Following 12 weeks of unmitigated struggle, iRacing.com Grand Prix Series (iGPS) has provisionally moulded ten shiny new pro licenses for its top ten finishers. On top of the nine who already achieved them in previous weeks, Mikko Meriluoto (Finland) has joined the elite to march onto the 2013 iRacing.com Road Pro Series (iRPS), providing events do not change. But when two weeks remained, it wasn’t expected to be so close.
Spa-Francorchamps (Week 11 on the calendar) proved to be the weekend of strength and depth, producing four different winners in each of the main four Strength of Field (SoF) races. The 7km (4.7 mile) track is the longest on the calendar, but also one of the most popular with the drivers. The corners flow one after the other, exuding history and testing the skill set of a driver with a blend of fast and slow corners, inclines and declines, chicanes, hairpins – i.e. just about everything on this marvelous layout.
Unusually it was the first race of the week that proved the highest SoF, which culminated in a lights-to-flag victory for Yuho Abe (Asia), far ahead of his competition. Although, DWC licensees Daniel López (Iberia) and Teemu Iivonen (Finland) made mincemeat of the rest of field, carving their way from the back of the grid to the front en route to finish second and third respectively – just moments after their anguish in the previous iRacing.com World Championship Grand Prix Series event. Jan Nieslowski (Central-Eastern Europe) took the most points of the A-Class drivers, trailing home in fourth place.
Race Two saw the saturation of black stripes disappear as the gates opened for the A-Class drivers again. This was most likely the most eventful race of the lot, with four people leading the online race at some point even before the pit stop phase begun. Michael Gomen (Northwest) reigned supreme eventually and kept his nose clean whilst rivals Michele Mancusi (Italy) and Ariel Eduardo Bernardi
(Italy) fell foul, enabling him to take the win and get within a trace of the championship lead. Arguably more importantl, Ryosuke Iwasaki (Asia) drove a relentless race to claim a massive 231 points which could prove to have a huge impact on the outcome of the top ten — and throw the race for the last Pro license right into the open again following Meriluoto’s absence.
Next day and Race Three fruited as the López and Abe show, the two black stripers driving in a different league to the rest, establishing their own race and producing lap times that would be enough for a competitive grid slot in a iWCGPS qualifying session. In the battle of the A-classers, top runners Joonas Nukarinen (Finland) and the Italian duo of Mancusi and Bernardi fought lap-after-lap for a large portion of the race, jostling for the overall fourth position, with the Finn coming out on top this time. Their other Italian counterpart Paolo Muia (Italy) got engaged in a fraught and hotly-debated collision with former Oval Pro driver Jarl Teien (Scandinavia) making his presence well known already in the F1 community. In this race, at least, both retired on the spot with collision damage.
Race Four, the largest field of all began in explosive style as fast starter Nukarinen rocketed off the grid from fifth to first on the run to Kemmel Straight. Closely following was pole sitter Martti Pietilä (Finland), potentially running a longer strategy but endeavouring to stay with his countryman. Meanwhile Michele Mancusi’s difficult week got somehow more difficult following numerous car contacts which damaged his Williams-Toyota FW31 beyond repair. This time Muia and Teien avoided running into each other, but the two remained on roughly the same page for much of the race, with neither disappearing from each other’s sight. As the pit stops drew closer, Pietilä didn’t let Nukarinen run away and expectedly stayed out longer than Nukarinen to reclaim the lead after the pits and retain the lead to the flag. Nevertheless, Nukarinen’s stellar drive to second place gave him a momentous one point lead in the championship over Muia, closely followed by absentee Friskopps, now dropped to P3 in the standings. And with that said, the week of Spa-Francorchamps concluded, providing a series of great races for the drivers and spectators.
So with the trip to Belgium part one complete, Belgium part two followed immediately, moving from French district to Flemish district, and a weekend which no-one hoped for: Zolder.
In F1 popularity terms, Zolder may be the total opposite of its French district cousin, not a single SoF race was to be seen on Saturday or Sunday. But with chances slim, Iwasaki staked a medium-sized SoF in a non-split race and took a victory plus enough points to jump Meriluoto in the standings, providing another twist in this surprise-ridden season. However, Meriluoto’s temporary return from military service allowed him a chance to do the same, moving back ahead of Iwasaki in the standings as the two scrounged over the remaining Pro license like two angry dogs over a bone. Apart from SoF grinding, Istvan Scheffel (DE-AT-CH) took a not-so bad 152 points total from the largest grid size race of the week, miraculously getting no off tracks en route to a comfy victory at a not-so comfy track; the German was followed home by fellow countryman Matthias Eckstein.
So when all the virtual dust and carbon fibre settled, the following iGPS drivers earned promotion to the 2013 iRacing.com Road Pro Series: Ariel Eduardo Bernardi, Jan Niesiołowski, Joonas Nukarinen, Lasse Bruun-Hansen, Michael Gomen, Michele Mancusi, Mikko Meriluoto, Paolo Muià, Robin Friskopps, Ryosuke Iwasaki and Tommy Nilsson. Congratulations!