With 2013 Season Two of the iRacing Grand Prix Series (iGPS) finally water under the bridge, Season Three is now upon us. Now that the top finishers from S2 have achieved their long-awaited promotion, new opportunities present themselves for those awaiting S3 as this is the last chance during 2013 to join the sim racing elite in the road to iRacing.com World Championship Grand Prix Series (iWCGPS). With S2’s elite eleven en route to their own yellow brick road, Week One of S3 takes us to a more commonplace brick road: The Brickyard. The historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.6 mile road course has two personalities, one a tight, twisty infield with sharp radius corners with little room for error, and the other featuring the longest pit straight of any road course on the iRacing.com simulation.
The first week of the season is always the most hectic, and despite teething issues on the Williams-Toyota FW31s adjusted tire model, the series
managed no less than six Strength of Fields (SoF): three on Saturday and three on Sunday. Yuho Abe (Asia) took the fastest qualifying time of
the week, the already promoted Pro driver looking on top of the revised F1 car, but he was closely followed by fellow countryman Kazuki Oomishima (Asia) who put in a great time to snatch the third quickest time of the week and the fastest of the A-Class drivers.
Saturday, race day was all about one man: Joseph Fabian (Australia/NZ), a sim-racer renowned for showing great potential but who has never managed to complete an uninterrupted season to challenge for a Pro license. On his day though he has shown to be one of the fastest Australian iRacers around. Could this be the season it comes good?
Tt looked that way on Saturday. First, at 16:00 GMT, Fabian held-off Alex Simpson (UK & I) in an engaging, race-long scrap that was only halted by the chequered flag, whilst Christiaan Tanahatoe (Benelux) took a strong third place as he too shows promise of making Pro.
Surprisingly, there were no black-striped helmets in view in the 18:00 SoF race, leaving the championship protagonists to their own devices. Regardless of the circumstances, the results were the same as Fabian delivered the goods to take an easy win after beating pole sitter Oomishima to the first corner. The Japanese driver was trailed home closely by Tommy Nilsson (Scandinavia), the Scandinavian taking the final spot on the podium after a fraught drive from the back of the grid, with Lee Thompson (UK & I) P4, three places up from his starting position.
With just enough drivers to qualify, we were later treated to a rare Saturday 20:00 SoF race. Simpson atoned for his earlier defeat to claim an unchallenged victory ahead of Frank Levick IV (New England) and iWCGPS regular Paul Ilbrink (Benelux) in a surprise A-Class appearance.
Despite Saturday’s three SoF races, conventional wisdom holds that Sunday is the more crucial day of the two. The proved to the case again in Week One, as Sunday produced three SoFs all higher than the previous day,hence, more vital point gains up for grabs.
Race One saw Simpson do to pole sitter Oomishima what Fabian had done to him 24 hours previously: snatch the lead into Turn 2 and likewise, never look back en route to a compelling victory. Though Oomishima pressured Simpson early on, a momentary lapse of concentration and narrow miss hitting of the wall irrevocably consigned the Japanese driver to second place, albeit with a handy 234 points in the highest SoF of the week.
Following Simpson and Oomishima across the stripe were the (former) back row duo of Nilsson and Season One Pro licensee Olli Pahkala (Finland) who battled their way through the pack, lapping at a similar pace to the leaders to claim respectable finishes. But whilst starting on the back row may have been of little hindrance to Messrs Nilsson and Pahkala, the third row appeared to curse the duo Ryosuke Iwasaki (Asia) and Muhammed S Patel (UK & I) who retired in the opening laps – the latter suffering connection problems before graciously withdrawing to avoid any incidents.
Arguably the best race of the week – Sunday’s 18:00GMT event – kicked off in dramatic fashion with four competitors retiring on the first lap. Happily, this did not result in a boring procession; far from it.
Unfortunately, Oomishima had another nightmare of a first lap, dropping to seventh despite all the ensuing chaos behind, leaving front row starter Paolo Accurso to claim the lead. Fabian took second, this time playing the hunter rather than the hunted as a momentous battle unfolded in his mirrors between newcomer and relatively unknown Michele Chesini (Italy) and promising Petar Peic (Central-Eastern Europe) who ran nose-to-tail for an enthralling 23 laps.
Whilst Chesini and Peic traded virtual blows, the all-too familiar sight of a recovering Nilsson storming up from the back of the grid would interrupt their battle. Much to the displeasure of Chesini and Peic, the Swede claimed third place mid-way through the race, his task having been made easier by avoiding the start mess and climbing a mammoth nine places on the opening lap.
Eventually, Peic came out on top his dice with Chesini, although both were destined to lose places to a recovering Oomishima – a portent of a titanic scrap for the lead. With Accurso still keeping Fabian at bay, the two saw their pace drop off quite rapidly, and before too long, Nilsson was in their mirrors.
Courtesy of some error-free driving and competitive top speed, Accurso didn’t look to budge . . . until the dying moments of the race, that is, when Nilsson made a last gasp attempt for the lead. Contact ensued with Accurso prevailing and Nilsson executing a small spin. By this time, Fabian and Oomishima were in extremely close attendance and with little time to react to the sudden roadblock presented by Nilsson’s rotating Williams-Toyota FW31. As a result, Fabian and Oomishima collided dramatically in avoidance and retired on the spot, just two laps from the flag. Nilsson rejoined in time to retain second place with Ryosuke Iwasaki (Asia) unexpectedly climbing to third and an impressive Chesini claiming 200 points in his first week of competitive A-Class driving.[13S3_INDYF1_3 screenshot] Accurso deservedly earnt a hard-fought
With all that said and done, the week looked to be over but somehow enough competitors signed-up to stage the sixth SoF race of the week. These drivers included Mikko Nässi (Finland), making a rare appearance in the iGPS from a competitive third place on the grid.
Although the SoF level dropped, some decent points were still up for grabs for the race winner. The Lights had no sooner gone out out for race split number six, when Pro licensee Troy Schulz’s (Northwest) race turned into a first lap horror, resulting in the American carrying heavy damage for the entirety of the race.
Nässi kept clean, but soon found himself swamped by Apex Racing League cars – first succumbing to the hard-charging Thompson and, subsequently, Hunter Manley (Mid-South) early in the race. With a reduced grid size, the race remained uneventful throughout, with the positions the status quo seemingly unthreatened. However, Simpson had a surprise in store in form of a voluntary pit stop in the closing stages of the race, allowing team-mates Thompson and Manley into first and second to claim some vital points.
As a result – although it’s still Week One – the championship is looking mighty close with many names gunning for the glory. In fact, no less than eleven names have 180 plus points scores heading into the next event. Speaking of which, next week sees the iGPS journey east to Watkins Glen, one of the most popular venues for F1 iRacers, a circuit renowned for overtaking opportunities and close gaps between the cars. No doubt the competition will remain fierce and deep heading into the second week of twelve at such an iconic venue