- Apr 1, 2011
After the events of Round 3, the drivers championship points leader - Sun Levi - held 23 point lead over Basement Tank Motorsports driver Chris Stacey, and a further five point advantage on his on-track rival Ben Dowel of Aurora Racing. This points lead in the championship meant that in order for Levi to wrap it up here, he'd have to win the race. Simple as that. If he finished second or lower, with Dowel and/or Stacey ahead of him, then the championship would go down to the wire at the final round at Imola.
Continuing the theme from all previous rounds this season, the battle for pole would once again take place between Sun Levi and Ben Dowel. With Spa being a longer lap, the track would take more time to rubber in, meaning the majority of drivers would set their fastest laps on their final run. On his sixth flying lap, Ben Dowel would take his second pole position in a row with a 2:15.2. The #1 Pitstop Predators car of Sun Levi would qualify second, just two tenths slower than Dowel.
Justin Talent of RedCow Racing showed a return to form after somewhat of a slump by taking fifth on the grid ahead of the two Spanelli Racing cars of Evan Spall and Tony Binelli, however it was a closely fought affair as Talent was separated by just one tenth back to his teammate - Ashley Cowan - in eighth place.
As the five red lights went out, the 20-strong field of cars launched themselves at the La Source hairpin with everyone making it through cleanly. Sun Levi was immediately on the attack as he got a far better run out of Eau Rouge to pass Ben Dowel down the long Kemmel straight. Dowel however refused to yield as he broke late and reclaimed first position through Les Combes. The first few laps saw the majority of action as the drivers jostled for position around the seven kilometre circuit.
Lap 1 and the field attacks the legendary Eau Rouge.
Jeremy Talbot's race was brought to a premature end on lap two as he tried to overtake the #6 A.PI.A Racing car of Jamie Pyatt for 12th place at Les Combes. However, Pyatt being already pre-occupied with Noel Spence passing him moments earlier going into the same corner complex, Talbot got alongside under braking, but Pyatt was caught unawares and took too tight a line into the first right hander of Les Combes, forcing Talbot off the track who then in turn was hit up the rear by Fred Locklear who wasn't able to slow down in time and had no where to go as Pyatt and Talbot made contact. Talbot was then forced to retire after becoming beached in the run-off.
Lap three saw Noel Spence and Tobi Kederer attempt to go side-by-side through Eau Rouge, however with Spence looking to capitalise on the inside, he would make the small mistake of running over the kerb, bouncing him wide and into the side of Kederer. The aftermath would see Kederer's race end with terminal damage after slamming into the barrier at Raidillon, while Spence was able to continue on after somehow managing to avoid the barriers. Further ahead, Justin Talent got on the accelerator too eagerly coming out of Les Combes and had a small trip through the gravel trap, conceding his 5th place to both Spanelli Racing cars in Evan Spall and Tony Binelli, and nearly losing an additional place to Frank van Oeveren going into Rivage.
The Les Combes chicane saw arguably more than it's fair share of action.
On the following lap, more carnage would ensue as the #10 RedShift Racing car of van Oeveren lost the rear end at the top of Raidillon, sending him into a tank-slapper before slamming into the barriers before the Kemmel straight. Unfortunately, van Oeveren was sent slewing across the racing line and with a fast approaching Ashley Cowan coming towards him, contact was made despite Cowan's best efforts to avoid the wreckage. Both drivers received race-ending damage and would leave Spa empty handed.
Back up at the front, Ben Dowel was beginning to stretch the gap to Sun Levi in second, while Chris Stacey was being closely pressured by Matheus Machado for third, while the two Spanelli Racing cars were flying in formation as they built a gap back to Talent in seventh. After the excitement of the opening few laps which saw four retirements, the 16 remaining cars would begin to settle down and start to get into a rhythm as the field began to spread out. Overtaking became difficult as tyre degradation was critical due to the high-load nature that many of Spa's high-speed corners place on the tyres, and the pace difference between several drivers meant that many were left to lap the track by themselves.
Dowel stretches the gap to championship rival Levi, however Levi wasn't finished yet.
On lap 11, the Les Combes chicane would see more action as Michael Stead of RedShift Racing carried too much speed, losing the rear end, spinning the car and doing well to keep it out of the barriers. However, upon rejoining the track contact was made with Fred Locklear, sending Locklear into a half-spin and turning his day from bad to worse. This incident allowed Wayne Flint through into eighth position. Lap 11 also saw Nick Milton's season of rotten luck continue as technical issues prevented him from completing yet another race through no fault of his own.
In the closing stages of the race, and with Dowel on track to take his second win of the season, Sun Levi would throw caution to the wind by setting multiple consecutive qualifying laps to reduce the gap to Dowel from three seconds, down to 1.6 seconds on the final lap. However, it would prove to be too-little-too-late as Dowel came home to take the chequered flag, and keep his championship hopes alive. Chris Stacey would cross the line in third place after holding off Matheus Machado, and the two Spanelli Racing cars would finish in fifth and sixth place to consolidate another strong team result and continue their good form. Justin Talent showed signs of life despite his early mistake to take seventh place and some much needed points. Wayne Flint would make up eight positions during the race to finish in eighth, and Michael Stead and Noel Spence would round out the top ten respectively.
Matt Bailey would also have a strong race, securing his best finish of the season in 11th after gaining eight places on his qualifying result, while Jamie Pyatt's eventful race would see him finish in 12th.
Championship standings after Four rounds:
Ben Dowel sees his championship hopes kept alive after a strong win in Belgium, to close the gap to Levi by a further seven points. Chris Stacey's championship challenge comes to an end after a strong season securing him at least third place no matter the outcome in Round 5. However, the battle for fourth place in the championship is still very much alive as a strong result from either Spall, Pyatt, Stead, Machado, Armstrong or Binelli could see them secure it.
The constructors championship is still up for grabs as the Pitstop Predators hold just a six point advantage over Basement Tank Motorsports. The latter will be bolstered by the return of David Armstrong for Round 5 as a collectively strong result could see them snatch the championship from Sun Levi and Nick Milton. The fight for fifth is extremely close with Grandpa and Grandson, A.P.I.A Racing, RedShift Racing, Slow Motion Racing and RedCow Racing all within striking distance, meaning a strong performance is vital.
Post-Race Podium Interviews:
1st Place - Ben Dowel - Aurora Racing:
Congratulations on the win Ben! You've kept the championship alive going into the final round, and shown a continuation in your stunning pace from Monza. But, Sun didn't make it easy for you, especially in those last few laps. Take us through your race.
"Qualifying was tense but ultimately went to plan. It was a little harder this week due to the longer lap slowing the rubber going down on track. The race started interestingly with Sun getting the slipstream I expected him to down the straight on the first lap, I aggressively took the place back straight away as I had nothing to lose except my pride. I was then able to make a small gap though I suspect Sun was just saving his tyres and maintaining the gap for a push towards the end, the last 3 laps the gap reduced from 3s to 1.6s as he made his move. My tyres weren't giving me the front grip I was asking so I had no answer to his pace. It was another great race with Sun that pushed me to my limit."
Going into the final round, Levi has a 21 point advantage on you in the driver's standings. What is it going to take to win this Championship?
"Imola will be interesting, I have zero race experience there so will be on the back-foot to begin with. The 21 point deficit means that IF I was to win the race Sun would need to be 8th or below as I had a 15th last time out in Monza, unlikely as that is I will be still pushing for the win."
2nd Place - Sun Levi - Pitstop Predators:
Well done on your second place today Sun! Ben looked to have the pace advantage on you today, however you closed the gap substantially on the last couple of laps. How much confidence does that give you going into the final round, with one hand on the trophy, knowing that you can dig out those extra few tenths when you really need them?
"Thank you. I thought I had Ben covered for pole in qualifying, I clearly celebrated too early as he got it back with one minute left of the session. The race it self was pretty good, on the opening lap I passed Ben on the Kemmel straight and tried to hold the lead going into Les Combes, but Ben had it covered. After that I was trying my best to stay with him, but obviously with the championship in the back of my head, I didn't want to take any risk as Ben clearly had superior pace.
In the later stages of the race I noticed the gap from me to Ben was closing a bit, so the last couple of laps I just decided to push to see if I could do anything, but in the end it wasn't enough. All in all it was a very enjoyable race. Now looking forward to the championship-deciding round!"
3rd Place - Chris Stacey - Basement Tank Motorsports:
Congratulations on a hard earned third place today Chris. It seemed Matheus Machado kept you on your toes for most of the race there, did you feel you had it under control though?
"Yes and no. He seemed to be gaining quite a bit on me under braking, especially into the Bus Stop chicane. But, other than that I felt like I had him covered on every other section of the track. Pouhon was a bit treacherous sometimes as the tyres started to fall away, but I just had to focus on the road ahead and keeping the car on the black stuff, rather than the car in my mirrors. He seemed to drop back a bit towards the end, so I felt more relaxed once I knew that all I had to do was keep it on track and I'd be able to grab third."
Mathematically, your chances of winning the championship are now over, how will you approach the final round knowing that you've got nothing to lose?
"Well, my mentality really won't change all that much. Sure I can't finish any lower than third, but I still want to finish second. So hopefully Ben and Sun will have a coming together or something, and I can finish the season with a great result!"
With the title decider coming down to the final round in Italy, Ben Dowel will need a very strong result, and some good luck to fall his way if he is to win the title. Make no mistake, Levi will be looking to win the race to put his stamp of authority on the championship, but it must weigh on his mind that all he needs to do is finish 7th or better, regardless of where Dowel finishes, in order to be crowned Champion. If Dowel were to win the race, and Levi finishes in 8th, then they would finish the season tied on 90 points, however, Dowel would take the championship on a count-back due to having a higher number of wins (3-2), meaning that if Dowel wins, then Levi must finish 7th or higher, which given his form so far this season, should be no trouble at all. But, racing is an unpredictable business and anything can happen.
With Imola being famously infamous, this is sure to be an incredible season finale whatever the result. So join us in two weeks time as we bring you all the highlights and season wrap-up from the final round of the Thrustmaster Australian Formula Master. 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!