2013/2014 NGK Racing Series. Rd 2, ‘Normality’

After a hectic few weeks in the United Arab Emirates, with both the Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the 2013 Dubai International Motor Show descending en-masse, life returned to normal at the Dubai Autodrome for round two of the 2013/2014 NGK Racing Series.

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And yet amidst the SEAT Leons, Renault Clio Cup cars, Honda Integras and even THIS McLaren 12C GT3 lay something altogether more unusual. Having pulled out of the opening round at Yas Marina, one of the two AUH Motorsport KTM X-Bows marked down on the entry list finally made its racing debut in the newly established Class 5 category for high-performance/slightly batshit competition machines. A regular feature in UAE Time Attack, round two of the NGK Racing Series marked the first ever race for both the KTM and driver Shannon Ward. Neither disappointed.

With Gulf Petrochem/Mouhritsa Racing having flown in specialist technicians from Greece to bring Costa Papantonis’ #1 SEAT Leon Super Copa back down to regulatory power output (and thus avoid missing another Class 1 outing), Ward and the #91 X-Bow started their lonely run in Class 5 an impressive third on the grid, just behind Papantonis and the #88 Mclaren 12C GT3 of Dragon Racing’s Leon Price. A poor start was understandable given Ward’s inexperience, and within one lap the American had already fought his way past Phoenix Motorsport’s Brian McGinley back into third place.

From then on the X-Bow filled the SEAT’s mirrors, Papantonis and Ward line-astern down the main straight as the field lapped the Autodrome’s 3.56km National Circuit. On the SEAT’s gearbox throughout the opening five laps of race one, Ward came close to a slingshot move into turn one on multiple occasions, the gap between the two dropping at one stage to less than three-tenths of a second. Race fatigue however would prove Ward’s undoing, the American feeling the effects of his first race at mid-point and his laptimes began to tumble. Come the chequered flag, and with Ward looking to keep the X-Bow out of the tyre wall, the gap to Class 1 winner Papantonis had stretched to nearly 15s.

Race two proved similarly knackering for Ward, a loss of concentration and a spin on lap nine into turn 16 ending what had been looking like a fight to the wire for an outright second place. Solid pace early in the second encounter though had kept Papantonis honest, the gap from the rolling start staying steadily under the one-second mark for the first half of the race and Ward even setting a faster lap in race two than his Grecian rival. An impressive start for the 2013/2014 NGK Racing Series debutant. Papantonis meanwhile was relieved to finally put some points on the Class 1 board with a pair of category wins.

Up ahead, the Dragon Racing McLaren – as expected – ruled the Class 3 roost. Racing for the first time on UAE soil, the McLaren was busy testing a new Dunlop tyre setup (having run Pirellis throughout the 2013 Blancpain Endurance Series season) with both Leon Price and Dragon Racing regular Rob Barff enjoying track time throughout the weekend. The pair will be in action with two Ferrari 458 Italias at next month’s Gulf 12 Hours.

Further back, handling difficulties for McGinley scuppered the Phoenix Motorsport-prepared Opel Astra’s chance of a competitive run. Lapping some 2s off the pace and suffering with chronic understeer (which, though improved since first practice, was still causing the Brit problems), the #7 Astra came close to leapfrogging Ward in the closing stages of the second race following the KTM’s spin. Ultimately the Brit had to settle for fourth place and second in-class in both events.

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