The first round of the World GT Championship at Watkins Glen was much anticipated – not only by Beast Racing but everyone involved in the series, after a huge build-up of Social Media presence had done a lot to promote it, and gain the series itself quite the following. The venue had been the subject of most winter testing done by drivers and teams, as they adjusted their setups and got used to the GTE Machinery the Championship had switched to – from GT3-homologated cars – for the foreseeable future.
After a very positive Media Day at Silverstone a week previous, Tom Jacobs, Steve Burke and Chaz Draycott were looking forward to finally getting on track to compete for some points, hoping to challenge for the AM Class Drivers and Teams Championships. Unfortunately though, Tom would be missing from the roster come race day due to work commitments, meaning that our presence was greatly reduced, as he was Beast Racing’s proven quickest driver around ‘The Glen’ during testing.
The remaining duo of Draycott and Burke – piloting the #22 Ford GT LM and #23 Porsche 991 RSR respectively – got into Practice with plenty of time to get some laps in, and felt confident in the setups they’d worked on in the championship’s hiatus. Chaz got a long haul of laps in, and managed to put the Ford 30th overall, with Steve in 41st, despite being under 0.4s apart. They were 8th and 19th in AM.
Qualifying was soon upon the field, and the frantic search for space on track to get a clean lap in, begun. Steve felt he was held up in his early attempts, so pulled the car in for some fresh rubber and went back out to set a 1:40.334, putting him 28th overall and 5th in AM. Chaz would have a very similar session – hindered slightly by traffic early on, but a quick stop and some clear air saw him clock a 1:40.635 and secure 9th in AM.
To sum up Race 1 as one of the greatest races the World GT Championship had seen in its 6-season-long life would be an understatement. The racing was close, exciting, and action-packed throughout – Watkins Glen had delivered once again. Steve had a very stable performance, standing strong in the first few laps despite some minor contact with competitors around him, eventually coming home in 21st. Chaz did the same – gaining a couple of spots and enjoying wheel-to-wheel battles with the likes of AM Class rivals Russell Laidler and Adam Hedgecock. He would bring the Beast Racing Ford GT LM over the line in 27th.
Race 2 brought a large reverse grid, putting Steve Burke’s #23 Porsche second on the grid, along-side fellow AM Class driver Richard Warmingham. Draycott wasn’t so fortunate with the reverse grid and would line up 27th overall. Steve took the lead in the early stages, then continued to swap positions in an enthralling battle for the lead with Warmingham and Mark Woodhouse. It all came undone however, on Lap 6, as he lost the rear of the car under braking for ‘The Heel’. He would drop to 45th and cross the line in 44th. This equated to 19th in AM Class.
Chaz’s race wasn’t much smoother. A huge pile-up entering ‘The Boot Section’ of Watkins Glen’s Grand Prix layout brought out the first Safety Car of the season. During this Safety Car period occurred one of – if not – the most controversial and bizarre incident the Championship had ever seen. An unfortunate connection issue for James Underhill in the Northern Lights Racing Porsche 991 RSR meant that he couldn’t see any of the other cars on track, but on the flip-side, the rest of the field could still see, hear, and collide with him.
James came hurtling down the backstraight hitting over 150mph and snow-plowing his way through the traffic, completely unaware that he was even making contact with anyone or anything. A total of eight cars were damaged by the mishap, but it was thoroughly understood by everyone involved that there was nothing he could have done. Chaz’s #22 Ford GT LM was badly damaged by this, and had to be towed back to the pitlane. From there, he came back out and ended up finishing in 51st overall.
Optimism was the word used between the Beast Racing Drivers for the final race of the night. Cooler conditions meant that both cars felt great on track, so despite starting from 44th and 51st, Burke and Draycott were looking to move forward, and fast. Steve did just that, and he powered his Porsche all the way up to 19th position overall – 4th in AM Class, battling with Layne O’Connor for a class podium. Unfortunately, with just a couple of laps remaining, he again lost control in ‘The Heel’ – this time coming out of the corner. He was able to recover and finish in 37th overall. Chaz struggled again, feeling the pressures of the night’s poor results, and could only manage a 39th overall – a night of what-ifs as the Ford showed moments of very strong pace.
“The car felt good this evening. Race 1 went my way after a good start and some hard fighting, but I was probably feeling a little over confident into race 2 – the pace felt good but the car was a little loose. I managed to hold onto 4th for a while until I spun the car. From then on I struggled to keep it controlled in the changeable conditions. Starting from 45th in Race 3 – there was a lot of work to do. Ben Palmer and I put up a good fight, getting all the way up to 19th. With one lap to go I made the same mistake as I did in race 2 and had to wait for the majority of the field to pass. Overall, a good evening’s racing with strong pace, interrupted by 2 small mistakes that completely changed the races for me. I’m looking forward to next week and letting the Porsche sing once again.” -Steve
“Off the back of a tough night in the Euro V8 Supercars Championship, this was even tougher. Saying that, the racing was absolutely immense – Race 1 was one of the best I’ve had on iRacing. Steve was absolutely on fire in that last race – it was such a shame he spun. It’s a positive that we can take away from tonight though – our pace was really good.” -Chaz
Next time round at Road America, Tom Jacobs will be back in his #5 Porsche 991 RSR to help get more points on the board for the team. It’s a strong track for Chaz based on previous results so it could be a chance for him to turn his fortune around, while Tom will be looking to get his Season off to a strong start. You can catch the action live on the iRacing eSports Network from 8:15pm UK time on the 21st of January.