The fifth test of the season brought us to sunny Florida to race Sebring International Raceway. While the day of the race was balmy and calm, the race was turbulent and dramatic. With a four-way tie for 3rd place in the driver standings heading into the race, there was a lot at stake and the effort put forth certainly demonstrated that people knew it.
The starting grid had Mater at the pole followed by Ice. The next four drivers, all tied in the standings, were seeded in reverse order of their finish in Monaco. This put Nero in 3rd and the Scandinavian Blitz drivers on row 3 to themselves. Regency Motors took up the rear, with Jaap starting his 4th race in the 8th grid position.
P1 – Mater (Ryan)
p2 – Ice (Lonny)
P3 – Nero (Lonny)
P4 – Danger Wheel (Ryan)
P5 – Captain Slow (Jason)
P6 – The Stig (Jason)
P7 – Launch Bornado (Frank)
P8 – Jaap Snellrijder (Frank)
The cars got off the line cleanly and, as expected, the relatively forgiving first corner failed to cause the stratification we’ve seen so frequently in the early phases of other races this season. Typically, the first cars in will create some separation and then split up into a few groups, but Sebring kept everyone close in the first stage.
It began with Ice and Mater leading the charge into Turn One Club Hospitality. Nero was slow off the line, allowing Danger Wheel and the Stig to get in front, but they couldn’t get away. Captain Slow even clipped his teammate coming out of the first bend. Jaap Snellrijder was the only driver not to join the others through the first turn. However, he caught up with the pack in North Gate Corner soon enough.
The approach into the hairpin was where true separation started to take place. Mater, Ice, and Launch Bornado, who had come all the way from 7th to 3rd, found themselves edging ahead of the rest. The others formed a trailing pack, with the lone exception of Jaap, who wasn’t able to find the right gear and would have to play catch up in the second sector.
The three leading cars found themselves smoothly through Cunningham Corner, while Jaap tried desperately to rejoin the pack. Ice was able to find the line straight into Tower Turn to take a notable lead over Launch and Mater. Behind them, Nero found his line through Cunningham and on to Tower Turn as well, joining the front runners. Both drivers from Cobalt hitting both corners just right put them in a good spot. The Stig being Nero’s victim for 4th position. At the back, Jaap couldn’t keep up with Captain Slow and Danger Wheel.
While Ice extended his lead, Nero passed Launch and Mater on his way to Gendebien Bend. The Stig had caught up to them in the meantime, and Jaap had caught up to Captain Slow and Danger Wheel in Tower Turn, resulting in two distinct trailing packs chasing down both Cobalt drivers.
The long back straight saw everyone but Ice start to coalesce in a mad bid for 2nd place. Ice was already in the pits when The Stig and Nero were entering Sunset Bend. Mater was doing his best to keep up and Jaap had now moved all the way up to 5th place, ahead of Launch, Danger Wheel, and Captain Slow.
Nero was leaving the pits when Ice was beginning to round North Gate Corner, the second corner on the track. It seemed a foregone conclusion that Ice would win at this point, but there was still a lot of track to go. The Stig’s pit wasn’t as smooth as planned, and he came out just behind Mater. Danger Wheel followed into the pits, but needed more than just a tire change. Jaap, on the other hand, took a clean set of tires and was on his way again, pipping Danger Wheel on the exit. Launch Bornado and Captain Slow would pit significantly behind the rest.
With Ice well in front and The Stig and Mater were forced to do battle just to catch Nero. Jaap and Danger Wheel fought to catch them and join the hunt, which is something that Jaap was able to do heading into North Gate. Behind, Launch quietly did all he could to catch up.
Ice was clear through the hairpin when his challengers were coming out of North Gate. Nero was the first of the group to the hairpin, but Mater and Jaap were starting to close the gap. The Stig, unfortunately, couldn’t muster the pace to keep up, and was soon starting to worry about Danger Wheel and an agressively charging Captain Slow. Launch was now the driver far in arrears after having been up at the front during the first lap.
Next came Section 2 and the combination of Cunningham Corner and Tower Turn, which had frustrated drivers on lap 1. Ice took this stretch cautiously, but Nero floored it and hit Cunningham just right to catch up with his teammate. Mater and Jaap were left to watch. They would have to pull off a similar feat to have any chance of reeling Cobalt in.
Nero smootly navigated Tower Turn, where Ice had to slow down a bit to get his line right. This was an opportunity that the others needed to grab onto, but Jaap came up just shy in Cunningham Corner and Mater took a conservative line. Behind them, the Stig was closing in, hoping to join the race for 3rd place. Launch was not being successful in his attempts to keep up with Danger Wheel and Captain Slow.
As Nero barreled down the long back straight, Ice calmly took his approach through Gendebien Bend. Mater and Jaap were within striking distance, although time was rapidly running out. By now, the Stig was losing his composure and falling further behind in 5th place.
Nero easily took the checkered flag, the rest of the field not even visible in his mirrors and half a lap ahead of the back markers. However, the rest of the race was getting tense. Jaap came out of Le Mans Curve with the speed to catch Ice, and as they charged toward the final turn, they were wheel to wheel with Mater hot on their heels.
Trailing in the distance, Launch managed to find his line through Tower Turn and a suddenly responsive engine saw him zoom past Danger Wheel, Captain Slow, and the Stig.
In the battle for second, Ice coolly slid into Sunset Bend while Jaap took an unfortunate approach. This secured a 1-2 finish for Cobalt, and left Jaap and Mater fighting it out for 3rd place. Jaap carried speed into the corner and was able to cut off Mater’s line, forcing the green car to downshift or risk a crash.
Despite a valiant effort from the Stig, Launch was able to complete his second half push to finish in an uncontested 5th place. There wasn’t much drama left, as Captain Slow finished easily ahead of Danger Wheel.
|Jaap Snellrijder (RM)||8||5||3|
|Launch Bornado (RM)||7||7||5|
|The Stig (SB)||6||4||6|
|Captain Slow (SB)||5||8||7|
|Danger Wheel (GT)||4||6||8|
Nero’s victory after starting in 3rd place on the grid marks the farthest back any driver has started from and won the race. We’ve now had 5 different winners in 5 races. Cobalt taking the top two podium spots is easily the best points haul a team has had in any race to date.
Jaap’s 5 slot climb from 8th to 3rd place is the largest single race improvement to date, but Nero’s win pulls him to within 4 points of 1st place in the driver standings. That’s the closest anyone has been to him all season. Mater’s 4th place finish helped him catch up in the standings quite a bit, but he remains last in the driver standings.
At a team level, Regency Motors retains the lead, but Cobalt put a big dent in it. Scandinavian Blitz, with a 6th and 7th place finish, had the worst overall race.
In each of the last 4 races (Austin being the lone exception), the Stig was in 4th place after the first lap. His only finish higher than 5th was his win in Monaco.