Dunstall & Stewart dominate second new-look ‘Virtual Club Day’

BMW Race Series rising star Sam Dunstall and young Wellington karter Ben Stewart dominated the second LiquidAction & Cook Strait Bookings-sponsored, SIMSpeedTV-hosted KartSport New Zealand iKartSport Racing ‘Virtual Club Day’ on Tuesday night.

The round – contested at a virtual 2.7km Lime Rock Park circuit in Connecticut in the United States – again attracted a large field of Kiwi karters and Sim racers, all again behind the wheel of one of the iRacing platform’s most popular models, a spec (unmodified) Mazda MX5.

Dunstall pipped 15-year-old Vortex ROK DVS class front-runner Ben Stewart for pole position in his qualifying session early in the evening. However he was forced to use all his considerable real world BMW series and recent Sim experience in a Mazda MX5 in the 2KCUP virtual series, to absorb the pressure young gun Stewart heaped on him from beginning to end.

It was a deeply impressive showing from both drivers, though because the grid was going to be fully reversed for the 24-lap feature later in the evening, neither was expected to feature in the top three again.

Feature they did, however, with Ben Stewart leading the way this time. Though he started the race from P29 on the gird (alongside race 1 winner Dunstall who started on P30) Stewart was up to  P8 by the third lap (with Dunstall back in P11) and up to P4 (with Dunstall in P8) only four laps later.

Incredibly Stewart was then in the lead (after taking advantage of a couple of clumsy moves in the battle pack that was disputing the top three placings) by the 11th lap and until arch-rival Dunstall suddenly appeared right behind – then alongside – it looked like Stewart was heading for his first big win in the LiquidAction-backed and Cook Strait Crossing-supported SIMSpeedTV/KartSport NZ Virtual Series.

Understandably, Dunstall had other ideas, however, relieving Stewart of the lead and easing away to eventually cross the finish line just over a second (1.041sec) ahead. Pole man B.N. Scott managed to hang on for third place from Matt Anderson, Daniel Hall, Arthur Broughan, Blake Knowles, Zach Blincoe and Stephen Beaumont.

All the drama in the first race happened, meanwhile, behind lights-to-flag winner Dunstall who positively rocketed away from the line ahead of Alex Pirlea (who qualified third quickest), and Ben Stewart.

A spin exiting the fast, double apex first turn saw several cars off as they tried to avoid a prone Hayden Bakkerus. Ben Stewart used the same corner on the next lap to drive around the outside of Alex Pirlea to take second place and start to hunt down Sam Dunstall.

Two laps later, however,  there was more carnage at the same spot in the mid-field after Brad Still’s car was pole-axed as he was leaving the pits, an incident which saw at least four cars pin-balling off the track and into the barriers on either side of the first turn.

Stephen Beaumont – meanwhile – got the better of both Alex Pirlea and Zach Blincoe to work his way up to P3, though with Ben Stewart setting the fastest race lap on lap 8 third was going to be as good as it got for Beaumont.

Wellington driver Tim Sillay leap-frogged pole sitter B.N Scott and fellow front row starter Arthur Broughan to make the early running in the reverse grid feature race. However Sillay outbraked himself into a half spin on the tricky downhill run into Lime Rock’s right-left chicane, allowing young Auckland karter Ayrton Williams to take the lead. Unfortunately, Hayden Bakkerus, who was in fifth place at the time, drove into the side of Sillay’s prone car, effectively ending his and Sillay’s challenge.

Blenhiem youngster Arthur Broughan was enjoying better luck in this race, finally getting past Palmerston North karter Jenson Bate for second place. He however ended up losing out in the top 4 re-reshuffle which saw both Williams and Whangarei karter Braedan Snowden shuffle down the pack, Ben Stewart take the lead, and Sam Dunstall follow him through.

Broughan managed to hang on to cross the finish line in sixth place,  behind eventual race and day winner Dunstall, runner-up Stewart, third-placed Scott, then Anderson and Daniel Hall, but in front of Blake Knowles, Zach Blincoe, Stephen Beaumont and a fast-finishing Liam Pink.

After the feature final race winner Sam Dunstall said he enjoyed the new challenge of competing against the country’s top karters, reserving special praise for the driver who had run him closest, Ben Stewart.

“I thought he had me in the feature,” he said. ‘ He did a very good job and I am looking forward to coming back and renewing our rivalry at the next Sim day.”

Ross MacKay

Ross MacKay is an award-winning journalist, author and publicist with first-hand experience of motorsport from a lifetime competing on two and four wheels. He currently combines a day job editing NZ4WD magazine with contract media work, weekend Mountain Bike missions and towing his 1989 Nissan Skyline drifter to grassroots meetings around the North Island.

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