The heat was on for series leader Ethan Grigg-Gault and the rest of the competitors in the latest round of the iRacing V8Supercar Series held at Sebring International Raceway in sultry central Florida.
Hot and humid weather made conditions very uncomfortable for the 24 sim racers who lined up for the main SOF qualifying at Sebring. The 5.9 km (3.7 mile) layout of concrete and asphalt presented challenges to the strong field throughout the 12 minute session. With the extended lap times, drivers had limited opportunities to get that one ‘hot lap’ in to be sure that the time counted was indicative of their performance.
Ian Ford, second in the championship and racing for Evolution Racing Australia in the Holden Commodore, again showed he’s the one lap master of the official V8 supercar series by taking pole position for the fourth time in six races with a time of 2:02.665. Grigg-Gault in the SDC Motorsport Holden was able to wrestle his car to second on the grid, just over a tenth of a second behind. Beau Cubis, continuing on with his ever improvement, had his strongest qualifying of the season in third position just in front of Sam Sutton who was continued to show his good form in the Dayco entry by getting to fourth on the grid with the very last lap of the session.
With the widest entry into a first turn for the season awaiting them, many options presented themselves to the full field. As has been the case in other races, Ford got a good start and led comfortably into Turn 1. The chasing pack closed-up dramatically as Grigg-Gault didn’t get the best start and found his SDC Motorsport teammate and ERA’s Marcelo Rivera having a look up the inside at the fourth gear turn. With a better line through the tightening exit, Cubis gained a spot into second with Grigg-Gault just holding-off the charging Rivera.
After an initial clean getaway from the line, the rest of the field was caught-up in dramas at Turn Ten, aka Cunningham Corner. Matt Stratford from the 4Motorsports team slightly tagged the rear of the TTR car of Michael Healey under early braking. Healey was forced onto the infield grass and the loss of traction for braking caused mayhem for the cars of Michael Cracknell and Aaron Hamilton. Both cars, innocently doing their own races, suffered damage when they were caught-up with Healey’s out of control car. The collision caused the immediate retirement of the luckless Cracknell, whilst Hamilton continued on in the Maverick Welding entry to eventually finish a fighting tenth in what was an excellent return to the series after a short break.
The top five cars of Ford, Cubis, Grigg – Gault, Rivera and Smith continued the fast pace throughout the early stages, opening-up a gap to the trailing pack. Cubis, relatively new to the SDC team, allowed team leader Grigg-Gault through on Lap 3 at Turn 1. However, in what could have been a series0-defining moment, Grigg-Gault took too much exiting the turn, completely losing rear grip causing him to slide across the track in front of his team mate. A brilliant save by the series leader resulted in the loss of only one position.
Grigg-Gault holding on to what could have been a race ending incident with Cubis, Smith and Rivera looking on
Early pitstops were the order of the day with Cubis pitting from third place as early as Lap Seven in an attempt to undercut race leader Ford. Ford reacted by pitting the next time past with Grigg-Gault, very surprisingly, waiting until Lap Nine to call on pit road. With the early stops of the top three, Benjamin Smith in the Demidov Innovations car was able to produce a series of fast and clean laps that caused anxiety for those who pitted early.
Sam Sutton, recovering from a slow start from fourth on the grid that had initially dropped him to eighth began making his gradual progression through the field. With a superior strategy and fast pace throughout Sutton continued to force his way forward where he would eventually, after a last lap battle with Rivera, come fifth.
By Lap 11 Ford had opened-up a slight lead of two and a half seconds. However, he was unable to find a way through a battling pack of tail-enders including Mario Vlasic, Will Dodd and David Baxter. Within a lap, Ford’s lead to Grigg-Gault disappeared with the pressure being out on immediately on the ERA car.
Making the most of the traffic – and with the added benefit of the draft on the back straight – Grigg-Gault soon wrested the lead from Ford. Despite constant pressure from Ford, the championship leader maintained the lead until the end of the race for his fourth win in six races on the season ahead of Ford and Cubis. Smith in fourth would be happy with the result in front of the Dayco car of Sutton.
Throughout the race, a great little battle raged between Redback Racing’s Jamie Eaton and LiT Motorsports’ Jeremiah Morton. With both making their debuts in the main field, their race would continue all the way to the end with multiple position changes. Morton, who started at the rear of the field, made up an incredible ten positions in the early part of the race to get amongst the mid-pack. The two would finish damage free in 17th and 18th.
Next week the series heads back to Australia to the frustratingly tight Oran Park for Round Seven of the series. With a string of strong results, Grigg-Gault has an ever increasing lead in the series, but with five rounds of sim racing to go there is always the opportunity for the championship to close-up all the way to the conclusion at Bathurst.