Bikernieku Trase is a racetrack just 10km from the center of Riga, the capital of Latvia and biggest city in Baltic countries. Fastest track of PSC NEZ season 2023 provides the biggest challenges for competitors with it's elevation changes and long straights. Any mistake while exiting corners means choosing a defensive line for the next corner and losing race pace.
Porsche Sprint Challenge North European Zone visited DeWALT Grand Prix just like 2022 and the event once again proved why it's one of the biggest races of the Baltic calendar. Porsche Street in the paddock was lined by Porsche teams, Michelin tire service and Porsche catering, giving us a perfect place to have a fun weekend of racing together!
Weather on Thursday was hot, no wind meant temperature at the paddock was rising quickly while the teams were setting up their equipment. All teams passed scrutineering and atmosphere was relaxed througout Friday. Drivers did not want to give away their full potential and small gusts of wind cooled the air and made paddock a perfect place to spend time and look at driving data. Five drivers reached the 1:20 mark but everybody started wondering if the 2022 record of 1:18.4 could be broken. Cooler temperatures, more rubber on the racing line and resurfacing of the first part of the track should improve lap times and the previous best was reached already during free practice. Some drivers were surprised to see pictures from Tilts, the famous blind crest which is also a corner. It's now clear that a 911 GT3 Cup is briefly airborne at the crest so getting your line perfect means having your takeoff and landing points perfect.
Valters Zviedris from Latvia was of course expected to be strong here since he has more than 1000 laps driven in Bikernieki. Henri Tuomaala was the first to set a fast time, but 01:17.827 was short lived. Zviedris beat his time by 0,014 seconds and moved to provisional pole. Matias Salonen just commented ”I´ve got fresh tires now and I'll drive a bit faster” before the qualification. He did just that on lap 5, a new lap record for GT cars, 01:17.539! Thomas Kangro saved his fastest try to the end and took fourth place in the grid.
Race 1 had a very even start. Two rows of Porsches soon merged into one for the combination of corners 2-6. Jani Käkelä surprised Kangro with a great drive out of T2 and managed to get P4. Most controversial moment came on lap 11, when Zviedris received a 5 second penalty for hitting an anti-cut bollard. This decision was to be reviewed after the race, but it was added to the timing sheet right away. Kangro passed Käkelä in Turn 1, just like he was passed in the beginning. Two lines of solid black rubber on corner exit showed how aggressively he wanted the inside line for the next corner. Penalty for Zviedris was lifted after review, so top-3 was Salonen-Zviedris-Tuomaala. Käkelä managed to make the most out of track position and draft from Tuomaala, clocking the fastest lap of the race. Thin meant pole position for race 2!
Race 2 start was thrilling, for a moment it seemed the drivers are going to go 3-wide in the first corner. Käkelä had a dream come true when Salonen made a small mistake in turn 6 and had to take defensive line against Zviedris, giving Kangro the opportunity to take racing line. This meant a gap opened up right away and Kangro was driving alongside Zviedris for two corners. Unfortunately Motormuzejs corner was too tight and both ended up in the gravel. Zviedris got stuck and the race had to be red flagged. This meant Käkelä lost his advantage and had to start all over again. Zviedris had to come to the pits to get his diffusor fixed but was able to join the pack and make an unbelievable comeback to P5! The audience cheered whenever he passed grandstands so it was clear who the locals had come to see. Käkelä and Kangro competed fiercely until Kangro made a small mistake in turn 1, touched Käkelä and recieved a warning. With the threat of disqualification looming, he made the decision to cool down and secure P2. Jani Käkelä drove like possessed, keeping focus, making no mistakes and in the end taking a sweet victory for him and 39 Racing! Matias Salonen keeps his lead in the series over Tuomaala and Zviedris.
Next event will be Porsche Festival Estonia 30.6.-1.7. Porsche Ring (EST) is Thomas Kangro's home track but season 2023 has shown points have to be earned the hard way this year.