Just off the coast of southeast Australia lies an island rich in racing history, dating all the way back to more than eighty years ago when drivers would compete on a road circuit that changed shape and length from event to event. The road circuit eventually led to the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit being built, which opened in 1956 and has survived temporary closings to remain a staple on the Australian motorsports calendar and, since, a fixture on iRacing.com.
Believe it or not, the completion of the third week of competition of the inaugural season of the iRacing.com RUF Cup signifies that a quarter of the twelve-week 2014 Season 1 has gone by. In these three weeks, the RUF drivers have visited three very different tracks: the renowned Interlagos course in Brazil, Australian’s technical and high-speed Mount Panorama Circuit, and now, the second Australian course on the schedule.
The Phillip Island Circuit has a very different feel than the previous two tracks that the RUF Cup has visited. The scenic road course presents new challenges with its various late-apex corners and “unmarked” braking zones. Lacking brake zone markers entering Turn Two for example, many drivers found themselves overshooting the corner throughout the week. The 4.45 kilometer (2.76 mile) road course has much of that: fast straightaways leading to tight, slower corners. One of the easiest corners to overdrive is turn twelve, or the “Swan Corner.” Because it leads to the long front-straightaway, getting through the “Swan” efficiently is paramount to running competitive lap times, which is no easy task given how long you have to wait on the throttle to avoid sliding into the grass on exit. Those who navigated the final corner correctly were rewarded with a great run down the longest straightaway on the track.
Diego Comuni (Italy) made a strong statement at the Island, as he qualified faster than the rest of the field at a 1:32.581 and was able to capitalize on his speed and consistency to notch a perfect four wins in four starts, with his best race netting him 189 points, highest of the week. Pawel Bienkowski (Central-Eastern Europe) made the second best score on the Island, with his two wins giving him an average of 178 points. Rami Kaukola (Finland) was P3 after earning 177 points for a second place finish to Bienkowski. Mikko Melkkilä (Finland) was a consistent contender and won five of his sixteen starts during the week, resulting in an average of 175 points.
Two other sim-racers who made loud statements, despite not cracking the top five in points, were Anthony Kernich (Australia/NZ) and Sven Brückner (DE-AT-CH). Kernich won ten out of his fourteen starts after qualifying second overall, resulting in a 159 point average for his best races. He also collected the most points in a single race, netting 191 for a win over a tough field that saw Robin Östlund (Scandinavia) and Melkkilä capture podium finishes. Meanwhile, Sven Brückner was a dominating force all week, as he won an incredible 21 races in 25 starts and took home 147 points.
After the completion of racing at Phillip Island, three of the top four drivers in the standings amassed exactly 171 points. One of them — Petri J. Lempinen (Finland) – took the points lead from Antoine Higelin (France) after capturing 27 more points than the French driver. Jan-Paul Niehuis (DE-AT-CH) and Jimmy Bigum (Scandinavia) are the other two drivers who earned 171 points, slotting them into P3 and P4 in the standings, respectively. Christopher Zoechling (DE-AT-CH) finds himself 5th in points at the quarter mark of the season.
Week 4 finds the RUF Cup heading to another unique track, Brands Hatch. Lempinen will look to cement his place atop the standings at the British roller coaster, but it will be no easy task with the impressive number of contenders capable of competing for this championship.