The first round of the Thrustmaster Australian Formula Master kicked off in style on Saturday night. With 21 drivers all looking for a good start to the season, Silverstone was the ideal place to begin the campaign. The new season of Australian Assetto Corsa league racing saw a new car introduced; the 2009 International Formula Master created by the modding team CTDP. This was the logical next step after the success of the Virtual Formula Abarth Championship, as it packs punch with 266bhp, and weighs in at just over 500kg, making it the ideal car for up and coming formula drivers. Thanks to the partnership with Thrustmaster, the overall winner of the drivers championship will take home a Thrustmaster TH8A H-pattern shifter. So with all drivers fixed on getting a strong first result, the stage was set for a cracking race. Qualifying Heading the field was a familiar face as Sun Levi took pole position by over half a second to league newcomer Ben Dowel (1:58.306 and 1:58.812 respectively). The pole lap proved to be a masterclass of skill, precision and speed as only two other drivers were able to come within a second of it (Dowel and Djakovic). Further back, Jamie Pyatt had a strong session to qualify in 6th place, while Nick Milton was disappointed to have rounded out the field in last place after struggling with hardware issues. Race Djakovic was able to jump Dowel going into the first corner as his poor start cost him his hard earned second position almost immediately. The whole field managed to get through the tricky first five corners without any contact which meant that a full compliment of drivers were able to complete the first lap. It was clear early on that the leading trio of Levi, Djakovic and Dowel had a substantial pace advantage over the rest of the field by pulling out a three second gap on the first lap alone. With Silverstone being one of the tougher circuits to pass on, the field was relatively stagnant for the first lap, as drivers tried to find a rhythm and get settled in for what would be a tough race. However the stagnation did not last long as on the second lap the battles began to kick off as drivers made some fantastic passes into Luffield, Copse and Stowe. By the start of lap 3, a titanic mid-field battle was shaping up as the six cars of Talent, Armstrong, Spall, Pyatt, Stead and Spence were all vying for fifth position. With Talent sustaining light aero damage, the train of cars formed behind him, and there was little he could do to defend from the attacks. Talent does his best with a damaged car and worn tires to hold off the relentless chasing pack. Dowel was able to capitalize on a mistake from Djakovic by overtaking him into Luffield, and thus began his charge to hunt down Sun Levi. However, despite reducing the gap to Levi to just over a second, Dowel made the curious decision to take a pitstop on Lap 11. When he rejoined in 8th, he had a seemingly overwhelming amount of work ahead of him if he wanted to make the strategy work. On the first lap he made fantastic progress by passing two cars, but later on was held up by the battle between Armstrong and Stead. Eventually passing the pair, he received little resistance from Chris Stacey who had severely damaged his tires after a spin on the Turn 1 curbing of Abbey, and made a comfortable pass on the inside of Stowe. Levi leads from Djakovic and Dowel. A sign of things to come? As the race drew to a close, it was apparent that Levi was going to have the perfect start to the season by taking the chequered flag by over 10 seconds to Niki Djakovic. Ben Dowel would have to settle for the final place on the podium after his questionable decision, and so after the first round it's Levi who heads to Round 2 at the Nurburgring with the confidence and momentum on his side, however Dowel will take solace in the fact that had he not pitted, he likely would've been in with a strong chance of taking the race win. Podium Interviews 1st place - Sun Levi: Q. Congratulations on winning the first race of the season Sun. From your point of view, how was it out there? "Pretty much the perfect race for me, the car felt great and did everything I wanted it to." Q. We saw your closest rival [Dowel] pit around half way during the race, do you think you had the pace to hold him off had he not decided to pit? "It's tough to say, but I believe it would've been close. Before he pitted, he was closing the gap but at the time I felt confident that I could hold him off even if he didn't pit." 2nd place - Niki Djakovic: Q. Well done Niki on taking the second step of the podium. Going into the season it was predicted by some that we'd see yourself and Sun Levi battling it out for the top places, but it seemed today that Sun had the pace advantage over you. Where do you feel you lost out today? "The prediction seems to be about right, with the addition of Ben joining in on the challenge too. Normally running a steep front wing angle would help you around Silverstone, but it seems it was stalling for me. Nonetheless, Sun delivered a mistake-less performance. Interestingly after the race both Ben and Sun were kind enough to share some data on wing-setup, which is going to help going into the next round. Would be attractive to strike back immediately and make a fight out of this championship. It's a very rewarding car to drive." 3rd place - Ben Dowel: Q. Congratulations on a hard earned third place today Ben, but I suppose it's a case of what could have been? Your pace was good enough in the first stint to stay with Sun Levi, and perhaps even win the race, what made you decide to pit? "Unfortunately for me I had it in my head that it was compulsory to pit, my teammate was also unsure so I just went with the plan of starting with high fuel and only adding a tiny amount at the stop. My second stint was interrupted by some traffic, then I was pushing probably a little too hard and had a few moments on the kerbs in the first corner. Overall I performed below average and was lucky to get back up to 3rd. A win was very unlikely as I made a few mistakes in qualifying when the track was at its best, so my best lap ended up being while the track was at ~94%. My true pace would have been a good fight for pole but it wasn't meant to be. Congratulations to Sun for nailing the perfect lap right as the flag dropped, well played. I look forward our next encounter, it is unlikely I will make the same mistake." --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- With round 1 now in the history books, the drivers turn their attention to Germany as they recommence battle around the 5.1 km Nurburgring GP circuit in two weeks time! So be sure to stick and stay with RaceDepartment.com for all the coverage of this and other fantastic league races on offer as we blur the line between real and virtual motorsport!