Herculean Harrison claims ARLTC crown
Akin to the 2020 IMSA Weathertech Sports Car Championship, Sebring International Raceway played centre stage for the finale of the Apex Racing League Touring Car Championship (ARLTC). A gruelling season of thirty-six races left the field battle scarred and weary. For Core Sim Racing’s Ross Balfour, just three races lie between him and a coveted ARLTC title.
Incredibly, before the fifteen-minute qualifying session had completed, drama ensued. A technical issue for Ross Balfour plunged the championship leader’s campaign into jeopardy. Balfour’s rivals showed no mercy. Defending champion, Ross Macfarlane, qualified on pole position. However, Balfour’s main concern would be his closest rival in the points, Keiran Harrison, who qualified second.
AM championship leader, Rickard Karlsson, delivered under immense pressure to clinch the AM class pole.
As the lights illuminated in preparation for the first race, Ross Balfour was nowhere to be seen. Unable to recover from the technical gremlin, Balfour had to watch his championship lead erode from the discomfort of trackside.
Throughout the opening half of the race, Ross Macfarlane had his hands full. Buoyed by Balfour’s demise, Keiran Harrison hassled Macfarlane relentlessly. Balfour’s Core Sim Racing stablemate, Oscar Mangan, lingered in third. With two laps remaining, it appeared that Harrison’s hassle wouldn’t disturb Macfarlane. Yet, on the penultimate lap Harrison made his move into turn three and sealed the deal. A wobble from Macfarlane yielded second to Mangan one corner later.
With the dust barely settled on race one, the ARLTC field lined up for race two. For Ross Balfour, this efficiency was far from welcome. Still experiencing technical issues, Balfour failed to make the start and with that, his championship aspirations were finished.
Jamie Rushworth started race two on pole position alongside Craig Williams. AM class winner from race one, Nathan Davies, started in third. Whilst Davies dashed into the lead, Williams tangled with Rushworth and both tumbled onto the grass on the exit of turn five. Further down the field, championship permutations became ever more complicated. A huge crash for Kieran Harrison in sector one spelt disaster for the new championship leader. Shortly afterwards, Ross Macfarlane’s slim championship chances evaporated, following contact with Mark Woodhouse sent the Pure Sims ace into the wall.
Meanwhile at the front, Apex Racing Team’s Alex Simpson moved past Davies for the lead. Simpson’s sizzling pace couldn’t be matched, and the Englishman sped to the win. Despite a valiant effort, Davies couldn’t resist the charge of Jason Cooper and had to settle for third. Nevertheless, Davies finished a staggering nineteen places ahead of his nearest AM competitor, Mark Woodhouse.
Treated to a Sebring sunset, the ARLTC field prepared for one last contest. Darius Neidhardt and George Simmons started on the front row of the grid for the final encounter of the season. In the championship battle, Kieran Harrison held a slender fourteen-point advantage over Oscar Mangan. Harrison lined up his HM Engineering Audi RS3 in fourteenth. Mangan started sixteenth.
George Simmons made the perfect getaway from second on the grid, whilst the rest brawled behind. Mired in the pack, Oscar Mangan and Kieran Harrison duelled for the title. Although not alongside on track, Harrison could see Mangan’s Core Sim Racing Audi gaining places ahead. Fully aware of the task at hand, Harrison pushed through the pack confidently. With two laps remaining, Harrison sat comfortably in sixth, immediately behind Mangan. Harrison had negotiated the traps and could hold position to the chequered flag.
Back at the front, George Simmons had the company of Pete Newman, who fancied a last lap dog fight for the final win of the season. However, Simmons resisted the challenge of the Freem racing star to clinch Apex Racing Team’s second win of the night.
Following Oscar Mangan home, Kieran Harrison confirmed his place in ARLTC history with a championship crown in both his and HM Engineering’s debut season in the series.
Super Swede, Rickard Karlsson, finished sixteenth overall and second in the AM class to confirm his place as class champion.
After a dramatic day at Sebring, the ARLTC PRO, AM and Team champions gave their reactions on Apex Racing TV:
Kieran Harrison: “I knew it was going to be close between myself and Oscar. Firstly, I want to say commiserations to Ross Balfour. This was his to lose and its terrible luck for the last round of the season.”
Rickard Karlsson: “It feels great (to win the AM championship). It has been my goal from the beginning to try to finish every race and try not to crash!”
Alex Simpson: “I think my season didn’t go particularly great, but we were keeping a little eye on the team championship. We did what we needed to do in the last race. But it could swing the other way if there’s protests.”