A Study in Contrasts
March 19th, 2012 by DavidP
Weeks 5 and 6 of the iRacing.com Prototype and GT Challenge visited the longest and shortest tracks on the schedule – Belgium’s Spa-Francorchamps and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in California – to round-out the first half of the season. With a history of multiclass endurance racing, and featuring in the World Endurance Championship this year, the 7km Spa track allowed all three cars, especially the GT classes, to stretch their legs on the straights.
Laguna Seca on the other hand measures in at just 3.6km in length, the short lap presenting LMP2 drivers with lots of traffic to deal with over a race distance. Laguna Seca and its famous “Corkscrew” turn have been a permanent fixture on the American Le Mans Series calendar since its inception and a venue on which all three cars have previously raced in the ALMS.
As in previous weeks, the 70 minute open setup races at Spa would see the Prototype sim racers struggle to make the distance on just a single stop for fuel at full race pace, whereas at Laguna Seca it was the opposite at, as the slightly shorter 60 minute races meant it would be the GT classes contending with fuel strategies.
It was all change at the head of the HPD ARX-01c class, with Rocco Barone being ousted from the top spot in both series come the end of Week 6. In the open setup series at Spa, the Italian mistakenly ended his race a lap early after receiving the white flag for a second time, costing him the win. This allowed Roderic Kreunen to lead the standings after top scoring in Week 5 – thanks to a hard-fought race win by just 0.6 seconds over Bastien Tixier later in the week. Both Barone and Kreunen consolidated their positions with good scores at Laguna Seca, ahead of New England’s Radcliffe Pike in third.
After missing Week 4 at Mid-Ohio, Raymond Mooney returned to top score in the fixed setup series, winning each race he entered at Spa and Laguna Seca. But it would be his nFinity eSports team mate Zaahir Essa who left the Californian circuit leading the standings, moving ahead of Teemu Iivonen and Sebastian Schmalenbach – the trio covered by just 13 points! Behind was Barone, who retired from his only race with accident damage, Kreunen, and Mooney rounding out the top six.
Kay Kaschube continues to be the driver to beat in the Corvette C6.R class, as he stretched his run of open setup “hot split” race wins to three with victory at Spa. However Marc de Loose managed to stop the sequence by winning at Laguna Seca after a race-long battle, superior fuel economy allowing him to stay out on track while Kaschube required a quick pit stop towards the end of the race. Kaschube’s Falcon GP team mate Marcel Wiemers lies third, just behind de Loose in the standings, the margin still 150 points to the German at the top of the table.
Ief Vangenechten holds the biggest lead across all of the classes, 208 points the gap at the halfway stage of the season in the fixed series. His run of top scoring in recent weeks only disrupted by Kaschube taking the win in the “hot split” at Vangenechten’s home track of Spa. Jim Shedlick holds on to second by just six points over Michael Booth.
The Ford GT points lead would also remain unchanged, however Kimmo Suominen did not have it all his own way as Niek Versteege made inroads into his points advantage. While Suominen led Versteege home in the open setup “hot split” at Spa, the roles were reversed at Laguna Seca with Versteege claiming victory and Suominen forced to retire after being involved in an accident with a Corvette.
The fixed setup series was where Versteege made the most gains, Suominen deciding not to compete at Laguna Seca after his poor results in the open setup series. Versteege took wins in each “hot split” race at Spa and Laguna Seca, closing the gap down to just seven points, with David Jordan rounding out the top three.
Weeks 7 and 8 feature visits to Florida’s most famous racing circuits – Sebring International Raceway in the daylight and Daytona International Speedway’s road course in night lighting, with the 120 minutes of Sebring World Tour sandwiched in-between.