Over three days at WBC, 28 drivers competed to qualify for the finals on day 4. Attendance was down slightly due to several of our regulars not being able to attend the convention this year, however, we were joined by several new faces and had a former champ return to compete again, which was quite welcome. As the cars crossed the line at the end of the final lap, Michael Polcen took home his first WBC win.
We raced seven tracks over three days of qualifying, most of which had never been seen at WBC before. Day one saw us racing on Oyama, where we ran 5 laps due to its short length, and Baku. Day two was Castellet and a modified version of Francorchamps as it was configured in 1983. The final qualifying heat included tracks where racing from the front held a slight advantage: Imola, Nurburgring, and Estoril.
Qualifying this year was dominated by three people: Doug Gallulo, Chris Long, and Tim Mossman, who combined to win all seven tracks this year. Because of that, many third place finishers wound up qualifying for the final, which has not been typical in recent years.
The Finals track this year was Suzuka, a classic track which we haven’t seen played at WBC in five years. The track itself is two spaces wide for most of its length, with lots of interesting slip opportunities and cornering decisions. Most striking perhaps is the bridge/tunnel section where the track crosses over itself, but undoubtedly the trickiest spot is the Triangle: a very slow corner at the end of the lap, followed immediately by a large straight.
Right off the starting grid, things started to go sideways as Fleckenstein, who won the pole bid, missed his start speed push. This threw him a couple spaces behind where he expected to be, and consequently meant that Polcen raced out to the lead all alone and didn’t need to fight anyone for the first couple of laps. Following immediately behind Polcen came Gallulo, Fleckenstein, and Verlaque. Behind them in the next pack were Rae, Tatum, Long, and Mossman. And finally, playing the slower game in the back were Newbury, Cornett, Carnahan and Aubuchon.
The first lap saw a couple casualties, which is only commensurate with the level of destruction we’ve come to expect from our finals tracks. Fleckenstein, attempting to make up ground from his bad start, pushed his car hard and it eventually broke on him. Renaud had bad luck as well and began falling behind. Meanwhile, Bruce and Chris pushed their resources hard to catch up to the leader. So heading into lap 2 it was Polcen, Rae, Gallulo, and Long in the lead pack. The chase pack was Aubuchon, Mossman, Tatum, Newbury, and Verlaque. And sticking to the “slow-play” gameplan at the back were Carnahan and Cornett.
By the end of the second lap, Polcen couldn’t hold off Rae’s superior car any longer, and Rae and several other cars were lined up to pass him. However, Polcen had taken advantage of his time in the clean air at the front of the race to conserve his resources, so he was far from out of it. As we headed into the corner combinations of lap three, it was Rae in the lead, followed by Polcen, Long, and Gallulo. The chase pack was Aubuchon, Mossman, Verlaque, Tatum, Cornett, Newbury, and Carnahan.
Rae had run out of resources, but still had the lead, which he used to block the rest of the chase pack very effectively. Gallulo’s brakes eventually failed him, forcing him to retire. Coming out of the Spoon Curve and heading into the final straight, Aubuchon had caught up to the chase back, so it was Rae, Polcen, Aubuchon, and Long getting ready to drag it out. Polcen positioned himself well behind Rae and made up a lot of ground against larger cars with some great slips.
Approaching the Triangle, Rae rolled dice to try to maintain the win, but failed to make it and spun his car. Polcen was able to navigate his car around Rae easily, but it was the cars immediately behind that had the hard choices. Rae recovered from his spin, but blocked the rest of the Triangle. Aubuchon made it to the corner first and completed it, lining up next to Bruce. Long still had resources left, and so went fast through the corner and forced passed Aubuchon to make it out the other side and ahead.
In the end, Michael Polcen finished well ahead of the rest. Chris Long got second with his forced pass gamble, and Mike Aubuchon took third place, riding hot on Long’s bumper. Bruce Rae finished fourth, just off the podium, the spin in the final corner proving just enough to take him out of contention. It was a great race all around and a big congrats must go to Michael Polcen for an excellent race and his first championship win!