The SBMRL’s October race will take place at the now traditional venue of Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX.
The track was purpose built for Formula 1 in 2010, and played host to its first Grand Prix in 2012. The SBMRL has raced there every season, and we have yet to see a repeat victor.
COTA’s starting grid faces uphill into a blind left hander for Turn 1 followed by a quick right hander. Both turns are fairly easy to get right. It’s the next two corners that will start to trip people up. The esses through turns 3 and 4 aren’t necessarily challenging in and of themselves, but the combination is tricky to get right.
The best place to make a move on someone ahead is through the second sector. Coming out of Turn 4 with speed to hit the Turn 5 hairpin right and fly down the back straight can really give a car an edge. The end of that straight is quite abrupt, though.
Turn 6 is a very quick left before immediately moving into the winding Turn 7. The rest of the third sector is a series of short quick bends with small straights between them. Getting a feel for these corners is harder than it looks. In contrast to the second sector’s long straights, these corners are where laps go to die. Getting the third sector wrong is as detrimental as getting the second sector right is helpful.
With one race in the books, the starting grid for Austin is the reverse order of Japan’s finish.
The Stig (SB)
Rask Sjofar (SB)
Delilah Whipplefilter (FR)
Jaap Snellrijder (RM)
Launch Bornado (FR)
Pit selection is always in the order of the team standings.
Austin will be Whiplash’s home race.
In four different visits to Austin, 4 different drivers have won. Three of those drivers will be on the grid this year, Jaap, Launch, and the Stig, who won last year’s race. Interestingly, Whiplash is the only other driver on the current grid to have scored a podium, with a 3rd place finish two years ago.
The other two drivers who’ve raced at COTA are Rask and Delilah. Neither of them fared will last year, with Delilah being knocked out very early and Rask coming in last among those who finished.
The long summer break is over and the SBMRL opened up the league’s 5th season with a cracker of a race in Japan. Before getting to the details of the race, though, it’s always worth taking a few moments to review the changes around the league as far as the teams and drivers go.
The big question of the offseason was whether or not Sprite Racing would be fielding a team again this year. With Whiplash having won the driver’s championship last year and Bubba McQueen finishing in last place, the team only managed a 3rd place finish in the team standings. In the end, the team folded, with Whiplash getting picked up by Regency Motors to replace Sheila Dinkum. Regency Motors, having finished last in the team standings after never losing, was certainly eager to get a quality driver into the fold to help return to glory. Both Scandinavian Blitz and Force Ravenswood return the same lineup for this year.
Filling the void left by Sprite Racing will be Switch Motorsports, who will be racing in the dark blue livery traditionally associated with Red Bull. Mario will be driving with a blue rear wing and dark teal helmet, while Luigi will have a purple rear wing and light blue helmet.
With the offseason changes out of the way… let’s get to the race! Qualifying for SBMRL races normally uses the reverse order of the current season’s league standings, but for the first race, that’s not the case. Instead, qualifying for the first four grid slots was done through dice rolls. The final four slots were filled by reverse order of the teammates in the first four. When all was said and done, Launch Bornado was on pole with the Stig making up the other half of the front row.
Former champ, the Stig, got off to a hot start by timing the lights perfectly, getting a quick edge up on Launch right from the get go. The rest of the field found themselves closely packed through turn one and the Esses.
While the Stig was able to get a leg up at the start, Launch was smoother through the Esses and carried more momentum into Degner. That allowed Launch to get far enough ahead to be at the hairpin when the Stig was only just working his way through Degner. As he moved on from there, the rest of the field clashed at the spot he had just vacated, with 6 cars all wheel to wheel through the corner.
Over the first laps final sector, Launch pulled away from everyone in 130R. The Stig wasn’t able to handle Spoon cleanly, and that allowed Mario, Whiplash, and Delilah to all catch up with him. Mario, the Stig, and Whiplash all had the pace to keep ahead of the others and found themselves neck and neck in the chicane while Launch pitted for new tires.
The Stig’s brakes, however, had been heavily abused over the first lap and he wasn’t able to rely on them coming out of the corner. Instead, he found himself spinning on the pit straight rather than diving for fresh rubber.
The spinout lost the Stig enough time that Jaap, who opted not to pit, was able to pass him on the pit straight. Jaap’s new teammate, Whiplash, was able to get out of the pits quickly and establish himself in 2nd place early on the second lap, but Mario and Jaap weren’t far back. Behind them, Delilah had caught the Stig while Luigi closed in. Rask was well back at this point, pitting well behind the rest of the field.
Launch’s clean first lap was a distant memory as he began to struggle in the second sector on lap 2. He couldn’t find the right rhytm in Degner or the hairpin, which was something that both Mario and Whiplash did. Both challengers then passed Launch on the way into Spoon, and Jaap was closing in as well.
At this point, the Stig and Delilah were running in 5th and 6th, respectively, with Luigi close, but Rask a long way back. We’ll come back to them in a minute, but for now, Mario and Whiplash were in a drag race through 130R on their drive to the chicane and the victory.
Mario found the power he needed while Whiplash got the braking all wrong. While Launch was able to get close to Whiplash, neither could catch Mario who would win in his first time out.
While Whiplash was able to hold off Launch, and Jaap nearly reeled him in for 3rd place, but in the end, Launch got his podium with Jaap just behind.
The first four finishers were well ahead of the second half of the pack, and a large part of that was their inability to replicate the skilled driving of the others. None of the Stig, Delilah, or Luigi were able to make the run from the hairpin to Spoon smoothly. As a result, Rask was able to make up a lot of lost ground.
Delilah was the car to charge forward out of this group, and Rask made his move at 130R to pass his teammate and Luigi. They ended up finishing 5th and 6th. While many observing were wondering if the Stig would even finish the race, he fought bravely through the second lap. Unfortunately, Luigi passed him at the final corner and he came in a distant last.
Launch Bornado (FR)
Jaap Snellrijder (RM)
Delilah Whipplefilter (FR)
Rask Sjofar (SB)
The Stig (SB)
Mario’s win on debut makes it two straight years that we’ve had a rookie win their first race, with Rask winning at Road America last September.
Whiplash didn’t finish in 2nd place at all last year en route to winning the driver’s title, but it’s his 9th podium and best first race of a season that he’s had. Launch’s podium is his 18th, as the SBMRL’s career podium leader extended his lead over Jaap.
At a team level, Mario’s win was enough to give Switch Motorsports a 1 point lead over Regency Motors after they put two cars in the top 4. Force Ravenswood isn’t far back, but Scandinavian Blitz is an early hole with less than half the points of any of their rivals.
The first race of the 2019-20 season takes us to Japan, to race Suzuka International Racing Course. The league visited a few years ago in what proved to be a disastrous outing for Scandinavian Blitz, losing both cars right at the end. Originally designed in the early 1960’s as a test track for Honda, it first hosted an official Formula 1 Grand Prix in 1987.
Suzuka is noted for the fact that it involves both clockwise and anti-clockwise portions of the track. It’s the only figure eight track that the SBMRL races at and features a number of notable corners that have made it a driver favorite through the years.
The pit straight is short and leads into a high speed right hander. Cars won’t have to slow down here at all on the run up from the grid. The “S” curves follow, a smooth rhythm section that can set up cars beautifully for the middle section, or get them all out of whack if not handled properly.
The Degner curve comes just before the underpass and it’s a short run from here to the hairpin. It’s imperative to get the straight between the hair pin and Spoon just right because Spoon is followed by the longest “straight” the track features.
The quotes are used there because it isn’t really straight. It takes a notable left at 130R, but this can be taken flat out. The final challenge is the Casio Triangle, and then it’s back onto the pit straight for the second lap. Any driver that needs to pit can do so, but don’t be surprised if several cars get away with a clean enough lap to be able to forego fresh tires.
As this is the first race of the season, the starting grid will be determined randomly just prior to the race.
The only previous race at Suzuka saw Force Ravenswood’s Bubba McQueen take the win over the failed charge from behind by the Stig. Bubba and the Stig were so far ahead of Captain Slow that they would have easily finished first and second, but the Stig wanted the win and pushed his car just a bit too hard. Captain Slow, who had been running in 3rd place, found his fate to be similarly agonizing. With both cars out, Whiplash took 2nd with his Sprite Racing teammate, Stevie Wondertyres coming 3rd.