The fifth round of the iRacing.com Grand Prix Series returned home to the high speed Watkins Glen International Circuit in New York, USA. This 5.4km race track holds a lot of proud heritage in the history of Formula 1 until its final Grand Prix in 1980, with many legendary names taking to the top step of the podium. Just over thirty years later, a collection of some of the finest sim racers in the world lined-up on the grid in the pursuit of the ten available Pro licenses awarded to the top 10 finishers in iGPS.
Luke McLean’s effort saw him become the lone driver to break the 1:15 barrier in qualifying with a stunning lap of 1:14.908. However, Samuel Libeert lined up on pole position for quite possibly the most exciting and action-packed Strength of Field (SoF) race of them all: the American Friday night SoF race. The Frenchman remained closely pursued by his fellow DWC rivals McLean, Jake Stergios and A-Class driver Max Dell’Orco occupying the closely-fought top four places on the grid. Dell’Orco and J.Stergios were soon chasing their tails at the start however, as both drivers bogged down and lost places when the lights turned green. McLean also managed to outdrag Libeert before Turn 1 – with the Lap One top 10 showing: McLean, Libeert, Slocombe, Terpstra, Elomaa, Dell’Orco, J.Stergios, Marcus Caton, Phillip Diaz and PJ Stergios.
Terpstra was unable to follow-up on his wonder start and, in quick succession, the charging trio of Elomaa, Dell’Orco and J.Stergios soon dispatched him to seventh place. Meanwhile, just one place back, Caton began defending for his life as fellow Americans Phillip Diaz, PJ Stergios and Ken Leach formed a “Trulli train” with desperate attempts to pass. Diaz and Stergios would eventually find a way through on Lap Six. Soon after the melee, Stergios hit a bump in T1 and ended his race prematurely – closely followed by Caton who made heavy contact with the wall after defending from Leach, who suffered a damaged front wing in the process.
“I opted for the shortest 1st gear I’ve ever run in an F1 race and I absolutely nailed the start.” — Ryan Terpstra
Approaching the end of Lap 12 a small mistake from fourth-placed Aleksi Elomaa produced drastic consequences, as he hit the wall hard in the final corner and wrecked his car. The Finn rebounded on the track just inches from the closely following Dell’Orco and Stergios – both so far seemingly having no answer to the pace of leader Luke McLean. With both drivers knocked off guard, Stergios made his move on the following straight taking fourth place from the Italian.
As the pit stop phases approached, McLean looked untouchable, establishing a big lead over Libeert until a miscalculation saw him run wide at Turn Seven and smash his car against the barrier, gifting a grateful Libeert with the lead and resulting in the Australian ultimately finishing a lap down.
This would not be the only incident during the pit stop phase to affect the outcome, however. A bizarre mistake by Dell’Orco saw him forget to pit for fuel and promptly retire from the race, whilst J.Stergios closed the gap to Slocombe and grabbed second place as the pair navigated traffic. With no risk needed in the final stint, Libeert cruised to victory ahead of Stergios and Slocombe, while Diaz managed to overtake Terpstra for fourth in the closing stages of race that featured a field full of top drivers and high-quality action.
Sunday would be the busiest day of racing so far this season, as the 17:15GMT, 19:15GMT and the 21:15GMT races all had a Strength of-Field (SoF) of over 4100. This would produce spectacular competition in all races with many iRacing.com Grand Prix World Championship Series teams having representatives take part in the week in preparation for the upcoming the DWC at the same venue.
Dell’Orco started from pole position in the 15:15 GMT race. The Italian would however lose his lead during the opening lap to Wolfgang Reip, only to retake it as the second lap was completed. Dell’Orco pulled a comfortable gap as the race progressed, until it all went wrong as a bump exiting Turn 1 sent his Williams-Toyota FW31 sideways into the wall and retirement. This promoted Reip to first and Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola to second, with Leach following up in third.
Uusi-Jaakkola jumped Reip as the pit stops cycled through and went on to win the race, but much drama unfolded behind him. Leach and Reip battled for second place throughout the closing laps until Leach passed Reip for good on the penultimate lap. As the chequered flag was waved, Leach found himself only six tenths of a second ahead of Reip in one of the closest finishes all season. Frenchman Laurent Beteille finished fourth after advancing three places from his starting position with David Martinez achieving yet another fifth place finish courtesy of a long first stint enabling the Spaniard to overtake his rivals in the pit-stop phase.
In the 19:15GMT race – the highest SoF race of them all — McLean decided to join in on the fun. But the Australian left the fun behind him as he dominated with a perfect race – achieving the pole position, race win and fastest lap, which left the rest of the field to fight over second place. Fast-starting Jake Stergios got around Dell’Orco for at the start and went on to finish second, only 5.6 seconds behind McLean. Alatalo again showed great progress despite dropping a few places at the start. Slowly the Finn began to pick off positions before eventually taking the last podium spot. Jason Lovett found his way to fourth despite starting outside the top 10, courtesy of a fast opening few laps. Dell’Orco however had a surprisingly off-colour race which saw him cruise to the line in fifth place, despite many big names dropping out of the race – including second placed DWC driver Libeert – who didn’t even make it as far as his first pit stop. The list of retirements also included previous race winner and third-placed Aleksi-Uusi Jaakkola and Wolfgang Reip respectively.
The last of the three Sunday SoF races held at 21:15GMT saw Dell’Orco drop to third from his pole position during the opening laps. In contrast, Andrew Slocombe got a good jump from third on the grid to pass David Williams for the lead. The leading trio of Slocombe, Williams and Dell’Orco engaged in a race-long scrap for the first position which would be decided in the pit stop phase. Slocombe held-off the charges of Williams and Dell’Orco until he was the first one to blink and make a pit stop. Dell’Orco followed a lap later but couldn’t overtake the Floridian. Meanwhile Williams stayed-out for an additional three laps, successfully leapfrogging Slocombe for the lead. Dell’Orco closed on Slocombe in the latter stages of the race and pulling a brave pass on the inside at the high-speed Carousel corner with just four laps to go. With Dell’Orco’s team-mate Davy Decorps closely approaching, Slocombe held onto his third place with Decorps taking fourth while Klaus Ellenband rounded-out the top five, finishing 18 seconds behind the winner Williams.
As we look at the overall standings – we still find Jake Stergios atop the points followed by Alatalo and Terpstra, while Beteille and Dell’Orco find themselves fourth and fifth respectively. Approaching the half-way point of the season, the fight for the top 10 positions which secures the Pro-License for the A-Class drivers gets more and more intense. This week the iGPS moves to Road America – a track where the lower downforce package has been dominant in previous seasons, but that could all change on the newly-modified Williams FW31.