With just two weeks of action remaining, the iRacing.com Skip Barber Racing School Premier Series stopped at Virginia International Raceway for the penultimate round. The championship battle between Christian Aranha and Jan Niesiolowski would be the center of the focus for 42 sim-racers who competed in a trio of races throughout this past Wednesday. With last minute championship points up for grabs, there were inflated strength of field races, as well as some of the most exciting racing the series has seen. The pressure of finishing well in the last few weeks may have gotten in the heads of the championship contenders, as every online race counts, and every finish matters. It all comes down to whether Aranha or Niesiolowski wants to win it more.
The 10:00 GMT (2929 SoF )race was a very exciting and controversial race to start the day. Aranha started on the pole with his championship rival Niesiolowski starting beside him in second. Aranha led the first lap, but midway through Lap 2 experienced a technical difficulty and ended-up collecting Niesiolowski in a crash that also involved Wade Hayward who was looking for a great finish at VIR.
With the top three starters sidelined, pro road driver Riku Alatalo led the remaining 19 laps and outraced Marco Corti and Tim Adcock to win the first race of the week at VIR.
“Drove safely and concentrating on just staying on track, yet still managed 4 off tracks, to take the win,” said Alatalo. “Makes me wonder if I should have raced the whole season and tried for top three.”
“Makes me wonder if I should have raced the whole season and tried for top three.” — Riku Alatalo
Alatalo collected 181 points for the win, the most any driver would earn for the week. Corti and Adcock took home 167 and 153 respectively. Aranha and Niesiolowski both threw away this race, so it has no effect on the overall standings as they would finish higher in races later in the day.
The 20:00 GMT Race (2557 SoF) also saw more struggles for Niesiolowski. With Aranha absent, Niesiolowski was hoping to do some serious damage in the second race of the day. He started on the pole, but after four laps he surrendered his lead to Kurt Krumm, who never looked back. Krumm took the checkers over Corti who claimed his second P2 on the day. Emmanuel Menendez rounded out the final podium spot finishing just -20.873 seconds behind Krumm and earning 140 points, while Niesiolowski finished a disappointing 13th place.
The 2:00 GMT was arguably one of the most exciting races of the season. Twenty one drivers elected to compete in the final race of the penultimate round of the series. Fastest qualifier was Curtis Fung, a driver you always have to keep an eye on during this time slot. However, once the race got underway, Fung was hampered with gear selection issues, opening the door for the twenty other competitors.
Niesiolowski quickly took advantage of Fung’s problems, leading the first four laps and trying to separate himself from the second placed Aranha in the hopes of keeping his championship hopes alive – hopes bolstered by the fact that Aranha fell off the road on Lap 2 and dropped back to seventh. However, Lap 5 saw Krumm grab the lead and the next time ‘round Niesiolowski dropped down the order with an off-course excursion. Niesiolowski’s gaffe promoted Jim Shedlick to second and he subsequently took the lead on Lap 10 when Krumm had an agricultural adventure of his own.
However, Aranha was a man on a mission, quickly recovering from his early mistake. Up to sixth place on Lap Five, he got around Paul Ezerski and Andrea Ventura to take P3 on Lap Six, then took advantage of Krumm’s “off” to move into second spot on Lap 10. The (nearly) “Flawless Floridian” quickly hauled-in Shedlick and took the lead three laps later. Aranha went on to take the checkered flag a full nine seconds clear of Shedlick, earning a handy 180 points for the win, with Shedlick and Krumm joining him on the podium with Niesiolowski recovering to take take fourth spot.
With just one week left to go, Aranha would appear to have an insurmountable lead on Niesiolowski. But with a drop week and Oulton Park up next, everything is still up in the air. Over the past 11 weeks, the top two championship contenders have amassed some very impressive statistics. In 24 starts, Niesiolowski has earned seven wins, 16 top fives, and 11 poles. In 19 starts, Aranha has earned a whopping 13 wins, 17 top fives, and 16 poles. The iRacing.com Skip Barber Premier Series will be back for one last round in August to crown its first champion!