Kiwi drivers were again dominant across two of the biggest e-racing Sim series categories across the Tasman this week.
Red Bull Holden driver Shane Van Gisbergen took out the BP Supercars All Stars E-series title at a virtual Mt Panorama circuit at Bathurst on Wednesday evening while recent carsales ARG eSport Cup Sim series overall winner Jaden Ransley again dominating the latest Liquidaction & Cook Strait Bookings-sponsored, SIMSpeedTV-hosted KartSport New Zealand iKartSport Racing ‘Virtual Club Day’ presented by Cadbury at the iRacing league’s virtual Phillip Island circuit near Melbourne the night before.
Christchurch-based former NZ kart star Ransley was – once again – the class of the large field of Kiwi karters and kart-turned-racing car drivers who ‘suited’ up around the country for what most now regard as their ‘weekly fix’ of sim racing.
Like last week the field was in a spec single-seater racing car, an entry level 2.0. litre Dodge-engined tubular steel framed machine with only rudimentary wings and narrow treaded tyres, created by the US-based Skip Barber racing school to teach the basics of racing to new drivers,
Jaden Ransley was again the quickest qualifier around the high speed 4.4km Phillip Island circuit, and again was the only driver to dip below the 1:47.00 mark (1:46.773) in qualifying to claim pole position for the first (10-lap) race of the evening.
Incredibly, as well as winning that race from pole position, he also won the 20-lap full reverse grid final, making his way from P30 to P3 in just three laps!
In the first race Ransley was able to get a jump on fellow front row starter Paul Blomqvist, fellow Aucklander Josh Richmond and iRacing rep Scott Fountain. However Fountain and Richmond clashed wheels under braking for the Honda hairpin on the second lap, allowing race leader Ransley some breathing room ahead of karter Zane Hills and former karter and now single-seater title-holder Taylor Cockerton, both from Auckland.
Waiuku-based teen Mitchell Sparrow was a big mover early on only to become involved in a mid-to-late race battle pack involving Josh Richmond, Rowan Shepherd, Paul Blomqvist and Hayden Bakkerus.
This group provided most of the interest behind Ransley, Cockerton and a battling Scott Fountain and Stephen Beaumont, using the draft down the Phillip Island circuit’s long start/finish straight to set up passes through the ultra-fast first corner.
At the finish line some of the margins were incredibly slim, with just 0.041 of a second (half a nose-cone at best) separating Beaumont who just managed to pip Fountain for the final spot on the podium (third).
Just 0.009 of a second, meanwhile, separated fifth placed Josh Richmond and Rowan Shepherd in sixth with Mitchell Sparrow seventh but part of the same three-car-wide photo finish only another 0.026 of a second adrift.
Drama at the first turn, with cars spinning out and cannoning into each other, did help Jaden Ransley make up some of the 27 places (from P30 to P3) he did early on in the reverse grid 20-lap feature race.
His was still a deeply impressive performance however, particularly when Zach Blincoe, the quick Aucklander had started from pole and had the opportunity to dictate the pace from the front.
As it turned out, however, when the Safety Car was deployed on lap 7 Ransley was already up to P2, leaving Blincoe a sitting duck when the track went green again.
To be fair this time though Ransley didn’t have it all his own way on the re-start, with fellow TCR eSeries teammate Rowan Shepherd attacking his lead from the get-go.
What followed was 10-laps of close, exciting wheel-to-wheel racing which saw Shepherd, Ranslay and Blincoe all put in time at the front of a three-car ‘peloton.’
Behind them too, there was action aplenty, with teenage Aucklander Hayden Bakkerus leading a battling Leo Scott and Josh Richmond, and Nelson school boy Ollie Workman holding a watching brief in seventh place.
By lap 17 Rowan Shepherd had well and truly shown his hand at the head of the pack, he and Ransley having edged away from Bakkerus, Blincoe, Workman and the (still) battling Leo Scott and Josh Richmond.
A lap later though Ransley was back in front and had built a small buffer which he managed to hold across the penultimate and final laps to keep Shepherd out – albeit by just 0.881 seconds – at the finish line.
Hayden Bakkerus retained third, Zach Blincoe fourth. Unfortunately, though, young Nelson driver Ollie Workman, who had been running as high as fifth, tangled wheels with Josh Richmond on the final lap, allowing Leo Scott and Stephen Beaumont through to take fifth and sixth places respectively.
Tuesday night’s event was the fifth hosted by professional SIM company, the SIMSpeed eSport Network and fifth of eight to be sponsored by Blenheim-based irrigation company LiquidAction.
The event was also supported by KartSport New Zealand promotional partners Giltrap Group and Carter’s Tyre Service, and Cadbury’s – the latter through the Chocolate Fish confectionary giveaways originally prompted by one of the race commentators who said that the drivers were racing for fun, with a ‘Chocolate Fish’ the only incentive.
Though KartSport New Zealand has now been cleared to permit actual kart race meetings on affiliated kart club tracks from this weekend (Saturday June 13/14) it is envisaged at the moment that the Virtual Club Days series will continue in some form.