Irishman took an early edge in the standings.
For the feature race, Hesketh racing’s Mark Johnston, would roll off from pole position. However, Johnston would have to share the front row with the rapid Wojciech Swirydowicz. Johnston managed to hold the Apex Racing Team star at bay until lap two, when Swirydowicz dived up the inside at Pouhon. Swirydowicz never relinquished the lead and cruised to a 3.4 second victory.
Adam Hadfield finished second for Swift Cooper Esports. Mark Johnston took the AM class spoils with a giant killing drive to third overall.
Controversy continued for Ash Sutton with a last corner incident spoiling his charge to the top ten after starting forty-ninth. Two incidents across the night cost the 2020 BTCC championship contender dearly. In contrast, Ross Balfour managed to claim another top ten finish, solidifying his position at the sharp end of the standings.
Following the race, Adam Hedgecock gave an insight into the boisterous nature of a touring car contest featuring nearly sixty cars: “It was pretty rough in the lower third of the grid. No quarters were given. I dragged a slightly bent and warped car home twice. It was rough” revealed the Boosted Racing driver.
On Thursday the 27th of August, the Apex Racing League Touring Car Championship heads to the land of the rising sun and the Okayama circuit. A circuit which formerly hosted the World Touring Car Championship and continues to host the popular Super GT series. Watch live coverage on Apex Racing TV at 8pm BST.