Just four rounds of the season remained as the COVID Cup headed to Japan for the second time. With the top 3 in the championship being split by just 29 points it was all to play for. Joining the group from this round onwards was 2016 Nurburgring 24 hours winner and 2008 British Formula Renault champion - Adam Christodoulou - an incredibly experienced endurance racer with some incredibly significant podiums to his name including multiple at Nurburgring and Dubai.
The 5 minutes of qualifying would conclude with the championship leader Cleland on pole, with rival Bailes alongside.
Newcomer Niall McBride would line up 3rd with Wood, also a championship contender in 4th.
Behind Wood, Constanduros would round out the top 5 with Bradley eagerly looking on.
Truswell would qualify 9th.
Christodoulou would start on the rear row after not managing to complete a clean lap in qualifying - he'd have a fun day ahead of him.
The lights would go out and it would be a good start from all, not a nose-cone touched as they exited the first turn before Roodenberg would nudge into the back of Constanduros into two, dislodging his.
Constanduros would lose the back-end on exiting this corner, violently over-correcting - Roodenberg would have no-where to go but the rear of Constanduros. With Tsukuba being such a short circuit it was an early end after a promising start for both
Both would drive away from the incident, but that damage had been done.
As they headed onto the second lap, Cleland would lead with Bailes on his tail. Wood would also be in front of McBride after passing him at the start. Roodenberg's day would only get worse as a broken steering arm caused by the collision with Constanduros would be undrivable and thus put him into the wall.
Christodoulou would also have a phenomenal start, launching into 11th place from 17th on the grid (not including Anthony Simone who didn't start)
Leaving the door open at turn two allowed Covell in 9th to get up the inside and alongside Truswell, before Truswell would have the inside for turn three.
but Covell would have the outside and a better run down the curved straight for turn 4 - Christodoulou would also pick up the slipstream a little behind the battling pair. Covell getting the move done on the entry to the penultimate corner.
Up ahead, McBride, who was fighting for 3rd with Wood, would get the slip-stream and pass Wood into the final corner - but would brake too late for the finl corner...this would unsettle the rear and put McBride into a half-spin on the outer edge of the circuit - Wood's pressure would lessen as he headed onto his third lap...but further back McBride's rejoin would be far from ideal...
After coming to a stop, McBride would put it back into first gear and turn a little left before driving forward parrellel to the circuit...but he'd give it too much gas.
the right wheels would grip onto the tarmac and with the left wheels still on the grass, this would pitch the car to the right - onto the tarmac - originally this was alright, but in order not to spin back onto the grass, he corrected to the right...putting him in the middle of a fast, sweeping right hander which the Skippies only need to lift for.
Covell would be on the outer edge of the grip that the Skippy could offer sliding perilously through te find corner - barley missing the near-stationary car of McBride by mere centimetres before Christodoulou would thread the needle in between McBride and Covell - gaining two more positions after already slipstreaming past Truswell on the back-straight
Christdoulou and Truswell would have a "french kiss" of tyres in the braking zone to the final corner - putting Truswell slightly off line into the final corner allowing Gaffney to stream past and ultimately avoid McBride's rejoin...
Truswell would have a close shave with McBride too - only just pulling out of the way in the nick of time... but JM L behind wouldn't be as lucky...after bouncing over the kerb at the final turn, Jm L would only be a passenger as his skippy would plough into the back of McBride at 70mph - a 20mph speed difference...
this would boost Mcbride up to speed - past Truswell but would knock Jm L's nose-cone off.
In the meantime Sibbald would be able to storm up the inside whilst Truswell was avoiding an accident.
TL: McBrides spins after passing Wood
TM: Covell makes a lucky escape
TR: McBride Gets Going ML: McBride loses it whilst rejoining
MM: Jm L bottoms out on a kerb - pushing him wide
MR: Truswell narrowly escapes as Jm L heads towards the inevitable
BL: Moment of Impact.
By the end of the second lap Christodoulou had managed to get into 7th - 10 up on his starting positon!
Lap 3 would also see it's fair share of drama - Honeyman going deep into turn one allowing Riddles past.
If there was any positives out of McBrides' incident - it was that it bunched the mid-field up - as they went into turn one, Covell, Sibbald and Gaffney all squabbled over 8th place on the rear wing of Christodoulou - almost going three wide at some moments!
Gaffney would lunge down the inside of Covell for turn two after Gaffney spotted a skippy-sized gap for himself to slot in - Sibbald too would get a tighter turn in and make attempt a pass too - but having the inside line Covell would have priority for three.
Sibbald would then get the inside line for turn four, but Covell would get the better exit.
As the pack started the forth lap, Cleland would keep hold of the lead he had since lights out, eagerly watched by Bailes on his gearbox.
The next trio of Wood, Bradley and Riddles followed, a sizeable gap between each of them.
In 5th was Honeyman, before Christodoulou got a cleaner run out of the final corner and passed him into turn one.
Gaffney would brake a little later into turn one, and with the duo ahead fighting was able to get back onto the gearbox of Honeyman.
Sibbald followed them after passing Covell by having the inside - and racing - line for the final corner putting Covell onto the more slippery and dirty outside line before ultimately braking later than his competitor into turn one.
McBride behind would fancy a battle, but thought better of it.
Truswell, Jm L, Herring, Daman and Conway would round up the back of the pack with Roodenberg and Constanduros in danger of being lapped after their start crash.
Lap 4 was very much an observatory lap - each driver figuring out where another was fast and slow - the only move that was made was McBride's move on Covell he did - diving down the inside with a locked front right wheel and guns ablazing.
The field quickly moved onto Lap 5 - The Top 7 would remain the same - however Sibbald would re-ignite the mid-field battle by pulling alongside Gaffney at the final corner, before completing the move into turn one.
Being slowed by Christodoulou ahead, Honeyman had a poor exit out of turn one allowing Sibbald to attempt a move around the outside going down into the second (proper) corner. Gaffney too would have the momentum of the two and made a rash move down the inside at the last moment.
As a wise motorsport philosopher once said
"Three Into One Doesn't Go"
and this was no exception.
Gaffney would clatter into Honeyman who's right rear wheel would punch into Sibbald's sidepod before a broken suspension arm on the rear left would spin Gaffney around.
Mcbride, Covell and Truswell would all benefit from this.
Sibbald would rejoin in 9th, whilst Honeyman would originally join in 16th, but the broken rear suspension on his car would put him in the wall - prompting an immediate pit-stop.
The start of Lap 6 was fairly calm, with big gaps (above) spreading the field out, but at the exit of turn 2, Sibbald was able to draw alongside Truswell, as they went through the kink of three, Sibbald would to the cut-back and use this momentum to keep up with Truswell as they headed into turn four.
Truswell would leave the door open, and Sibbald would take it, putting himself into the top 10.
Lap 6 would also be when Bailes finally decided that he was close enough to make a move of Cleland - and at the end of the back-straight, he'd pull out of the slip-stream and both would brake...as they went through the final corner, Cleland would suddenly get a significant amount of traction after sliding a little (as he was on the dirty side of the track) - this would propel him towards the apex of the corner...Bailes meanwhile would be up Cleland's inside and after nudging the kerb was sliding outwards. The pair would touch. Cleland would be put into a half-spin.
Bailes would jam his Skippy back into first gear to allow Cleland to catch back up - and pass true sign of sportsmanship - especially after the effort it took to build up to that move.
Bailes was put in a tough situation - he was on the gearbox of Cleland on the back straight - but should he attempt another pass and it fail again - it may ruin not only either of his or Clelands races - there may be a damage between the two off-track as well...
Lap 8. As the race wore on - the gaps would only increase - and with Wood missing his braking point and skirting off into the grass at turn one, it was Bradley's turn to try and catch the lead pair.
Further behind, Riddles continued his lonely race - followed a fair way back by Christodoulou who was followed by Gaffney, McBride and Sibbald who had just passed Covell at turn one.
At the end of Lap 8, Bailes would try to overtake Cleland at the final corner once again - this time his was successful...but only for a short while - Cleland would cut to the inside of Bailes, pulling to the inside of him across the start finish line, before managing to be later on the brakes than the Norwegian for turn one.
Starting lap 10, everything remained the same as it had for the previous two, however, Sibbald would gain a place on McBride by getting a better exit out of the final corner on lap 9, before pulling alongside for turn one. The duo would remain side by side until two when Sibbald would get a better run through the corner and take the position.
Sibbald wasn't hanging around either - he'd get a significantly better run out of turn three before passing him at the penultimate corner.
Bailes' confidence returned to him - at the end of the back-straight of lap 10, he'd pull alongside Cleland once again. As they crossed the line to start the 11th lap - they would be sidepod-to-sidepod with nothing seperating them.
Into turn one they would still be side by side, but with a smoother turning arc, Cleland would inch ahead to be infront for the run down to turn two.
Further back...disaster would strike.
Sibbald would try and get down the inside of Christodoulou at turn two...Sibbald's front right would nudge Constanduros' left rear, (perhaps netcode) knocking him into a spin, Gaffney's front right would also be affected collapsing due to iRacing thinking there was contact between the two.
Niall McBride would then go into the back of the slowed Gaffney.
following his spin after a faultless race - Christodoulou would re-join in 10th ahead of Truswell.
The following lap there would be more drama - Sibbald would try to go down the inside of Riddles at the final corner, Riddles would brake on the marbles and dirt and almost spin - but he'd save it without losing any further positions.
A little further behind, Covell would use this same corner to get past McBride for 8th place.
On Lap 14, Bailes would return to the lead - getting down the inside of Cleland for turn one.
Half way into the race, Bailes led, followed by his close rival Cleland.
Wood would get Bradley's slipstream as they went down the start/finish straight, passing him at turn one.
Behind Bradley was Sibbald who'd extended his gap to Riddles behind.
Chasing down Riddles was Gaffney, followed by Covell and McBride, who was in turn followed by the unfortunate Christodoulou.
Chasing down the professional was the 19 year old Brit Truswell.
Herring, and Conway were behind him. Yet to lap Honeyman was Daman.
Next after Daman it was Jm L before Constanduros finished those on the lead lap.
The leaders crossed the line to start the 16th lap - and the lead was about to change once more. Bailes would make a mistake into turn two (first hairpin), running a little deep - which was all Cleland needed to slip down the inside.
Christodoulou would make his last position of the race on lap 15 by diving up the inside of McBride at the penultimate corner, on exit, there'd be a little bit of contact as each driver incorrectly estimated where the other was. Christodoulou would be unaffected, but with broken steering McBride would have to pit - putting Truswell in 10th.
Behind him, a small battle had formed from almost nowhere... Leading the battle on lap 18 was Conway, followed by Herring followed by Honeyman (a lap down) nd then Daman, but this quickly split. ~
15 laps remaining turned into 10 laps remaining.
The lead changes again. After picking up Clelands slipstream on the run down to turn 4, Bailes was able to pull out and make a move - Cleland wasn't able to make a move at the end of the back-straight. Behind the backmarker of McBride was 3rd place Wood with Bradley a few seconds back.
Sibbald would round out the top 5 with Riddles behind just out of reach of the car ahead.
Riddles would be presurised by Gaffney with Covell watching on.
Somehow still within viewing distance of Christodoulou in 9th was Truswell followed by Conway who just cleared Herring.
Lap 21. McBride would spin coming out of turn one - allowing a group behind on the lead to pass as he sat beside the track, he would rejoin in fron of 6th place man Riddles. McBride would pit at the end of this lap, giving Honeyman 16th and Roodenberg 17th. The battle for 11th was re-lit. Into the last corner on the 20th lap, Conway would defend to the inside, Herring being on the outside meant that he (Herring) was able to get the cutback on Conway for the start/finish straight.
Despite Conway being better on the brakes, Herring had the inside line and was able to nip down the inside of Conway on the exit of one.
Conway would then get a little bit "loose" for turn two and Daman found away to nip down the inside of him as well....but Conway wasn't expecting to see him there...
The two clashed wheels fortunately not causing major damage - Daman getting the position in the end
Lap 23. Nearing the end of the race, Bailes could see traffic up ahead - the first he had encountered all race - the rest of those being lapped have either pitted or come out within the mid-field - not the rear. With Cleland breathing down his neck, Bailes knew that smart traffic management was the key.
It was also at this time that Sibbald caught Bradley. After a little pause in the exciting action, with the leaders catching backmarkers, Sibbald on Bradley's gearbox, Gaffney being on Riddles' gearbox, and the Daman, Conway battle re-igniting with Conway passing Daman at turn one maybe a fair few battles to the flag were possible?
The Four Battles: TL: Bailes and Cleland meet traffic TM: Who's number 1? Bradley or Sibbald? TR: Could Gaffney solve the Riddles? BL: Daman and Conway fight hard
Approaching lap 24, Sibbald would get the slip-stream on Bradley down the back-straight before passing him before the last corner. Less than 5 laps remained - could anyone do anything? Bailes was getting ever-closer to Constanduros....
Constanduros would miss his braking point at the end of the 24th lap, first trying to slow the car down before over correcting and whacking into the barrier, he'd pit immediately after.
Jm L was next on the list - but with so few laps left - was there any point in catching him?
Bailes would catch Jm L on lap 25, and despite almost coming into grief, he pulled to the right just in the nick of time. At the end of that lap, he too would pit.
Just three laps remained and Cleland was in no place to attack Bailes - there was more than enough rounds to still take the championship - it just meant less room for error.
As Jm L pitted Roodenberg would be further promoted to 15th place - enough for a single point. On the final lap, Daman would try and go up the inside of Herring, and would succeed, just as Daman was pulling back to the left, there'd be contact between Herring's front right and Daman's left rear - Herring would take to the grass out of control and as he rejoined he would blink - Daman wouldn't know where he was and the duo would make contact again - Herring ending up being spun and Daman losing 12th to Conway
AND AFTER A PRETTY WILD LAST LAP - ROBIN BAILES WILL TAKE THE WIN AT TSUKUBA! A GREAT DRIVE FROM HIM TODAY! Chaz Cleland will take a well-earned second place with Wood finishing up the podium. Sibbald would finish 4th after starting all the way back in 19th - it's been an impressive day from him.
Rounding out the top 5 it's Joe Bradley after a quiet day. Behind him it's:
6th: Matthew Riddles
7th: Sean Gaffney
8th: Adam Covell
9th: Adam Christodoulou 10th: Robin Truswell 11th: Jake Conway
12th: Nicholas Daman
13th: Simon Herring
14th: Ewen Honeyman ( 1 Lap)
15th: Derek Roodenberg (1 Lap)
16th: Jm L (2 Laps)
17th: Ben Constanduros (2 Laps)
18th: Niall McBride (DNF)
19th: Naser Teymourian (DNQ)
The Championship After 8 Rounds
Not much movement in the championship standings as Bailes reduces the Championship lead to now only 2 points.