ARLTC Championship | Round Two Report!
Thursday night, the Apex Racing League Touring Car Championship (ARLTC) reconvened at a virtual Okayama, for round two of the championship. Following a furious bout between nearly sixty cars at Spa Francorchamps, viewers on Apex Racing TV waited in anticipation for another frantic night of racing.
Originally named TI Circuit Aida, this rural Japanese circuit has an intriguing past since inception in 1990. Golf resort magnate, Hajime Tanaka, built a facility where clients could enjoy their race cars in a country club style environment. A concept later emulated by Harvey Seigel at the Virginia International Raceway. After major investment exceeding $100 million, the circuit hosted two Formula 1 Grand Prix. Both of which won by Michael Schumacher. The 1994 Pacific GP at Circuit Aida would be Ayrton Senna’s final Grand Prix prior to his untimely death at Imola.
In more recent times, the Okayama circuit welcomed the World Touring Car Championship. Race winners at Okayama include BTCC champions Rickard Rydell and Colin Turkington. Although not a household name like Spa Francorchamps, Okayama has all the credentials to host top flight tin top racing.
Without the luxury of Spa Francorchamps wide expanses, fifteen minutes to qualify on a jam-packed circuit presented a stiff test for the ARLTC drivers. HM Engineering’s Kieran Harrison edged out 2017 BTCC champion Ash Sutton by five hundredths of second for pole position. Both drivers undoubtedly buoyed by the absence of championship leader, Ross Balfour. Spaniard, Alex Torres, was the fastest AM class driver, in fifteenth overall.
A jam-packed grid of fifty-three drivers snaked all the way back around the imaginatively named ‘last corner’ in preparation for the opening thirteen lap encounter. Kieran Harrison launched his Audi RS3 LMS perfectly and led an unusually calm pack through the opening lap. Perhaps some lessons learned throughout the field following the turn one calamities at Spa?
Renowned for fierce combat, Sutton charged around the outside of Harrison into turn one on the second lap. Nevertheless, Harrison would exert his revenge two laps later at the hairpin, reclaiming the lead.
Harrison led until the penultimate lap when Sutton pounced. An audaciously brilliant move around the outside of the hairpin gave Sutton the inside into the left hand ‘Revolver’ corner. Frustratingly, for Harrison, this move pushed the HM Engineering star wide and into the clutches of Simon Trendell. An unfortunate exchange for Harrison. Sutton escaped to win the race. Harrison would rebuff the advances of Trendell for third, providing little comfort after being mugged of the win.
Alex Torres converted his class pole position to an AM class victory, finishing nineteenth overall.
Race two’s reshuffled pack left Scotsman, Scott Malcolm, on pole position. However, it would be Hesketh Racing’s Mark Johnston making the break away at the front. Johnston’s #69 Audi holding a handsome lead by one third distance. A valiant charge from Matthias Sowa eroded Johnston’s lead, priming a showdown for the race win.
Meanwhile, Scott Malcolm fiercely defended the final podium spot, despite enormous pressure from multiple cars behind. Eventually, the Scotsman relented on the penultimate lap and dropped out of podium contention.
Despite the pressure from Sowa, Johnston held strong to take outright victory and the AM class win to boot. Matthew Turnbull finished as the lead PRO class driver, in third place.
For race three, Fraser Smith’s #67 Audi rolled off from the prime grid spot. Kieran Harrison started eleventh. Championship contender, Ash Sutton began all the way back in forty-fourth.
Race two winner, Mark Johnston, fell foul to the lap one melee. Contact in the pack on the last corner meriting a trademark “OH BANG!” from beloved Apex Racing TV commentator, Andrew Woodhouse.
A relatively serene opening half of the race for the leader, Michael Evdoka, was unlikely to last. On lap seven, Jack Sedgwick decided he would stake his claim for the lead of the race.
A bold move from Sedgwick up the inside at the hairpin sparked an exchange that would rumble all the way to the following lap. As a result, Newman, Mangan and Trendell joined the brawl for the lead.
Sedgwick and Evdoka continuously ran alongside one another like royal police escort outriders. Neither driver would yield. Eventually, Sedgwick pinched the lead heading into lap nine. An advantage held by the Briton all the way to the flag. A fiercely contested victory and thoroughly deserved. Kieran Harrison claimed his second podium of the evening with a third-place finish. A fine day’s work for the HM Engineering ace. Norwegian, Preben Walle, took the AM class spoils, in fifteenth overall.
Following another hectic night of tin top action, ARLTC drivers gave their thoughts to the Apex Racing TV viewers:
Ross Macfarlane: “Avoiding the carnage on the first couple of laps is just a lottery. After that you just pick off drivers, one by one” noted the defending champion.
Preben Walle, revealed how his new strategy yielded an AM class win: “It was a lot of fun tonight, a lot of hard fights. After last week, I realised that in this series you have to claim your space!”
Kieran Harrison: “It was a shame I couldn’t get the win in the end. I think I had enough pace to potentially win but unfortunately the corner where I was weak compared to Ash was, unfortunately, the corner before the long straight and he’s so good on the brakes, it was always going to be tough to hold him off” conceded the double podium finisher.