Season seven of the Invictus Racing League made it across the desert sand after an explosive pre-season, and as the leagues readied up for Bahrain the excitement level in the paddock was palpable.
It proved to be a fantastic start to the season, and with the race taking place at night it certainly didn’t drop the temperature of the action on track which was red hot from Monday through to Wednesday evening.
One race saw what is yet to be confirmed the closest finish of all time in Invictus Racing League, whilst we saw shocks and surprises across the week with Invictus Racing League rookie winners and a first ever league race win!
It was a superlative-laden race on Monday night as the no-assists league kicked off-season seven for Invictus, in what was one of the best races in recent memory. We saw one of the closest on track battles for the race victory for several seasons and it did not disappoint.
Qualifying saw interesting team tactics from the Mercedes early on, but it would be the Force India of RICKWR88 who at the end of the session sat on pole after using the fastest super-soft compound, but eyebrows were raised by debutant driver Samuthepito who lined up alongside the Canadian on the harder soft tyres compound, he had out-qualified several drivers on faster tyres and ahead of the pre-season favourites of BoyBetterKnowSB (Scott) and Speed_Queen80 who started third and thirteenth respectively.
The viewers were treated to an absolute classic after the lights extinguished and sent the grid rolling down to turn one, it was an unfortunate start for Rick as he struggled off the line and dropped to third by turn four, and after picking up wing damage early into the race would fall to the rear of the field and struggle to recover.
This allowed Samuthepito and Scott to make a break-away from the field and the two engaged in an enthralling battle for the entirety of the race, the two maintaining a gap within one second of each other for the 35 lap distance and traded the lead on several occasions.
Lap 15 saw a huge accident between Stifler1980 and Nikki9095 as the two battled over fifth and sixth, the Force India of Nikki seemed to stray into the McLarens line on the exit of turn two, and as the two hit the wall, Stifler was catapulted back onto the track surface directly into the path of the Ferrari of xMIKExSI who was desperately unlucky with no-where to go in such a short space of time as all three retired.
Ultimately it would be Scott who would cross the line two tenths ahead of his on-track rival who was unfortunate to pick up a time penalty with four laps remaining that really spoiled what was one of the best battles we have seen in a long time.
Scopefielder would come home in third, he had desperately tried to interject himself into the fight for the win, but the Mercedes team-mate of Scott in Joel-v520 would play the ‘team-game’ as he got ahead of the Swedish driver and held him up effectively ending his fight to make it a three car battle for the win.
Reigning champion Speed_Queen could only manage a fourth place finish, to which she will be happy after starting well out of the top ten in thirteenth.
It was a thrilling start to the season, but it only shaped up what was to become a great week of racing across all leagues. It was a race not to be missed and the commentary and viewers a-like left wanting more as the cars crossed the finishing line to the fireworks display.
As the Performance One grid rolled out onto the track for qualifying on Tuesday, it seemed a varying mix of strategy had been used across the field of drivers’ all looking at being the first race winner of the season.
The red-walled supersoft tyres were the fastest tyre to be on and it was just that compound which Tom_444 in the Haas would use to take the first pole position of the season. He was joined on row one by the Red Bull of ColinJ, both would their hands full in the early stint of the race as Craig8728 was on the soft tyres and looking very competitive in the Renault.
After the start, a boisterous BoyBetterKnowSB (Scott) would make his way up and past a number of driver’s ahead, including reigning champion SkyZii, the French driver found himself off-line at turn two and tumbling down the order early as the cars rounded lap one.
Tom_444 pitted early allowing Craig to assume the lead, and with Scott, Spud and Colin for company, the four seemed to break-away from the main pack.
The man on the charge was Captain_Stiff in the Ferrari, whilst on the reverse strategy after starting on the mediums was really starting to close that gap. The pit-stops saw all the top four onto the mediums, but with Stiff still out on the older medium tyres, a superb in-lap from him would see him appear well in striking range for the win as he exited the pit-lane.
Stiff dispatched both Red Bulls in successive laps on the fresh softs, and in the following laps passed both Scott and then Craig for the race-lead with eight laps remaining.
The British driver would stretch his lead out to nine seconds over his Scottish counter-part and come home to take a first-ever league race win. Craig and Scott would make up the podium after consistent pace rewarded the two with season opening silverware ensuring their team Know Nothing Racing leaves Bahrain with 22 points and leads in the constructors’ championship.
It was a race to forget for pole-sitter The-Warislander in the first outing in Performance 2 this season, the Dutchman dropped all the way down to ninth by the end of the race and well over 70 seconds down on the eventual winner.
Swedish driver Scopefielder has already shown in pre-season that he is looking sharp and in-line for another championship run to add to his successful season last time out. The McLaren driver defied the odds in the under-powered manufacture to come from fifth on the grid and take the first race win of the season. He was joined on the podium by Sab7786 and NickLJThomson, Sab will rue a mechanical failure that possibly halted his battle for the win as the Red Bull suffered DRS failure for the first third of the race.
Nick was also aggrieved at the end of the race as contact with WesleyVanRens seemingly cost the Sauber the chance at taking the fight to Sab and Scope ahead. The two crossed the line split by one tenth of a second, but the Dutch driver of Wes was unable to recover the position after starting alongside team-mate Warislander on the front row.
Scope starts off the season in much the same way that he closed the last, he looks the man to beat on track, will his luck change in Barcelona next week?
Invictus Racing Leagues premier crop of drivers took to the track for their first race to the season on Wednesday night; the grid is stacked with talent, and with new drivers added to an already strong line-up, it seems this season could be as unpredictable as ever.
Reigning no-assist champion, Speed_Queen80 was the recipient of the first pole position of the season; she used the super-soft tyres to place her McLaren in the most sought after position on the grid. However, it wasn’t to be for the multi-time champion in Invictus, the two-stop strategy that she employed would eventually drop her down to a ninth place finish in what was a disappointing start for the experienced driver.
She had been joined on the front row by mdoran09, and the Irishman wasn’t going to let the same happen to him. However, Danestar_51 was well in the fight having started in fourth, and with nine laps left to go, the two would embrace in what was another incredible battle.
Trading places lap-on-lap, the two engaged in wheel-to-wheel combat across the dusty desert circuit wowing the fans watching. It all came down to a final lap showdown between the two, and as they exited the final corner it was neck and neck!
The two crossed the line side-by-side and after a photo finish checked the results, mdoran would win by fifteen thousandths of a second! This had Invictus officials looking through the record books to see if it was the closest finish of all time!?
It was a nail-biting end to the race and with the top two taking the headlines, but behind the battle for third was equally raging for BoyBetterKnowSB, once again involved in a battle with no-assist rival samuthepito as the two were separated by half a second across the line.
Scott and Sam seemed locked together this week, and in both races (No assist and F1) their combined gap at the finish was less than three-quarters of a second.
It was an unbelievable end to what was fantastic race, the top two put on an incredible show for the fans, equally Scott and Sam look like that could be a rivalry we may have to get used to across Invictus.
Special mention goes to WaveIntel, the young Scot celebrated his 18th birthday the day before with a superb race in the top league as he made his way up from eleventh to fifth, as he continues his remarkable ascent in pace.
It was a perfect night for debutant German driver GooDStuff-7, the rookie F2 driver took a well-earned flag to flag victory ahead of South African Nismax7 who equally will enjoy his promotion from seventh to second during the race.
GooDStuff took pole in the Haas after utilising the super-soft tyres, and using the difficult super-soft to medium strategy, he was able to keep Nismax at bay with the Sauber four and half seconds back.
Mj_coop had started off well and his strategy had seen him jump the eventual winner and Nismax, but with GooDStuff making a superb move on the British driver, he then dropped behind the South African Nixmax on a post-race applied penalty, but managed to take away a podium and ten championship points.
Italian driver RudiMandragorex will be delighted with his race, a twelfth place start saw him charge through the field to take home eight championship points for a fourth place finish, whilst Craig8728 and NickLJThomson came home in sixth and seventh, both will be looking for a more positive result in Spain next week.
It was a risk well taken for GooDStuff who takes the first step towards a championship, but with a number of drivers over his shoulder, this season of F2 is far from a foregone conclusion.
Booje89 was one of the drivers’ highly touted in pre-season for a successful season, and that was proved right as he took his first win in F3 on Wednesday night.
The Renault driver had started on pole, but after relinquishing the lead of the race to Sab7786 early in the race, it looked like the Mercedes would take the fifteen points as we left the gulf state, but devastatingly a pit-lane speeding penalty would demote Sab from the race win off the podium with the top four all finishing in close quarters.
The race saw an early spin for a fast-starting osteven002 after contact with xMIKExSI, whilst the pack saw a superb fight back for both Tejuarr in the Williams and FerociousDan in the McLaren. The two made their way from 16th and 17th respectively to a fifth and sixth place finish after both crashed out in the early stages of qualifying.
Booje would fight off the ever impressive F1Richard in the final laps, whilst on a high from his win on Tuesday, Captain_Stiff used the softer tyre at end of the race to move past Richard with two laps remaining as he made excellent progress after a ninth place start.
Sab was furious with the stewards ruling, and knows with the prospect of missing the next three races the point’s loss could be huge come the end of the season. Booje however would celebrate a first win ahead of Stiff and Richard. This seems to already be shaping up to a close fight, with the top six and many more eyeing up a potential championship challenge in not only the driver’s but constructors standings. As reported in pre-season, this could be the most competitive F3 season yet.
That’s round one in the books and what a start to the seventh season at Invictus Racing League! Next week we head to Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix, the notoriously tricky circuit can catch out even the best of driver’s. Make sure you check out @InvictusRL for all news and announcements before round two!