In the iRacing.com Grand Prix Series World Championship’s inaugural visit to the digital replica of the Twin-Ring Motegi circuit, Hugo Luis dominated proceedings to grab his sixth win of the 2012 season. Despite mounting the top step of the virtual podium, Luis couldn’t prevent Greger Huttu from reclaiming the championship crown that he ceded to the Brazilian last year.
Starting on pole position with a qualifying time of 1:24.722, Luis immediately stamped his authority on the 64 lap race, and broke away from the likes of Atze Kerkhof, Martin Krönke and Huttu, who squabbled amongst themselves through the opening corners. In fact by the time the defending champion completed the first lap, he’d already established a lead of over two seconds on the trailing trio.
With a clear track ahead and his protagonists a mere speck in his mirrors, Luis laid down an unassailable pace that saw him head for his first pit-stop with a six-second advantage. Continuing his faultless run, the My3id pilot extended his lead to 14 seconds by the time he made his final stop for service on Lap 44. It wasn’t until the closing stages of the online race that he abated his unrelenting pace, when he caught up to a train of four Williams-Toyota FW31s fighting for position. Sensibly, rather than force the issue, Luis held back from any attempts to lap the traffic, secure in the knowledge that his 16 second was a large enough buffer.
“I had a good start and while Martin [Krönke] was trying to defend himself, I could take that opportunity to try to increase the gap,” Luis explained post race. “Atze pitted earlier than me, that gave me a bit more confidence for the next stints. In my last stint there were a good amount of cars ahead, fighting really hard. I was not sure if I’d try to pass or just sit behind. But it was a really nice fight between them and I wouldn’t have any reason to attempt a pass as I had a good gap to Atze.”
Whilst Luis sailed off into the distance, Kerkhof had his own challenges to deal with in a bid to maintain his rich vein of recent form. Initially the Dutchman fended-off the advances of iGPManager’s Krönke, until an unforced error by the German on Lap Three sent him tumbling down the order to eighteenth. Next it was the turn of champion-elect Huttu to fill Kerkhof’s mirrors. Undeterred, Kerkhof maintained a consistent pace to break two-seconds clear of his Redline team-mate by the time he headed to pit-lane. However, once they’d both taken tyres and fuel for the first time, Huttu was eyeing Kerkhof’s gearbox again and piling on the pressure once more.
“Wooyeah!” — Greger Huttu
“I can say that the nature of this track is not really suiting me, which resulted in Hugo flying away from me and Greger sitting on my tail for pretty much the whole race.” Kerkhof told inRacingNews. “For him a top 12 was enough to clinch the championship and I knew he wouldn’t take any risks to get passed. After the pit-stop it got a bit close, but he gave me all the freedom and room to secure P2.”
By the time the duo headed to the pits for the final time, Huttu was again trailing his fellow team member by a couple of seconds. This time around Kerkhof maintained that gap after taking service, and ran to the finish in the runners-up spot.
“The main thing was to do a safe race and finally clinch the championship, which I did. Wooyeah! It’s been a long season again,” Huttu enthused. “Like I said the main thing was to get the championship 100% decided before the last race and after messing up qualifying I wasn’t in a great position to fight for the win of the race anyway.”
In an unrelenting fight from start to finish, Jeremy Bouteloup secured his fifth top-five finish of the 2012 season. Moving past Roland Ehnström on the opening lap, the Frenchman was able to keep the Orion Racing team car at arms length until the first round of pit-stops. Meanwhile, Stephen Michaels trailed in the wake of Ehnström as they played out a three-car tango until the final scheduled stops of the race. Making the jump on Ehnström in pit lane, Michaels became Bouteloup’s foe as he fixed his gaze on the Radicals Racing’s rear-wing for the final stint of the race. Like a pair of train carriages, they remained coupled together for lap after lap, but despite his best efforts the American couldn’t find a way past Bouteloup, and had to settle for fifth position by a mere two-tenths of a second.
Following Bouteloup and Michaels home was Ehnström, who parried a late attack by Jake Stergios to take sixth place by a single car length.
“For the rest of the final stint my driving was erratic, the lap times inconsistent, and in the end I very nearly lost sixth position to Jake as my rear tires gave up with two laps to go,” Ehnström confessed. “But somehow I made it to the finish in P6. This is still a great result of course, but I am a little bit disappointed as I feel I had a chance to get an even better result here.”
After starting Round 15 of the iRacing.com Grand Prix Series World Championship in the midfield, Fulvio Barozzini and Matthias Egger clawed their ways through the field to take the chequered flag in eighth and ninth respectively. Trailing the pair of Italians home was Aleksi Elomaa, who saw his starting position of sixth erode to tenth by the end of the race, with Ben Cornett and David Williams ending their runs a further 12 seconds back.
Huttu’s circumspect podium means the iRacing World Championship title once again heads to Finnish shores, with the final round from Suzuka still to come. Although Luis has six victories to his name, a pair of DNFs earlier in the season scuppered the Brazilians chances of retaining his crown and will end 2012 as the bridesmaid. With a 27 point advantage over Ehnström, Stergios just needs a top 20 finish in two weeks time to secure third in the series. Similarly, Ehnström needs a top 20 of his own to be assured of fourth place or better in the standings, with Kerkhof 26 points adrift heading to Suzuka. At the other end of the scale, Dion Vergers, Stephen Michaels, and Wes Richards occupy P23-25 and the final automatic qualifying positions for next year’s world championship. Enviously coveting their positions are David Williams and Jason Lovett, who stand on the outside edge of the cut and will be looking to grab valuable points in the final race of the season.
Catch all the action at Suzuka on iRacingLive on October 20 and check in to inRacingNews in two weeks time for a full report on the race.