The first round of the 2021 SMRC Lockdown Cup began in dramatic fashion at the virtual Oulton Park International circuit on Wednesday, as the field of 40 drivers opened the Scottish motor racing season in the sim racing series.
For the team, it was a rollercoaster evening, experiencing the highs, lows and everything in between on their way to a first win of the year in the final race.
After five drivers lapped within one tenth of a second of each other in final official practice, it was always going to be close for pole position. Reigning British GT3 Champion Sandy Mitchell ultimately pipped everyone to take the top spot, followed by Gronkowski in second ahead of SMRC iRacing Summer Champion, Jack Eyre.
At the lights, Mitchell and Gronkowski made good starts to lead the pack away. A clutch issues slipped Eyre down the order and the pack streamed through Old Hall and down to Cascades. Mitchell and Gronkowski looked set to make it a race-long battle for the lead when disaster struck Gronkowski at the Britten's chicane as he clipped the tyre wall and spun the car. Dropping to 14th before he could re-join, the evening had suddenly taken on a much more difficult look!
A race-long fightback to 11th spot looked to have almost salvaged a half-decent result when more drama on the last lap meant a drive-through penalty for accruing 16 incident points and a drive through the pitlane to cross the line, eventually dropping Gronkowski to 24th.
Starting where he finished, the second race was all about trying to get the evening back on-track again for Gronkowski. A lightening start made sure he began in the right tone, jumping multiple cars off the line and then avoiding incidents around the circuit until eventually starting lap two up in 13th place.
The next time around he was up to 10th - and only two seconds behind Mitchell in 9th, who had dropped down off the start line with gear selection issues. The pair made steady progress towards the front in the remaining laps, ending 5th and 6th respectively, separated by just a few tenths and setting-up race three nicely, whereby the top eight finishers would be reversed on the grid.
Jack Eyre took the race two win ahead of Mike Macpherson and Vic Covey Jnr.
With Gronkowski's race two drive putting him 3rd on the grid for the final outing of the evening, now was the opportunity to properly rectify the earlier disasters.
At the lights, he made another great start to leapfrog into second place, tailing polesitter Pete Bucher through Cascades. With a better exit and the slipstream effect taking him closer, Gronkowski pounced immediately into the fast Island bend, taking the lead just before the Shell Oils hairpin.
Gronkowski set-about building a cushion to the cars behind, but it wasn't long before Mitchell had moved up to second and the pair began their grandstand battle which had been promised since race 1.
For half of the race, the two drivers circulated at virtually the same pace, the gap yo-yoing but never more than 1.5s or less than 0.8s. Their pace pulled them over 6 seconds clear of Jack Eyre who eventually made his way up to 3rd from his lower grid position.
At around 8 minutes into the 15-minte race, Gronkowski ran slightly wide at Shell Oils, allowing Mitchell to close to within a few tenths and benefit form the slipstream effect - meaning the pair would be locked together for the remainder of the race.
Side-by side racing ensued. The first attack came at Island bend as Mitchell made the most of his superior pace through Cascades to move up the inside. Gronkowski was able to hang onto the lead around the outside, giving him the inside for Shell Oils and keep the place. Mitchell then forced Gronkowski to defend into almost every key braking zone, but couldn't find a way past.
Going onto the last lap, The pair slithered sideways through Old Hall together, but Gronkowski again held the advantage into Cascades and then around the lake. The gap stretched to a couple of car widths until the run to the final turn at Lodge corner, with Mitchell again trying around the outside. Gronkowski managed to hold the place until the finish line, the pair separated by just 0.092s as the team took their first win of 2021!
"...we both had a fair idea of how the other behaves and that allowed us to get really close but always just leave each other enough room..."
"Wow, that was a very eventful evening!" said Jordan. "I think we've experienced everything that we possibly could in sim racing tonight - a tense qualifying, a mistake in race one, battling through from the back in race 2 and then having such a close fight for the win in race three."
"I loved the race with Sandy. The two of us have been very close on pace all through testing and we've shared the same bits of track a few times already. When it came to the last race, I think we both had a fair idea of how the other behaves and that allowed us to get really close but always just leave each other enough room to put on a great show and never tough."
"It feel great to end the evening with a win - especially after the mistake earlier. A massive thank you to everyone who put this series together and to everyone who supports our team - both in the real world and the virtual one. We really wouldn't be here without all of you, especially our amazing sponsors!"
Jordan is currently 6th in the SMRC Lockdown Cup standings. The next round takes place at Okayama International on Wednesday the 27th of January 2021.