After the result from Round 4 in the Ardennes Forest, Sun Levi would need to finish 7th or higher to clinch the title, irrespective of what Ben Dowel could achieve. While further down the grid, a very tight battle for 4th was shaping up with several drivers being within shouting distance. A major shakeup took place just 24 hours prior to lights out with the release of version 1.2 for Assetto Corsa, which somewhat changed the handling characteristics of the cars. This meant that the drivers would need to get in as much practice as possible in a short time frame in order to help themselves get accustomed to the new handling behaviour. This also meant that a surprise result could be in store.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, taking his fourth pole of the season and arguably the most important one of the season when you consider the stakes involved and the relative overtaking difficulty of Imola, Sun Levi put in a fantastic lap in difficult conditions ahead of Dowel in second, albeit by just under three tenths of a second. Chris Stacey would yet again line up in third on the grid ahead of Evan Spall and Michael Stead. Matheus Machado wanted more from his qualifying session after lining up seventh on the grid, while Fred Locklear began to finally show some form when it mattered by qualifying 9th ahead of Justin Talent rounding out the top 10.
As the five red lights extinguished, Ben Dowel had the better launch of the two front runners, but it wasn't enough to get ahead of Levi for turn one. Chris Stacey was slow to react and was subsequently swamped by Evan Spall and Michael Stead. A large four-car pile up occured at the back of the field when Jack Trooper got a great launch on Tobi Kederer, getting alongside him, however, the pair when side-by-side along with Matt Bailey and Aidan Keranen creating a four-wide situation, and eventually they ran out of room, with Trooper and Kederer coming together, which then cleaned up Matt Bailey and Aidan Keranen in the process, unfortunately ending Keranen's race and heavily impacting on Bailey's.
Stacey's race was brought to an early end at Turn 4 when he took too much curb, combined with cold tires, sending him into a tank-slapper and eventually on into the wall. Fred Locklear's race suffered a major setback after he got on the throttle too early coming out of the penultimate corner and impacted heavily into the inside barrier. The aggressive curbs and bumpy track surface combined with the unfamiliar handling characteristics meant that many drivers made mistakes that perhaps they wouldn't have otherwise made, which meant that keeping the car on the black stuff was imperative for a good result.
Lead by Levi, the field of cars made it through turns one and two unscathed.
Early on the battle for the lead was already in full swing with Dowel attacking Levi for everything he was worth. While Dowel was arguably the faster driver throughout the race, the characteristics of Imola meant that overtaking was near on impossible, and Levi was able to resist the pressure, remain composed and stay ahead. A few laps later, Dowel himself would begin to make a couple of small mistakes as a result of attacking so hard, allowing Levi some breathing room. But such was Dowel's pace advantage, he was soon on Levi's gearbox again, but yet again was unable to make a move around the tight Italian circuit.
The battle for the final podium position was also going strong with Evan Spall defending well against an evenly matched Michael Stead. With Spall quickly becoming renowned as one of the best defensive drivers on the grid, Stead would have his work cut out for him. But, a small mistake from Spall on the exit of Acqua Minerale meant that Stead was able to get ahead going into the braking zone of the chicane, however Spall broke incredibly late and simply refused to give Stead an easy pass, retaining third position on the exit of the chicane. But, Stead played the long game and yet again at Acqua Minerale, Spall made an even bigger mistake getting all crossed up, allowing Stead through for his easiest pass of the day.
With overtaking opportunities coming few and far between, drivers would have to wait for a mistake before pouncing.
While the battle for 6th was just as intense as Jeremy Talbot was significantly faster than David Armstrong, closing his early race deficit in a matter of laps, and was soon tucked right up beneath Armstrong's rear wing. However, once again the harshness of the Imola circuit proved too much as Talbot was unable to find a way past. The two drivers began to hold eachother up as attacking moves were followed with counter moves, and as a result, Tony Binelli was able to cruise up the back of them rather quickly. However, down into Acqua Minerale, Binelli misjudged his braking point and ran into the back of Talbot. Amazingly, both drivers were able to continue, however Jamie Pyatt was able to capitalise on the incident to take 7th place.
As the race drew to a close, Sun Levi would extend his gap to Dowel after a brief final push from the Aurora Racing driver, going on to take the chequered flag and the title in spectacular fashion. Dowel would come home in second just under 2 seconds behind Levi, while Matheus Machado would take the final step on the podium after Spall and Stead were both hit with hefty time penalties for excessive track limit abuse.
Dowel tried all of his party tricks, but nothing would work around the brutally tough Imola circuit.
Championship standings after Five Rounds:
So at the end of the season Sun Levi clinched the championship by 28 points to his main rival Ben Dowel after a hard-fought but commanding race win. The distance in between the two in the points table is however not an accurate reflection of just how close these two have been, with only two incidents going in favour of Levi to allow him to open a gap to Dowel: the first came in Round One when Dowel made the odd decision to make a pit stop, and the second incident coming in Round Three when Dowel was leading comfortably before losing control on the exit curb of the second Lesmo in Monza.
The constructors would prove to be a little closer, but the disastrous final race from Stacey meant that a singular points scoring outing from Armstrong would not be enough to close the six point gap going into the season finale. Spanelli Racing had a fantastic final three rounds moving up the order to finish fourth overall, while back to back poor performances from A.P.I.A Racing meant that RedShift Racing was able to jump them.
Post Race Podium Interviews:
1st Place - Sun Levi - Pitstop Predators:
Congratulation Sun! You are the 2015 Thrustmaster Australian Formula Master Champion! How does it feel?
"Thank you! What a tough & exciting season that was, I'm pretty lucky to have won it I have to say. Ben dowel was simply the faster man this season. But I'm still pretty happy with how I performed, I certainly gave it my all. And it was a great learning experience for me.
And once again I have to say thank you to the RD organizers & Thrustmaster for this incredible league! And of course, the wonderful prize!"
The race today was incredibly tough, but you managed to hold Dowel off and even extend the gap during the race?
"That was by far the best & toughest race ever for me, the combination of the car and track here is very challenging, and to have Ben hunting you down was...Yes, tough.
My main goal for the race was obviously to finish anywhere above 7th, realistically I knew I had the pace to at least be 2nd, so it was a pretty straight forward. But after qualifying on pole I realised I have the chance to actually win the race, so I just had to go for it. The main motivation to win the race was to get maximum points for the battle with Basement Tank Motorsports in the constructors.
With Imola being a pretty tough track to overtake & to follow, I decided to drop my wings a bit just before the race so I can have a bit more speed on the straights, which actually helped me a lot as I notice Ben wasn't getting a lot of slip stream when he was behind me on the main straight, I knew if I just kept my head down and didn't make any mistakes I'll be able to stay in front. The speed he had in the race was incredible, so I'm very happy with how I performed under pressure."
2nd Place - Ben Dowel - Aurora Racing:
Well done Ben on coming home second in what was yet another thrilling battle for the lead between yourself and Levi. Take us through your race as there were some pretty close moments between yourself and Levi.
"This week I had a poor qualifying, I didn't actually do a clean lap at all and was lucky to even get 2nd. Qualifying was very important here in this car, I could get very close to Sun in the first sector where I had more pace but the lack of downforce just threw me off the track. As frustrating as that was I kept trying to get close but just couldn't manage an overtake."
Your championship points tally is somewhat hindered by your result from Round 3, but had you taken the win there, as was looking likely, you would've been in with a much better chance of taking the title here today. Will your approach to next season change much? Or is it just a case of attacking Sun as much as possible?
"My mistake on the exit of the 2nd Lesmo at Monza I think cost me a race win and a realistic attempt at the championship crown. Congratulations to Sun Levi who was just too consistent and fast over the season, a well deserved champion. The next series will be a blast, hopefully Sun and I can continue our close battles and I can challenge for the title from the start.
Thank you RaceDepartment for putting on a great season of clean and close racing."
3rd Place - Matheus Machado - Grandpa & Grandson:
Congratulations on taking third place today Matheus. It looked like a very tough race, but your strong result has given you fourth place in the drivers championship. Take us through your race.
"Thanks! Right from the start, I felt it was going to be a tough race, this track is very tricky and a single small lapse of concentration would make all the difference.
With that in mind, I was really focused on getting a good result on qualifying as there aren't many overtaking opportunities here, but I couldn't run a lap in my practice pace finishing slightly below my expectations to guarantee a more comfortable race.
When the race started, watching I wasn't the only one having trouble in this round, made me more relaxed, being able to do a consistent race, running good lap times while still keeping the car under control. Overall it was a result of a great setup, self control and good practice.
And after all the fourth place in the championship came as a good surprise! After struggling in the first rounds I focused on improving my pace above anything else and this represents a statement of an achieved goal for me."
It's been a fantastic season, and has greatly surpassed my expectations. The driving standard and professionalism with which all drivers conducted themselves was fantastic to see, and it was especially pleasing for myself as the league director and organiser to see that the values and rules that RaceDepartment aims to provide was being upheld to the best of the drivers abilities, and that the sportsmanship and mutual respect among drivers was incredibly high.
On behalf of all those here at RaceDepartment, we hope you've enjoyed following along with the Thrustmaster Australian Formula Master, and we hope to be back next season for another exciting season of RaceDepartment league racing, so stick and stay with RaceDepartment.com as we continue to blur the line between real and virtual motorsport!