Rookies on the charge at Interlagos

After a long winter break, the top drivers in the Socks Out Racing V8 SuperTrucks World Championship started the 2019 season off strong at Brazil’s Autódromo de Interlagos.

The event - which has been the season opener for the series since 2017 - featured a mix of veteran drivers and competitive newcomers looking to make a good first impression on Feb. 23. The 4.3-kilometre circuit in recent years has featured door-to-door racing and tight battles due to its elevation changes mixed with high and low-speed corners.

Dallas Pataksa (#19)

Amongst the Rookie of the Year contenders this season is Radicals Online JRT’s Dallas Pataska. Pataksa, a key member of de5fending series team champion Radicals Online’s short track and road racing programs, smashed the track qualifying record with a time of 01:34.019. His corporate teammate Sven Cammaerts qualified just four-one-thousandths of the second behind, giving the Radicals Online Turn Racing driver the outside pole. Both of those times broke third-place qualifier Bobby Zalenski’s former record by nearly two seconds.

“I was taken aback by how well these trucks get around a road course,” said Pataska after the race to RaceSpot TV. It was also Pataska’s first time racing not only at Interlagos, but also in a truck on a road course. “I think GT cars go around here three or four seconds quicker, which is insanely close for a NASCAR truck around any type of road course. That being said, it’s definitely a tricky course. There are a lot of corners that you don’t really know what you’re going to get until you go through it, so that makes it very hard.”

Drivers preparing to go green

Also racing with rookie stripes on the grid for the season opener were VRS Coanda Simsport’s David Williams, Allusion Motorsport’s Michael Scurlock and Chris Purnell and Privateers Steve Seilstad, Paul Slavonik, Aspen Belvin and Steven Dager Jr. Overall, 17 drivers from six different countries made the starting grid for the event.

A majority of the drivers who qualified in the top 10 were running in Toyotas to start the season. Toyota, who won the 2017 Manufacturer’s Championship, swept the first four spots in qualifying. Erik Blixt, who started fifth, was the highest-starting Chevrolet for the 24-lap race.

Pataska quickly pulled away from the rest of the field from the drop of the green flag in part because of a two-truck battle for second. Zalenski spent the first six laps battling for second with Cammaerts, continuously attempting to dive underneath the 66 truck heading into Senna S. Zalenski would eventually complete the pass after making door-to-door contact with Cammaerts entering Descida do Lago. By the time Zalenski completed the pass, he was more than six seconds behind the race leader.

Dager Jr. (#63) Crashes exiting Turn 3

As the battling went on, some newcomers struggled to get used to racing on a road course in a NASCAR truck. Blevin would nearly spin out on Lap 3 after locking his brakes heading into Senna S. A lap later though, Dager Jr. had the worst incident of the day, losing control of his 63 truck and slamming into the inside barrier exiting Curva do Sol. The crash led to Dager Jr. having to take a tow truck back to pit lane. He would go on to finish 19th place for the event. The rookie also did not record any points in his debut race due to not making the required minimum race distance.

One of the biggest movers of the day was Williams. The VRS Coanda Simsport driver, who started 16th place after not setting a qualifying time, attempted passes in a similar way as his teammate all race. When attempting to pass Privateer James King with 10 laps to go, the Virtual Racing School coach got a strong run out of Curvo do Sol, moved to his left side and ran next to one another down the Reta Oposta. Williams then outbraked King entering Descida do Lago before completing the pass on corner exit.

Williams (#81) passes King (#23)

Pataska went on to dominate the race, leading all 24 laps to win the opening round of the 2019 V8 SuperTrucks World Championship season by more than six seconds. The iRacing veteran also broke the lap record for the series by running a time 01:35.104 during the race. That was six-tenths faster than Zalenski’s former top time from 2018. Zalenski, Thomas O’Leary, Cammaerts and Williams rounded out the top five.

Pataska (foreground) takes victory over Zalenksi (background)

“It’s a great confidence booster, especially when you can complete with a guy like Bobby (Zalenski) who does this at the pro level in multiple disciplines,” said Pataska. “Bobby seemed to have some consistency troubles every third or fourth lap and I knew I’d be able to capitalize on it.”

Zalenski, who currently competes in the eNASCAR Peak Antifreeze iRacing Series, Porsche iRacing World Championship Series, VRS GT World Championship Series and the iRacing Rallycross World Championship Series, said “Once I eventually got by Sven (Cammaerts) in a messy way, I didn’t really have the pace and tires to catch up,”

“I wasn’t really expecting to come out and win. I wanted a good finish and just have some fun.”continued Zalenski, who is having to take a more relaxed approach considering the increase in his commitments this year, mentioning after the event he was not able to put in as much preparation into this season’s opener compared to 2018.

The V8 SuperTrucks World Championship heads to Phillip Island for the second round of the 2019 season on March 16, 2019. Be sure to tune into the action broadcasted by RaceSpot TV on Twitch and Facebook Live starting at 2000 UTC (4:00 p.m. EDT).

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