Praga is a company from Prague, Czech Republic. Over their one-hundred-and-ten year history, they have produced bikes, army trucks, buses, tanks, aircraft, tractors… And a 390BHP, Dunlop-sporting, light-as-a-feather, track-bred racing car. So for Sim Racing Malta’s recent partnership with the company, we knew exactly what to race…
The track used was the classic Spa-Francorchamps circuit in the Ardennes Forest. – A real test of a driver’s ability and a car’s resilience.
Qualifying was tense, as Keith Camilleri led the session until the final minute of standard time when Bernard Vella crossed the line to set a storming laptime of 2:21.790. All eyes then turned back to Camilleri, as Keith desperately attempted to better his lap, but he couldn’t manage it. Vella kept pushing, despite, and was about four-tenths of a second up on his own lap until he made a mistake at the final corner. Nonetheless, it was pole position for Bernard Vella, who led the timesheets followed by Keith Camilleri, Brandon Tabone, Omar Barbara, Terence Grech and Josh Martin, making the top six of the twelve drivers.
As the drivers raced towards turn one for the first time at the start of race one, Vella maintained his advantage and came out of turn one in the lead ahead of Camilleri, Tabone, Grech and Barbara. Tabone challenged for second, but had to leave it.
The first attack for the lead came on the very first lap, as Camilleri tried to slipstream his way past Vella on the Kemmel straight, getting completely alongside him before the braking zone. The pair banged wheels and both locked up the front tyres, but Vella was able to hang onto the lead as Camilleri ran wide. This was a battle which would last race-long.
Also on the first lap, Josh Martin made up two places and found himself in the fourth position, before he got involved in some sort of incident and dropped to tenth place. Jason Muscat also had a first lap spin, and found himself in last position. He retired from the race. The top five order after the first lap was as follows: Bernard Vella, Keith Camilleri, Brandon Tabone, Omar Barbara, Richard Schäfer.
Camilleri then attacked again for the lead, poking to the inside of the Bus Stop Chicane. He had to back off and attempt a switchback manoeuvre. Camilleri then followed Vella closely as the pair went up the famous Eau Rouge-Radillon complex, and once again he challenged into Les Combes. This time, Vella went wide and allowed Camilleri up the inside into Bruxelles. The pair rubbed doors twice, but somehow neither went off and Camilleri did finally take the lead.
Vella challenged into the bus stop and again the two collided as Camilleri locked up a tyre. This time, Tabone was there to get involved and the three leaders went barreling into turn one as one, and it was Vella who came out on top.
Terence Grech passed Glen Borg for sixth on lap three, with a sweeping move around the outside of Blanchimont. A similar move was attempted behind them as Omar Barbara (Who had dropped back several places off-camera) tried to get past Josef Calleja, but he ran out of road.
The battle for the lead raged again, as Camilleri challenged for the lead at Bus Stop, La Source, Kemmel and Les Combes on almost every lap. Keith ducked this way and that, but Vella gave a masterclass of defense. The dogfight ensued for the entire race, as Camilleri always seemed able to pull alongside Vella, but never quite seemed to be able to pass him.
There were a couple of lengthy pitstops, I am afraid to say. Denis Eshchenko found himself three laps down after pitting to repair some damage, before having a few trips through the gravel and a few spins even after that, and Josef Calleja also lost several laps through damage repairs. Adding to this tally, Omar Barbara and Glen Borg came together at the end of the race, and both retired.
The final lap of the race was an extremely tense one. Camilleri attempted an overtake going on to the final lap, and the gap for the lead as they started the lap was just three-tenths of a second.
Camilleri pulled alongside and outbraked Vella into Les Combes, but cut the second kerb. This didn’t matter, however, as Vella spun the car by himself into turn nine after clipping the inside kerb, gifting Camilleri the win in dramatic fashion on the final lap of the race. Vella recovered to finish second. To add to this drama, Martin passed Schäfer for fourth on the final lap of the race.
After a thrilling first race, the order was as follows: Camilleri, Vella, Tabone, Martin, Schäfer, Grech, Gauci, Borg (DNF), Barbara (DNF), Eshchenko, Calleja (DNF), Muscat (DNF).
For race two, the first three rows of the grid were taken up by Eshchenko, Grech, Schäfer, Martin, Tabone and Vella, in that order. Race one winner Camilleri started seventh.
At the start of the race, Denis Eshchenko led into turn one, before being passed on the exit by Terence Grech. However, Eshchenko took the lead straight back again on the Kemmel straight.
Grech then made an error at Courbe Paul Frère, which bunched up the chasing pack and allowed Schäfer through into second, before Schäfer took the lead heading towards Blanchimont. Vella challenged for second, but was forced over the grass, and Eshchenko took the lead back from Schäfer at the Bus Stop. However, this was not to last, as Eschenko was swamped into turn one by both Schäfer and Tabone, with Camilleri following through.
This meant that the top five order after turn one on lap two was Schäfer, Tabone, Camilleri, Eshchenko, Martin, but those five were right together on track.
Martin and Eshchenko were side-by-side almost all the way along the Kemmel straight on lap two, and then also through Les Combes. Sadly, they collided at Bruxelles and Eshchenko spun down the order. He was then collected by Daniel Guaci as he tried to resume the race, and Eshchenko was forced to retire from the race.
The lead was now in Camilleri’s sights, and he attacked Schäfer, who locked up a tyre and took a bad line through the chicane. Camilleri took the lead and looked set for two wins from two at Spa-Francorchamps. However, this was short-lived initially, as Schäfer passed Camilleri again with an unstoppable move around the outside of the first part of Les Combes.
However, Camilleri was not disheartened by this, and he came straight back at Schäfer at Blanchimont around the outside, switching to the inside as Schäfer began to drift wide. It was an amazing overtake which was completed even before the braking zone for the bus stop. Camilleri had taken the lead again!
Also on lap three, Josef Calleja made an error, letting Omar Barbara take eigth position.
The next move came on lap five for seventh place, as Omar Barbara passed Glen Borg. He had been attempting to do so for the entire event.
There was a scorching battle between Martin and Grech over fourth position. Martin tried to outbrake Tabone around the outside of the bus stop, and the pair stayed side-by-side down the home straight towards Le Source. Martin braked earlier than Grech, got the switchback and again drew side-by-side with Grech. Of course, no two cars ever usually go side-by-side through Eau Rouge, so one of the pair had to concede the place, and in this case, it was Grech who conceeded and Martin who got the position. Grech challenged again towards Les Combes, but couldn’t manage to take the position.
Grech then made a mistake and allowed Vella to take fifth, but the pair made contact at Pouhon and Grech spun. He maintained sixth, but he was now a long way behind Vella and Martin, who battled amongst themselves, a battle which climaxed on lap nine at Blanchimont as Vella ran off the circuit and then collected Martin as he rejoined, tipping Martin into the barrier. Vella would get a ten second time penalty for this incident. Meanwhile, there was more drama as Schäfer spun at Les Combes and dropped from second to fifth!
There were a couple of incidents on laps ten and eleven. Borg pitted his car with damage, and Calleja retired from the race with lag issues.
The rest of the race was all about Vella attacking Tabone. Vella did indeed pass Tabone on the penultimate lap of the race, but Vella’s penalty meant that he dropped two positions in the overall order to Tabone and Martin.
Keith Camilleri won the race in the end by an incredible margin of twenty-four seconds from Tabone in second. Martin was third, and fourth was the penalised Vella.
Following them home, in order, were Grech, Barbara, Schäfer, Gauci, Borg, Calleja (DNF), Eshchenko (DNF) and Muscat (DNS).
Article by Joshua Penny