The Summer Break in the iRacing.com World Championship Grand Prix Series was seen by many as a chance to regroup. From four winners in the first four races, the season had transformed into another demonstration of Huttu Domination, as the Fanatec Team Redline driver won the next five races on the trot. In particular, one person hoping the break would bring a change in fortunes was Foracer 3id Motorsports driver Hugo Luis. Everything that could go wrong for him in the early part of the season had happened, and if he were to become a two-time champion, he would have to start winning races quickly. . . beginning with Round 10 at Twin Ring Motegi.
Qualifying would see Fanatec Team Redline’s second driver Enzo Bonito take pole position, his first in the sim racing series. Foracer 3id Motorsports’ Martin Krönke would join him on the front row of the grid with ineX V-Racing’s Jake Stergios lining up in third, both claiming their best qualifying performances of the season. Greger Huttu lined up fourth, with Radical SteelSeries’ Mogar Filho rounding-out the top five. The return to form for Luis started badly however, as a bad Sector 2 on his final lap placed him all the way down in P8 on the grid.
When the lights went out to start the race, Bonito was able to get a good launch from the line initially, but then got bogged down with wheel spin, leading to a three wide situation into Turn 1. Krönke came out the winner, but would be passed by Stergios into Turn 2, putting him into the race lead. Bonito slotted into the third position ahead of his team mate as the opening laps of the race saw a number of early casualties. Fabio De Carmo, Fulvio Barozzini, Paul Ilbrink and Ryosuke Iwasaki were all out by lap 10 after being involved in incidents.
Drivers settled down for a race where overtaking has historically been notoriously difficult. This was best proven by Luis’ struggles in moving up the field. Despite gaining a couple of positions by the conclusion of Lap 4, he would be stuck behind Ronin Racing’s Yuho Abe for the majority of the first stint. This would severely hurt Luis’ chance of securing a podium finish the race, further blunting a championship charge which is looking more and more distant with each passing round. Behind Jeremy Bouteloup was involved in a tense battle with Olli Pahkala (Glacier Racing) and Alex Simpson (Apex Racing); however — again — passing proved difficult.
Out front, Stergios pulled an early advantage on Krönke, though this would quickly be closed down, and the two drivers were separated by no more than a second and a half through the first stint. The first round of pit stops came surprisingly early, marking the first time all season the majority of drivers felt the need to commit to a two stop race. Although Stergios came onto pit road with the race lead, a longer pit stop meant he would come out just behind Krönke — but ahead of Bonito — as the top three cars pitted together.
Huttu stayed-out a couple of laps longer than the top three, and as we’ve seen all year long, drivers who can stretch the fuel number on their opening stint gain a huge advantage on the cut over. In just three additional laps, Huttu was able to grab the race lead, emerging from the pits with a 2.5 second margin over Krönke. The stop for Huttu itself however was shorter than all of his rivals, indicating that he may have been looking to go short on his second stint.
Krönke was able to close up to Huttu by a couple of tenths on the early laps of the second run, with Stergios dropping back slightly. The true extent of Huttu’s fuel strategy was never revealed however, as technical disaster struck Stergios, sending him to go two laps down. The American’s continuing campaign to become the first driver to win races in both the iRacing World Championship Grand Prix and NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series took another blow, in the race where the best chance in almost two years was presented. Naturally, he was disappointed, stating:
“Really disappointing end to a race that showed a lot of promise early on, but I am glad to get experience out front leading laps and hopefully I won’t be so nervous next time. Thanks to my friends and teammates at ineX-racing for the hard work and support. Hopefully we can rebound from this week and get some good results the rest of the season.”
The second pit stop saw Huttu emerge with an ever growing lead, as he again showed his supremacy in late run pace, which has been evident all season. With Stergios out of the picture, Krönke was able to take control of second place, but had no pace to match the three-time champion. Bonito was the other big beneficiary of Stergios’ misfortune, rounding-out the podium in third and ending a string of poor luck for the Italian. Abe would finish fourth, while Luis came home fifth, unable to utilize a faster pace at the end of the race to catch and pass the Ronin Racing driver.
The next round of the championship sees drives stay in Japan, and travels to Okayama, site of the 1994 and 1995 Pacific Grand Prix. With the championship winding down, the battle for the top 25 gets more intense by the race, and of course, the question remains if Luis can perform the miracle of miracles and close-up the championship. Find out on August 2nd from 1:30PM GMT on iRacing Live.