The iRacing Pro Mazda Championship headed towards North America for the third week of 2015 Season3 where famed Circuit Gilles Villeneuve would be ready and waiting for the 17 top split drivers who made the long trip from Sao Paulo, Brazil. The sim racing competitors had to navigate 13 treacherous corners through each of the 18 laps over the 4.36km layout; as in every season, the Wall of Champions would be out to claim someone; usually it’s inevitable it occurs.
Ariel Eduardo Bernardi took pole position ahead of the returning Wyatt Gooden by just over .4s. Second down to fifth were all separated by less than a tenth in their qualifying laps, so we’d be sure to have a good race on our hands. Bernardi had help to extract the most out of his lap by catching the draft at an ideal point — on the run from the hairpin to the final chicane; although with the session being a 12 minute open track qualifying sometimes that little extra help can benefit some whilst other lose out, luck of the draw most of the time!
The start of the race was somewhat orderly for the opening two corners, except for Glacier Racing’s Joonas Puhakka. The Finn had issues from the get-go, with his sound not working, it was already going to be a tough task to complete the race. However, Hugo Preto gave him the slightest of touches to add to his woes, damaging the Finn’s rear wing. Meanwhile Maarten van Loozenoord was on the back foot after Turn Two where there was a bottleneck which he’d got caught up in, allowing Frederik Rasmussen to have a look down the inside into Turn Three. The Danish sim racer did just that but, when attempting the move from a very acute angle sustained front left suspension damage as he and Loozenoord collided. Rasmussen – running the Williams Rothmans replica livery – was soon out of the race totally in an incident which I can only suspect stemmed from his partially broken suspension: coming around the flat-out Turn Five right hander his car just veered to the outside wheel after coming loose, ploughing in to the barrier at a high speed and totaling his Pro Mazda in the process.
Puhakka was the next top runner to sustain substantial damage, coming in to Turn One for the second time it looked as though he lost the rear end of his Glacier Racing Pro Mazda – maybe the tires weren’t fully up to temperature given how the Pro Mazda is with warming-up tires – which sent him almost spiraling into a spin. Fortunately for Puhakka he saved it, although he almost came to a complete standstill whilst doing so. With cars still funneling through at racing speed he was in a prime position to be hit — which is ultimately what happened. Harley Lewis did his best to avoid the stranded car but to no avail as he drilled the rear end of the Finn’s machine which, as noted, was moving at a positively, er, “glacial” pace . . . Puhakka came off the worse, needing a pit stop to at least get his vehicle going straight again.
The early laps of the race had seen some big names drop like flies at this daunting circuit, but the Wall of Champions had yet to claim anyone . . . that was until the end of the second lap. Apex Racing (Academy) driver Loozenoord was the first to fall victim to the wall which has claimed so many throughout the years. Whilst there was no need to be pushing hard – considering the Dutchman was able to keep pace with the top four ahead – it was a mistake he’d be left to rue after being in an ideal position for the 16 laps that would have been ahead of him. Nonetheless, I’m sure Marcus Jensen would somewhat gratefully take his fellow academy driver’s position although he’d be somewhat disappointed at the same time knowing a top five may have been on for both of their cars!
Unfortunately for the most part the race turned in to a precession, wherever you were placed in the field. Even the midfield was spread out enough that the drivers weren’t breathing down each others’ gearboxes lap after lap. Up the front though there was no question about it, Bernardi was certainly the class of the field, especially with the calibre of racers he had on his tail who weren’t able to exercise a clear cut overtaking opportunity. Although the Italian couldn’t break away, he was clearly in control and looking comfortable in the car at the same time. Jamie Fluke meanwhile was looking on for a strong finish within the podium before a lapse in concentration saw Red Devilution’s driver head straight on at Turn Eight with only five and a half laps remaining resulting in a slowdown and a demotion down to fifth behind Jensen.
Had Fluke not have had this minor lapse in concentration the fifth place he attained could have quite easily been a first place considering how the final lap played-out. Being an incredibly wise racer, Gooden knew exactly what he had to do this final lap to snatch first place. Brunner & Co. were too far back to trouble the top two unless incident occurred, and the American had been patient all race, knowing how to use the draft of his Radicals Online Pro Mazda to an advantage to creep ahead down the back straight on the final lap of the race. He did just this; and I’m sure most expected him to come out on top . . . but it wasn’t to be.
Bernardi showed some superb defensive driving, positioning his vehicle in the right spot to make sure Gooden wasn’t able to use the speed advantage to force a move as they headed into the last chicane for the final time. This did mean, however, that the Italian’s exit from the corner was compromised as they accelerated towards the line though due to the fact he’d taken a line tighter than he would have liked which, in turn, resulted in less speed as they powered towards the line. Gooden ducked back into the draft and pulled as close as he could alongside to try and extract every ounce of speed possible out of the little Mazda engine; in the end it wasn’t his day, but only by a mere .015s as they crossed the stripe for the last time!
By no means could Gooden be disappointed with not taking away the win though, especially with a final lap as thrilling as that! Bernardi took a whopping 239 points back for his win compared to Gooden’s 224, whilst Brunner earned 209 championship markers and Jensen and Fluke rounded out the top five. I’m sure Fluke would be happy but ruing his mistake at the same time.
When we head down to Ohio for next week’s sim racing at the Mid-Ohio Sportscar Course I hope we are in for a treat once again, and able to witness some racing as thrilling as it has been in the most recent twp weeks of competition! No doubt Gooden — who grew up near Mid-Ohio and considers it his home turf — will be out to redress his narrow loss on the Ile de Notre Dame.