T1 Truck Racing Championship 2017 - Vršecký takes the race but Kiss is the biggest winner
19. March 2017By Eliot Lobo
TRO president Fabien Calvet’s visions for the future of truck racing may border on intergalactic in scope, but they came one intercontinental step closer to reality when six of Europe’s best truck racers took on six from the British championship, including the winners in both divisions last year, for the 2017 Tata T1 Prima challenge on the Indian subcontinent on Sunday.
From what was easily the best of the four T1 Prima races to date, David Vršecký emerged as the first European winner of this one-make, one-event “championship” held since 2014 at the Buddh International circuit in Greater Noida near New Delhi. The 2008 and 2009 European champ, assigned to the Dealer Daredevils team sponsored by a grouping of Tata Motors’ Indian dealers, needed no daredevilry to get the job done, even though he only managed to qualify fourth for the 8-lap heat that decided the starting positions for the 15-lap championship race in the rather unique T1 format.
The actual grid was decided off the track rather than on it, all the drivers being hauled in by the stewards for “exceeding track limits”, seven of them eventually having their quickest laps voided, or being dropped a couple of grid spots – the severity depending on the frequency of the infringements.
The individual penalties weren’t announced, but the biggest impact was on Englishman Ryan Smith’s qualifying, dropping him from second at the end of the 15-minute session to 12th and last on the grid. German Steffi Halm, who’d been third quickest, lost six places to end up 9th on the start grid.
It wasn’t just the first-timers here that fell foul by the strict interpretation of the rules; the number included David Jenkins, last year’s champion and the only racer to have featured in all four T1 Prima events to date.
Vršecký, who’d qualified 4th, was gratuitously promoted to pole position, with Spanish teammate Antonio Albacete moving up four places from 6th to 2nd, and German veteran Gerd Körber being given a six-place boost from 9th to 3rd.
Norbert Kiss, who had (in characteristic fashion, as we’ve seen him so often do) stormed to pole in his blue Tata Technologies truck in the very dying seconds of the session with a lap of 1:47.881s, found himself down in 5th, with more misery to come the next day. Something he ate that night left Norbi with a very bad case of Delhi belly, and the otherwise perky Hungarian spent his Sunday morning at the doctor’s, arriving at the circuit a very sick man indeed.
It was a pleasant 32°C at the start of the sprint race at around 1 pm, and Norbi had recovered just enough strength to drag himself into the fray. In his case, as his ace tankpool24 engineer Stefan Honens remarked to www.truckracing.de, adrenaline would prove to be an excellent medicine. As it eventually did. But first things first.
Vršecký managed to beat Albacete into the lead, in the process knocking off both his and his teammate’s rear-view mirrors. By the end of the first lap both Körber and Jenkins, having started in 8th and moved up rapidly, were up behind and then clean past the Spaniard, who was struggling with a recalcitrant gearbox (a recurring complaint by various drivers over the four seasons).
Ryan Smith’s race didn’t last much more than one full lap, the 2016 British Division One champion’s Team Castrol truck being shunted into the gravel runoff at the beginning of the long back straight by Team Dealer Warriors’ Oliver Janes and getting bogged down. Three laps later a manifestly reenergised Kiss determined to make his move on Albacete and, as the two came round the very same bend alongside as their British colleagues had done three laps earlier, the two touched and Kiss got stuck in the gravel right behind Smith’s marooned truck.
This brought out the yellow flags, and two laps later, the corner now having been deemed too dangerous for racing to continue, the race was red-flagged. At this point Albacete was in 5th.
Instead of a restart for the remaining two laps, the powers that be decided that the order in which the drivers crossed the line after the sixth lap would be their starting order on the grid for the championship race, Kiss would start in 11th and Smith in 12th. At the start it was Vršecký who shot off into the lead once again, setting the fastest time of the race in his first lap, followed by Körber, Jenkins, and Janes. In the fourth lap Kiss overtook Steffi Halm to ease into 8th and, just a lap later, was already up to 4th with Smith just behind him in 5th. A lap later he’d disposed of Jenkins and set off in pursuit of Körber, who himself was by now beginning to gain ground on runaway leader Vršecký, who’d pulled out a gap of around four seconds at the front. On Lap 7 Kiss closed in on Körber, and the German veteran, having forgotten to readjust his rear suspension damping to a harder characteristic for the longer race and paying for it with a truck that was proving too difficult to handle on the limit, decided not to make things worse, allowing Kiss to overtake into the corner at the end of the back straight.
Vršecký by now appeared to be cruising into the not-too-distant sunset, but when Kiss is on a charge, well, anything’s possible. And so, lap after lap, the hungry (figuratively) Hungarian kept taking ground. The Czech, meanwhile, had decided to ease off a bit to conserve his overheating brakes, which let Kiss catch up with him till they were both almost alongside as the two trucks thundered down the long pit straight towards the flag, Vršecký nosing the line a bare 0.257s ahead, the crescendo of fanfares in the stands drowning out the thunder of the engines on the track.
Behind Körber, Smith and Simon Reid (Team Cummins) fought a scrappy battle for several exciting laps to the delighted roars of the crowds. With just one lap to go Janes tangled with Adam Bint (Tata Technologies), last year’s British division two champion managing to continue (albeit down in 11th) and Janes having to retire with a blown right rear tyre.
It’s advantage “Team ETRC” in the final classification, and the European drivers are all keen to race in India again, Delhi belly or no.
The Brits won’t be doing them any favours next time – but they’ve done them one already. Ben Horne, as we exclusively reported he’d be doing after the first T1 Prima race in 2014, has finally completed the first two builds of his “1,000 hp” Prima race truck with the Cummins ISG12 engine, of which 15 in all are to be readied for the next T1 Prima races in 2018. Which suggests a clash of the 1,000 hp titans next year, and a gigantic leap into the future of trucksport in this part of the world.
For Fabien Calvet, the genial TRO boss who jetted off to the Mid-America Truck Show in Kentucky as soon as the race was over, the materialisation of a long-cherished dream couldn’t have come a day too soon.