Following yet another harsh disappointment at Edmonton, the Mopar teams headed for Donnybrooke in a sulky state of mind. The only thing slightly improving their spirits was the dwindling number of under 2.5 litre cars entered for round 5 of the Trans Am-season.
At Edmonton, the number of European cars in the race had been a meagre seven. At Donnybrooke, it decreased even further to just five.
Amongst those five, fast man Goissen. Promotional obligations had prevented the French driver attending the Edmonton-race. But at Donnybrooke, he returned in force and immediately snatched pole position. His blistering qualification lap was almost a full second faster than second best man Le Pihive. It silenced those rumours claiming that the pretended promotional activities included sharp dressed women and large quantities of rosé wine on sunny terraces.
All the pace of the orange BMW and the sole Escort did not prevent the qualifying session boosting the hopes of the Mopar-teams.
Even if the Euro cars again monopolized the top three spots, Chapman’s Beemer had only just stayed out of the Mopar jaws with a time less than two tenths of a second faster than Beretta’s Firebird. Horst Kwech, driving the only Alfa, as well as young Voigt’s BMW, both proved slower than the fastest American power boats. Voigt even qualified as low as 10th.
When the starting flag dropped, most therefore anticipated a scenario resembling the Edmonton opening laps. Namely, a raging stampede of Detroit bulls devouring the nimble Euro cars on the long straight towards turns 1 and 2. Condemning the European cars to an uncertain struggle, reconquering the lead.
The number of European cars was however so low, that that scenario did not really materialize.
Instead, Goissen and Le Pihive immediately ran off to a place called Mars, where they mainly entertained themselves for the remainder of the race.
Kwech’s Alfa got caught by the Detroit brutes. And Chapman’s Beemer went way too wide in turn 1 while desperately trying to fend of the American cars. It threw the German car back to a humble 16th position.
The remaining under 2.5 litre car, Voigt’s BMW, managed to avoid all the first lap mayhem. Voigt opted for a conservative and safe approach in turns 1 and 2. But combined that with an opportunistic inside line.
It moved him up to 4th by the time he crossed the start-finish line for the first time. And pretty soon, he even stepped one up, to run third.
He then however started messing about with the two Firebirds of Placais and Becnel. And Parnelli Jones’ Mustang also joined this private dance on several occasions.
It was foolishness on behalf of the young BMW-driver. And an overestimation of his capabilities. Kind of like a young bachelorette being convinced that she would tame Warren Beatty. It was bound to end in tears… and with a broken heart.
Voigt’s boisterous driving at one point ended in Plaçais being spun around in the midfield. In true gentleman fashion, the Bavarian disciple waited to let Plaçais back through. It didn’t take Parnelli and Becnel long to seize that occasion and also sail by the BMW.
It was the beginning of the end of what could have been a brilliant race for the young New Yorker.
The time lost allowed Chapman to sneak back to within striking distance of Voigt. Suddenly, instead of comfortably running third with no immediate assailants around, Voigt had to deal with double pressure.
Barely 3 seconds behind him, he had Chapman closing in. Chapman could not only snatch away a position on track, but also one in the under 2.5 litre class. In front of him, Voigt had three sliding and swindling Mopar stooges slowing him down in the turns. But happily roaring off on the straights.
It made Voigt a perfect sitting duck for Chapman.
The unavoidable materialized: Voigt succumbed to the stress. And lost the car a first time exiting turn 9. Chapman was through and Voigt had no other option but to chase.
Which he did for about one lap, when treacherous turn one caught him out. He spun wildly, hitting the Armco hard several times. The ordeal damaged the car beyond repair and Voigt’s day was done.
In the meantime, Goissen had gathered himself a decent advantage over Le Pihive. One question was nevertheless haunting Goissen’s thoughts: would the Escort need a refuelling stop or not?
In previous races, the Fords had indeed proven that, when driven economically, they could go the whole distance on one tank. And the possibility of Le Pihive being on that strategy, drove Goissen to fly around the track like a mad man.
When the French BMW-driver made his stop in lap 46, Le Pihive indeed went by. Only to dive into the pits merely 6 laps later. Goissen regained his familiar first spot. And now had a solid lead to top it off. The Bavarian car seemed set for yet another win.
But then, with barely 10 laps to go, Goissen did something very out of character. He made a mistake coming out of turn 9 and lost the car. He hit the Armco hard and became the second of the BMW’s to withdraw.
That left only the BMW of Chapman to defend the Munich honor. By that time, Le Pihive was however well out of reach. And soldiered on to a somewhat unexpected win.
Also faster than Chapman’s Beemer was Plaçais in his howling Firebird. He brought the Pontiac home in second, thus securing the first on track podium for the Mopar-teams.
There was more reason for joy within the American teams. Becnel and Parnelli Jones secured 4th and 5th. Suddenly having the American teams make up the majority of the top 5. They at once forgot all about their intentions to no longer race the European snots.
“Second, 4th and 5th here at Donnybrooke”, one could read their minds, “why not one better at Elkhart Lake?”
It might give a whole new dynamic to the championship. And frankly, that may be more than welcome. The unexpected win of Le Pihive hands him a very solid lead in the under 2.5 litre-championship. He now leads Goissen and Chapman, who share the runner-up spot, by almost 40 points.
Things look pretty different in the over 2.5 litres. Suanya, even if having missed the two last races, is still leading the standings. But has barely 8 points of margin left over Steve Parker. The Javelin driver didn’t manage to take home more than one point from Donnybrooke. A missed opportunity to snatch the standings lead away from Suanya.
It thus looks like Elkhart Lake, which is up next, may be the scene for some fierce contention between the American brutes and the frail Euro-cars.
As almost everyone had left Donnybrooke, some to burn some brain cells in wild festivities, others to contemplate on what went wrong, one young man was still sitting on a desolate stool in the midfield between turns 1 and 2. The deepness of the melancholy in his eyes surprised for one his young age.
It seemed as if he realized that he had met his better here. And with hindsight, Voigt had indeed thrown away an almost certain second spot when he spun off at turn 1.
Then again, few corners are more daunting than turns 1 and 2 at Donnybrooke.
As Voigt put it: “That first turn almost feels like a speedway turn. Except that there is no banking to help you make it to the end. And then the back of the car starts sliding…”
His voice stopped. Almost choked by the memory of his antics in these two corners. And then the inevitable race driver’s dilemma hit him hard: “How can I ever continue doing this?”