The summer break was over which meant only one thing. The SOP Motorsports Sprint Cup Series was upon us. The wait was over, and it was time for another campaign to begin where we would see 48 drivers battle for individual honors over a 7-round series travelling around the globe. Our reigning European Sprint Cup champions from Pro and Silver never returned to defend the titles but many familiar drivers and teams signed up to participate again which is always great to see, including the rest of the podium finishers from last season trying to get one step higher. They would now be accompanied by many a fresh face on the grid who will be trying to make their own history in this sprint cup season.
Let the games begin.
Round 1 – Imola
Saturdays qualifying took place in heavy rain and wet conditions. The Silver class was up for the first 15 minutes to endure the rain-soaked Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari circuit but nothing was getting in the way of Chris Fielder and pole position as he dominated the session to qualify ahead of the rest by .300 of a second. It was a different story behind Chris as less than half a second separated the next 10 drivers in a close battle that saw Rok Kopse take second and Riccardo Malgotti slot into third.
The Pro class was next up, and the rain only intensified, which meant Chris Fielder in the Silver class would actually qualify sixth overall at the end of the entire session. The top five in the Pro class were on a different level however, even with the tricky conditions, Liam Page took his BMW M4 to pole position with a time of 1:48.730, less than 1 tenth ahead of Luca Tavernari who was 1 tenth ahead of Thomas Mourant.
This meant 7 different manufacturers lined up inside the top 10 for round 1. Perhaps Assetto Corsa Competizione was onto something with this latest balance of Performance. All we knew was that it was going to be an exciting race.
Sunday meant race day and the clouds were looming, but there was no rain falling just yet. Straight away it was unfortunate that the man, Luca Tavernari, who qualified second had to start from the garage after picking up a problem on the formation lap. This promoted everyone up a position, but it would be Liam Page with the clean getaway from pole to lead the pack into turn 1 and around the first lap.
Rewatch the entire race for yourself below:
Was it also inevitable that lap 1 of a brand-new championship would always start with a bit of carnage? Well, this is what the drivers got because the first bit of contact caused a domino effect and all of a sudden up to 10 cars were off the track either involved in incidents or trying to avoid the incidents. What this did was shuffle the order straight away and many different strategies would now be coming into play, as the top 6 avoided everything behind and instantly created a gap to the rest of the pack.
The rain started to fall around lap 4 and the conditions would remain damp and greasy until the chequered flag, this caused many issues for drivers trying to figure out if it was better to be on cold dry tyres, or hot wet tyres when the pit stop window opened. All we knew is drivers would surely be suffering in the changeable conditions.
The battle for the top 5 raged on in both classes for a good portion of the race, right up until the pitstops actually, which inevitably shuffled and calmed things down as different strategies came into play.
Many great battles formed, but two great battles in the Pro class particularly stood out throughout this race. Liam Page and Thomas Mourant were away and gone in their own battle for the lead, right down to the final lap where they stayed less than a second apart for the full 60 minutes. It was fantastic to watch. Another great battle was had between Tony McOffoven and Iain Egan who had a great battle for what would be third and fourth after Alex Phillips picked up a SG30 penalty for speeding in the pits relegating him from third to P20 overall.
After a fantastic start in the Silver class, Chris Fielder got it all wrong by himself and got collected whilst spinning in the process, this allowed Kopse to jump up into the lead where he stayed for the rest of the race in a measured drive to victory whilst it all kicked off behind him.
The top 10 in Silvers changed positions no less than what seemed 100 times in the 60-minute race as they were so evenly matched. But after the pitstops ironed out it was Matt Lee who came all the way from eighth place in qualifying to find himself in second at the flag, with James Horne rounding out the podium positions.
The full standings after the race can be found below:
Two special mentions and a round-up of round 1 then.
This man pictured below, Nelson Abrunhosa, came from fifteenth on the grid in qualifying to finish fourth at the flag in the Silver class and Luca Tavernari who qualified second in Pro but had to start from the pits and stone cold last in P44 came back up to finish tenth overall and eighth in Pro class at the flag. Two stand-out performances from these and ones to watch for in round 2.
Round Up – Round 1
But that is round 1 done and dusted at Imola. Round two in a week’s time will see the drivers fly to Austin, Texas and the Circuit of The Americas where it is looking to be a heat wave.
The top 3 in each class from round 1 will now have to suffer the consequences of their success, however, as they will be hit with success ballast. 30kg for the winner, 20kg for second and 10kg for the third. This success ballast applies to the top three from every round from this point on and I am sure it will only further enhance this championship as it shakes up the pecking order each round.