The Thrustmaster Australian Formula Master reached the season's mid-point this past weekend at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza. With two races in the bag and the pecking order taking shape, a strong result here, to either maintain or boost the drivers championship position, was critical. Qualifying: After the 45 minute practice session had drawn to a close, it became clear that the qualifying battle for pole position would be tightly contested between the two championship protagonists: Sun Levi and Ben Dowel. On his second flying lap, Dowel was able to claim provisional pole by banging in an impressive 1:47.7, while Levi was right on the cusp of breaking into the 1:47's. A lap later, Dowel went a tenth of a second quicker giving him his first pole position of the season, and placing him out of reach of Levi as the best he could manage would be four tenths down. However, running wide and exceeding track limits on his best lap meant Levi would take a 5 second post-race time penalty. The battle for 'best of the mere mortals' went to Matheus Machado as he was able to take third on the grid with a 1:48.8. However it was a hard won third as both Evan Spall and Chris Stacey slotted in fourth and fifth respectively by less than a tenth of a second with both drivers putting in 1:48.8 lap times. It was a good result for Spanelli Racing with both cars able to qualify in the top ten as Tony Binelli would have his best qualifying result of the season in sixth (Spall in 4th), while Jamie Pyatt, Noel Spence, Michael Stead and Tobi Kederer would round out the top ten respectively. Justin Talent was lamenting his lack of track time after he'd had a poor qualifying session by his own standards, finishing the session in a lowly 15th, while Wayne Flint would make his RaceDepartment debut from the back of the grid after a penalty from the previous round. Race: Off the mark and of the two leaders, Dowel had a slightly better launch as he was able to pull a slight gap to Levi going into the tricky first chicane. However behind them, the scrap for third place had kicked off immediately as Stacey made an electric start, jumping first Machado and then Spall. Further back, Aidan Keranen also had a great start as he was able to beat Tobi Kederer and Fred Locklear into the first chicane which promoted him up to 10th place and into a points scoring position. Dowel leads the angry mob in a drag race to turn one. Unfortunately the tight and uncompromising first chicane of Monza claimed it's first victims as contact was made between Matt Bailey, Nick Milton and Fred Locklear; beaching Milton in the gravel, while Locklear suffered race-compromising damage. Further ahead, Evan Spall was not finished in his battle for third as he got a superior run on Stacey through Curve Grande, and with a bit of slipstream to aid him, he was half a car length ahead of Stacey going into the braking zone for the Della Roggia chicane. However, Stacey was able to brake later and take the inside line. The pair went side-by-side with some skillful driving and Stacey emerged ahead going into the first Lesmo. The opening lap saw plenty of side-by-side action. Towards the end of the opening lap, it all went wrong for Machado when he misjudged his turn-in point at the exit of Ascari and launched his car over the sleeping policeman and losing all his momentum down the following straight. He continued on however, and amazingly managed to take sixth place after a collision with Kederer which resulted in a time penalty. Despite his troubles, this strong finish showed his underlying potential, and possibly could have been on the podium had he had a cleaner race. At the head of the field, the battle between Dowel and Levi looked to have picked up right where it left off in Germany, as both drivers were able to lap consistently at a similar pace with Levi remaining close behind Dowel at all times. However, Dowel upped the pace and began to edge away from Levi over the next few laps. But, on lap eight, disaster would strike as Dowel admittedly pushed too hard and ran too wide on the exit of the second Lesmo, sending him into a tank-slapper and crashing into the barriers, sustaining heavy damage and gifting Levi the lead of the race. Dowel elected to continue on for an additional lap to assess his pace before electing to pit. His repair time meant that he would be stationed in the pitlane for almost a full minute before emerging in 15th position and out of points scoring contention. A critical mistake from Dowel, could this cost him the championship? Further back, a seven-strong train of cars fighting for seventh position was raging on between Kederer, Machado, Keranen, Talent, Cowan, Talbot and Stead. And on lap seven the group was separated by just two seconds. However, the intensity was too tough to maintain and took its toll as just as the battle reached its crescendo, the trio of Keranen, Kederer and Stead would go three-wide into the braking zone for turn one, however Keranen on the outside was tapped on the rear wheel by Kederer which meant Keranen had to use the run-off area and lost time over the curbs, eventually dropping him down five positions. Keranen would then lose an additional three positions after attempting a bold overtake on Cowan and Talent going into Ascari, eventually dipping a tyre on to the grass and spinning his car. Levi tightens his grip on the championship by winning in Italy. Knowing full well how easy it was to have an incident on the Lesmo curbs, Sun Levi drove a careful, yet quick race to secure his second win of the season, ahead of Chris Stacey and Evan Spall, thus extending his championship lead over Dowel by a further 25 points and increasing his total lead to Dowel to 28 points. Stacey has now moved ahead of Dowel in the championship fight by five points after his second place finish, and Spanelli Racing received a long overdue points haul with their drivers, Spall and Binelli, coming home 3rd and 5th respectively. Championship Standings after three rounds: In the drivers championship, Levi has pulled a gap on his rivals. While David Armstrong's absence, and a good result from Jamie Pyatt to come home in 4th position, means he's jumped from sixth to fourth in the standings. And finally, Wayne Flint was happy to have scored 2 points on debut in what is a very close mid-field, after starting from last place. The constructors championship is a little closer at the pointy end, with Basement Tank Motorsports being helped by Stacey's strong second place despite the absence of Armstrong, however still losing their lead to the Pitstop Predators after Levi's win. Spanelli Racing made a big leap up the order after bagging 25 points in a single round. Post-Race Podium Interviews: 1st Place - Sun Levi - Pitstop Predators: Congratulations on your second win of the season Sun! You must be pleased to know that you've now extended the points gap considerably between yourself and championship rival Ben Dowel? Dowel seemed to be the quicker driver today, but was he perhaps driving a little too hard? "Thank you, it was an extremely lucky race for me. I just had no pace against Ben in both qualifying and the race. In the early stage of the race I was pushing to try to at least maintain the gap behind him, but then my back end kept stepping out and I was sliding quite a lot, so at the time I thought it was a bit too risky to be on the limit, especially on this track with the curbs being so aggressive, so I decided to take it easy because I was never going to catch him with the pace he had." We now head to Spa in seven days time - a track you seem to excel at - will you be looking to close that pace gap, or just rely on consistent driving to put you in a position to win should the dominoes around you fall? "Looking forward to Spa, I will certainly be doing the best I can, wherever that's good enough we'll just have to wait and see!" 2nd Place - Chris Stacey - Basement Tank Motorsports: Chris, two podiums in as many races, this is becoming a habit for you. "Yeah it's been a good run of form so far, much better than the first couple of rounds I had last season. My start off the line today was absolutely mega, probably the best I've ever had! I didn't expect to be in third place after the first chicane, as I was planning on how I could get past Evan and Matheus later in the race knowing how good at defending they are, especially Evan. So to jump both of them immediately was just awesome, and meant I could relax a lot more quickly from then on. Third in the last race, and Second today, hopefully next week I can go one better!" 3rd Place - Evan Spall - Spanelli Racing: Evan, congratulations on claiming the final step of the podium. It seemed like you had a relatively uneventful race, but it was not all smooth sailing was it, as towards the end your Spanelli Racing team mate [Tony Binelli] was closing in on you? "Yes, it was relatively uneventful race for me. It became evident early on that Stacey had a good 2-3 tenths per lap on me, but I was able to build a solid gap of around 3-4 seconds back to Binelli. Once I had that gap it was really a case of managing it as I didn't want to risk going off. Once Ben had his incident and it became clear he wasn't going to mount a charge back up the field, I reeled in my pace even more to secure my third place. Having had a pretty unlucky season so far with penalties in the first race and disconnection in the second I was very determined to finish this one, so I was maybe a tad over-conservative in the race." Looking Ahead: The championship now looks to the Ardennes Forest for a trip around the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Seven days time. With Spa being the Jewel in the crown, and a favourite among drivers, the battles up and down the field will have a picturesque backdrop and some legendary corners to provide some fantastic racing. So, we'll see you in a weeks time for all the wrap-up of the penultimate round of this exciting championship! 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