by Simon Cattell on April 18th, 2012
For the penultimate week of Season 1, the iRacing.com Grand Prix Series (iGPS) teams and drivers headed off to Sebring International Raceway. The circuit – 3.7 miles (6.0 km) long and compromising of seventeen turns – features long straights and a hybrid of high speed and technical low speed corners. Although the course offers very little elevation change there are several cambered corners on the surface adding to the challenge laying ahead for the drivers piloting their 800 horsepower V8-powered Williams FW31′s. Even as the iGPS cohered with the Drivers World Championships (DWC) this week – Sunday saw only two Strength of Field (SoF) races with the end of the season taking its toll. Both races saw Max Dell’Orco starting from his usual pole position slot, despite DWC driver Luke McLean taking the fastest qualifying time of the week with a lap quicker than DWC pole time- however he would be absent from both races.
With the Italian taking pole in the 17:15GMT race, he was joined by Davy Decorps on the front row with the Frenchman looking to fully secure his Pro license, meanwhile Finns Riku Alatalo and Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola slotted behind them on the second row. Dell’Orco’s start was good but Decorps’ was even better, enabling him to snatch the lead from the Italian on lap 4. However a quick loss of concentration as he was lapping a slower car saw Decorps miss his braking point for Turn 7 – despite a relatively low speed impact, the front end damage was considerable enough to force him out of the race.
This promoted Dell’Orco to the lead again with Alatalo following in close pursuit whilst his fellow Finn Uusi-Jaakkola was forced to retire due to an earlier spin. After the pitstops the top five would be Dell’Orco, Alatalo, Slocombe, Urbizu and Schulz. Not much would happen upfront until the chequered flag loomed large. As the ticker hit lap 33, the leader – Dell’Orco spun exiting Turn 5 hairpin collecting damage which saw him drop to second behind Alatalo who could take a surprise victory, with Slocombe slotting third followed by Pro license hunter Urbizu and Schulz in fourth and fifth respectively.
19:15GMT would be similar to the previous race as Dell’Orco and Decorps occupied the front-row with Alatalo and Uusi-Jaakola behind them again. This time Dell’Orco was past by both cars nearest behind him at the start. Uusi-Jaakkola’s day went from bad to worse however as he spun his tires on the launch unfortunately forcing him sideways into the path of DWC driver Slocombe who started fifth. The top 3 would break away from the rest of the field with this incident, promoting Richie Stanaway to fourth and Marcus Caton sitting in fifth, hunting for a high score after Urbizu’s strong result in the previous race.
This notoriously difficult track always produces retirements and it’s next victim was Alatalo, who put a tire on the grass in Turn 1 on lap 7, resulting in a spin and a violent impact with the armco, forcing the Finn into an early retirement. This promoted Xavier Busoms to fifth as he started chasing Marcus Caton for the crucial points needed to claim the last Pro license realistically on offer. After a race-long battle, Caton managed to hold Busoms off for fourth and take one crucial step to cementing his name in the 2012 Pro Series. As the lone duo of Decorps and Dell’Orco broke away from the rest of the pack following Alatalo’s retirement, Frenchman Decorps never gave Dell’Orco a chance to attempt a pass for the lead to claim his second SoF victory this season. Real life driver Richie Stanaway completed the podium picture.
The last week of the Series moves to Silverstone Circuit as Week 11 absentee Jake Stergios is set for a back-to-back championship win followed by 1st placed A-Class driver Dell’Orco. The fight for the positions are very much alive behind him as Ryan Terpstra in 4th and Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola in 7th are separated by only 31 points heading into the final week. Meanwhile whilst nine drivers now look set for receiving their coveted Pro licenses at the end of the season, the battle for 10th and the final Pro-license between Xavier Busoms, Pierre Urbizu and Marcus Caton is reaching boiling point as we enter the final week of the season with all three fighting it out to wear the black stripe. Only one driver can be victorious so any slip-ups could be fatal as twelve weeks of work will be decided this Sunday.