Over three days at WBC, 31 drivers competed to qualify for the finals on day 4. Attendance was solid this year but schedule conflicts on Day 2 made for lighter attendance and only two tracks that day instead of three. The final this year was surprisingly light on destruction, with all 12 cars still racing after the first lap, something nearly unheard of on a finals track. As the flag went down, three drivers crossed the finish line together, all pushing their cars for the title, but in the end it was Bruce Rae who inched out the victory and went home with his third WBC win.
We raced eight tracks over three days of qualifying. Day one saw us racing on Suzuka (the finals track from last year), Francorchamps ‘07, and Sakhir. Day two was Speilberg (new for WBC) and Yeongam, balanced tracks where anyone could potentially win. The final qualifying heat included tracks where racing from the back held its highest advantage: Sochi, Shanghai, and Sepang.
The Finals track this year was Hockenheim, a classic track which invites a large number of different car types. The track itself is three spaces wide for most of its length, with lots of opportunities for slipping and some really tricky cornering decisions throughout. In the back half of the track it narrows to two lanes for the last four corners, but the trickiest spot is probably the hairpin. Coming immediately after the large straight, it is still three-wide and allows a lot of drivers through, but if you’re not careful you can easily lose position heading in to the two-wide lanes.
Right from the start, things went wrong. Both Gallulo and Fleckenstein missed their start speed pushes, which allowed the 100 start cars to break out to some quick free air. Tatum, Cornett (the younger), and Rae were the only three through the second corner and onto the long straight after turn 3, which formed the early leader pack. Trying to stick with them, but pushing his resources a bit too far, Coyle chanced in that corner and spun. Everyone else settled for forming up the peloton that was the chase pack.
The real excitement in the first lap came at the Hairpin, however. Cornett had the smallest car but lined up behind Tatum for slips down the straight, while Rae passed him by in a much beefier car. However, Rae and Tatum took the Hairpin wide, while Cornett leveraged the open line on the inside along with a slip to sneak through that corner and take the lead away. He then pushed his tires and spent a lot of wear on the back stretch of the track to break away from the other two and take the lead by a solid turn. It was a great move, and many at the table thought he had won the race right there.
Meanwhile, Gallulo and Polcen expended resources in the second half of the first lap to move out of the peloton and catch up to what was now the chase pack after Cornett’s move. This wound up working out for Gallulo, but Polcen got stuffed in the final corner by the chase pack lining up three across, and the peloton caught back up to him. Polcen would eventually catch up to the chase pack, but it wasn’t until the end of lap two, and by then he was running out of resources.
Back in the peloton, Cornett (the elder), Mossman, Coyle, Fleckenstein, and Beckman all traded slips and positions down the track, but never quite broke away from each other to contend with the chase pack. By the start of lap three, it was clear that someone was going to have to make a move if they were going to be in contention. The driver that got that message most resoundingly, however, was Aubuchon who had been sitting well behind the peloton but was starting to make his now-trademarked lage-game move up the ranks.
Heading into the long straight in lap three, Aubuchon leveraged his superior car build and his huge amount of remaining tire wear to line up with Cornett (the elder) and Beckman heading in to the Hairpin. Beckman had run out of resources and so took the chance roll and spun out, while Aubuchon, Cornett, Fleckenstein, and Mossman made it through, still a turn behind the chase pack. Finally, Nicholson passed by Beckman on his way through the corner. Nicholson got the same message to push the go button from his crew chief that Aubuchon did, but there must have been some static in the headset, because he got it a turn too late.
Several people wound up crashing or pulling off in the final half lap, as cars were pushed to their limits. Polcen attempted to take a lead without resources and spun. Aubuchon found himself the victim of a multi-car line blocking, which forced bad dice rolling decisions. Mossman, in an attempt to push for better position found himself coasting across the finish.
Back with the leaders, however, the excitement could not have been more palpable. Heading into the final corner, Cornett (the younger) still had the lead, but he had finally been caught by Rae’s better car, while Tatum was right behind both of them, having played an excellent race of managing his wear frugally while never giving up too much position.
As the leaders came out of the final corner it was Tatum, Cornett, and Rae. If Tatum pushed his car and made the roll, he wins outright. But alas! The dice gods were unkind this day and Tatum missed this final roll. Cornett, however, made his push roll, which allowed him to finish ahead of Tatum. Then one space back, Rae once again leveraged his monster car to push both accel and top speed, and speed right past both of them for the photo finish win!
It was an excellent and exciting race by all participants, and possibly the most watched finals match in a decade or more, with half a dozen non-qualifiers hanging around to see it. Congratulations to Bruce Rae for an excellent race and his third finals win at WBC.