Sutton, Harrison and Jansson master Monza mosh pit!
Nine races remain of the thrilling Apex Racing League Touring Car Championship (ARLTC). As the season reaches its conclusion, a cast of drivers remain in contention for the ARLTC crown. Northern Irishman, Ross Balfour, narrowly leads heading to round eleven at Monza. David Baker, Oscar Mangan, Ross Macfarlane and Matthew Turnbull lurk close behind.
Rickard Karlsson and Mark Johnston are engrossed in a struggle for AM class honours. After thirty races, the Swede and Briton are spaced by only nine points.
Opened in 1922 in response to Indianapolis and Brooklands, “The Temple of Speed” has been central to Italian motorsport ever since. In 1954, as Juan Manuel Fangio sped to Italian Grand Prix glory in his Daimler-Benz, identical twins Mario and Aldo Andretti looked on in awe of their heroes. In the words of the 1978 Formula 1 World Champion, “The dye was cast”. At Monza, a dream was born for these two impressionable young boys.
Due to Monza’s drag strip nature, team co-operation would be key to a quick qualifying time. Utilising a willing teammate to punch an Audi RS3 shaped hole in the air reduces air resistance and increases speed. HM Engineering mastered the exercise and new recruit, Corentin Guinez, pinched pole position. Guinez’s HM Engineering stablemate, Norbert Leitner, started from fourth.
Newly crowned British Touring Car Champion, Ash Sutton, started his ‘off season’ in fine fashion by qualifying third. Hesketh Racing’s Nathan Davies qualified ninth overall, dominating the AM class.
Monza’s notorious first chicane, which spawns collisions, would thankfully be bypassed. Therefore, Corentin Guinez faced a seemingly endless drag all the way to the second chicane. Nevertheles, a perfect launch from the Frenchman ensured Sedgwick and Sutton were kept at bay.
Throughout the opening laps, a gaggle of Audis formed at the front. Guinez, Sutton, Sedgwick, Macfarlane and Leitner slipstreamed one another around the superspeedway style Monza circuit. All was serene until lap five, when the inevitable ensued. If five highly competitive racers run centimetres apart, contact is inevitable. Guinez would be on the receiving end. An ambitious lunge from Sutton – a man accustomed to the rough and tumble of tin top racing – sent Guinez into the gravel at the second chicane.
As the race wore on, Sutton proved a helpful in Macfarlane’s battle with Sedgwick. With Sutton stalling the pack, his Pure Sims teammate Macfarlane could duel with Sedgwick for the lead.
On the final lap, Macfarlane played his hand first. A well-planned move at the second chicane, yielded the lead to the defending champion. Sedgewick retaliated immediately and pounced at Lesmo one. As Macfarlane closed the door, Sedgewick clipped the quarter panel of the Scotsman’s Audi and turned him into the path of the closing pack. Could this derail Macfarlane’s title defence?
Ever the opportunist, Ash Sutton swooped by and clinched victory in a classic encounter. Core Sim Racing’s Carl Jansson profited from the skirmish and finished second, ahead of Sedgwick.
Amidst the carnage, Nathan Davies finished eleventh overall and dominated the AM class.
Startled by a dramatic opening encounter, the grid formed for race two. Mark Woodhouse and Craig Williams started on the front row for the eleven-lap contest. Starting third, Jake Blackhall manoeuvred cunningly to the lead at the chicane and broke away. If Blackhall could press on, the tow from the chasing pack could be unhitched. Unfortunately, on lap two, the Antipodean ace careered into the gravel at Lesmo one and out of contention.
Following Blackhall’s demise, Kieran Harrison commanded the opening half of the race. In the latter stages, Harrison escaped to the win as Baker, Woodhouse and Williams squabbled.
Unusually, the race concluded behind the safety car, following a monumental pile up at Curva del Serragglio. Crucially, David Baker followed Harrison home and secured a haul of points.
For the final race, JB Massida started on pole. Championship protagonists, Macfarlane and Mangan, started sixth and eighth. Both had endured a challenging day and craved championship points.
By lap three, Macfarlane pushed to the front and dispatched with Massida. Core Sim Racing’s Carl Jansson joined the party on lap six. Macfarlane wouldn’t be cruising into the Italian sunset.
On the penultimate tour, Jansson pounced on Macfarlane for the lead approaching the chicane. Macfarlane mimicked Jansson’s move on the final lap, reclaiming the lead. However, had the Scotsman shown his hand to early? Crafty Carl Jansson retaliated immediately on Macfarlane at the chicane. Simultaneously, Jansson’s teammate – Oscar Mangan – moved to third.
Macfarlane’s audacious move around the outside at Ascari was rebuffed by Jansson. Charging towards Parabolica, Macfarlane, Jansson and Mangan, were inseparable. Sprinting for the finish, Macfarlane and Jansson scuffled and rubbed all the way to the flag. Jansson pinched victory by just forty-one thousandths of a second from Macfarlane. Mangan settled for third.
Significantly for the AM class championship, Rickard Karlsson finished sixth overall and eleven places above his nearest class rival.
In the immediate aftermath of the most dramatic event of the season, several of the ARLTC drivers gave their reflections on a frantic day’s racing:
Nathan Davies: “Tonight was really fun, as always. There was some hard battling but I’m glad to finish all three races again. Can you believe I’ve gone all season with no DNFs?!”
Carl Jansson: “It was really good to have a run to the line (In race three). The last two laps were really close!”
Kieran Harrison: “It was really difficult. I was dreading this track, especially with having a qualifying ban. I actually had a really good meeting by not having any crashes.”
On the twenty-sixth of November, the Apex Racing League Touring Car Championship travels to Donington Park for the penultimate round of the season. Tune in to the live action on Apex Racing TV at 8pm GMT.