After a four month offseason, the iRacing.com World Championship Grand Prix Series entered its fifth season of competition at one of the most majestic circuits in all of motorsports: Circuit de Spa Francorchamps. It’s the longest track of the season, the track where corner names roll off the tongue as famous as the drivers who have been victorious in years gone past. This race had quite possibly, the most exciting finish to a race in iGPWCS history, with two of the sport’s best going toe-to-toe over the last 15 laps.
Qualifying saw a Team Redline lockout, with Greger Huttu and new team mate Enzo Bonito lining up first and second respectively. Hugo Luis for the newly renamed 3id Motorsports team qualified in third position with Glacier Racing’s Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola in fourth, and ineX Racing’s Jake Stergios rounding out the top five. The big surprises were found in Ben Cornett (Team Redline) and Joonas Nukarinen (Radicals Online) who both failed to qualify, and also in Olli Pahkala (Glacier Racing), who had his fastest lap invalidated for brushing the wall at La Source, which otherwise would have put him on pole position. In totla, 34 drivers made the start, with Kazuki Oomishima (Ronin Racing Team) being classified with a DNS.
The first corner of a new season is always scary, as drivers simply want to avoid being ‘that’ driver who could cause a multi-car incident, and settle into a rhythm. When the first corner of the season is the slowest corner of the entire 16 race campaign, this worry is amplified. However, at the race start all drivers made it through La Source without incident. Bonito got the better get-away from the outside of the front row, and was alongside his three-time champion team mate heading into the first turn, however Huttu was able to hold on and keep the race lead as they flew down the hill for the first time. No one knew at this point, but being able to hold onto the race lead was one of three key moments of race for Huttu, and a critical component in the excitement that was to follow some 30 laps later.
The first big incident of the day came as the drivers funneled down into Les Combes for the first time. Uusi-Jaakkola, trying to make a pass on the outside of Luis, braked too late for the corner, and had to run on the inside kerb of the second part of the complex. Trying to get the power down, he spun, and whilst almost all of the drivers were able to avoid him, Jason Lovett (ineX Racing) clipped the right rear tyre of the car ending Jaakkola’s race. Steven Michaels (Twister Racing) was also caught-up in the melee, which would force him to be the first retiree of the race.
Huttu had a commanding two second lead at the end of the first lap as the field started settling down into a rhythm. The pressure of Bonito’s first race for Team Redline showed in the early going, as he struggled to pull a gap on Luis; however, about five laps into the race he was able to break away from the 3id Motorsports sim-racer by about 1.5 seconds. Attrition was slim in the early going, with Yudai Narumi continuing the Ronin Racing Team’s bad luck in the event by crashing out on Lap Two after running wide at Stavelot. A couple of drivers were forced onto pit road for new front wings, including Lovett and Robin Friskopps (ineX Racing).
One driver making headlines in the early going was Pahkala, who made a phenomenal pass on the outside of Martti Pietila (3id Motorsports) coming into Les Combes, finding a way to make the car stick through the second phase of the corner in a way his more experienced team mate was unable to do on the first lap. Issac Price (ineX Racing) and Alex Simpson (Apex Racing) also ran strongly in the early going, moving past a couple of drivers, highlighting the strength of the iWCGPS rookie class in the event. Following the tight competition throughout the Road to Pro and Pro Series of Road Racing series, this was to be expected to some degree; however it was refreshing to see so many of the new drivers hold their own against more established competition.
The close racing ran throughout the top 20, with the strong wind offering plenty of overtaking opportunities. Of note was the battle between Mogar Filho (Radicals Online), Joni Tormala (3id Motorsport) and Teemu Iivonen (ineX Racing), which saw Filho and Iivonen run side-by-side through the Bus Stop Chicane and into La Source, with Filho eventually coming-out on top. Tormala was then able to pull alongside Iivonen into Eau Rouge finding a way to swoop past at the fastest corner in road sim-racing. This was one of two passes that occurred at this section of the race track, as Lasse Bruun-Hansen (Apex Racing) and Michele Chesini (R-On3) also found themselves running side-by-side here just two laps later. This, though, almost ended in disaster with Chesini getting loose out of the corner and clipping the right rear tyre of Bruun-Hansen, though both drivers escaped any real damage.
Out front, Huttu was able to gain a 15 second lead by the mid-way point of the race, before making his one and only pits top at the conclusion of Lap 22. As he the first of the front runners to pit, Bonito and Luis carved 3 seconds a lap out of the Redline driver’s net lead by staying out multiple laps longer. Although Bonito would come in at the end of Lap 26, the 3id Motorsports drivers were able to long longer than any other with Luis making his stop after 28 laps of racing, and Martin Krönke (3id Motosports) running all the way to the end of Lap 30.
All eyes were on Luis as he made his stop, to see if the additional six laps would be enough to give him the race lead. As he came out of pit road, he was side-by-side with Huttu, though he had less momentum taking a tighter line through La Source exiting the pits, allowing Huttu to regain the lead of the race. But a gap that had reached 15 seconds at one point had been reduced to just a second . . .
Thus began one of the greatest battles in the history of the iWCGPS. One could immediately see the straight line advantage Luis had with the draft and what looked to be a longer 7th gear, and fans knew the fight was really on. Just one lap later, it almost looked as though the fight was off. Running through Raidillon, Luis moved his car too far to the left of the race track, and race control deemed him to have cut the course. He was forced to slow down and give up the time gained, and this dropped him back to two seconds behind Huttu. It seemed as though this ignited a fire inside the 3id Motorsports driver, however, as he then clicked-off some of the most aggressive laps we’ve ever seen from him, to once again close back into draft range. With 10 to go, he was within a second of Huttu once again, and the battle resumed.
Behind, carnage ensued at the Bus Stop Chicane, precipitated when Simon Cattell (ineX Racing) fell into a half-spin in the first phase of the corner. Aleksi Elomaa (Glacier Racing) couldn’t slow down in time, damaging his front wing through the resulting contact, then Tormala ran into the rear of him damaging his rear wing. Simpson was able to gain three places in the incident by taking evasive action and overall, the incident could have been much worse than it looked, with all drivers able to escape with minor damage, albeit bruised egos.
The fight for the last 10 laps saw Luis close ever closer to Huttu, as he tried to find a way of slingshotting past on the run down to Les Combes. For a couple of laps it seemed as though he was struggling with the dirty air in the middle portion of the race track where aero grip is so dependent, but the ever lightening fuel loads (and perhaps use of the various in-car) tools meant that with four laps to go, Luis exited the Bus Stop just 0.3 seconds back. After a picture perfect hairpin and run through Eau Rouge, Luis pulled alongside for the first time; however Huttu was able to hang on on the inside line into Les Combes, and thus keep the race lead.
With three to go, perhaps the most controversial moment of the race: Running up the hill, Huttu knew he had to do all he could to break the draft, and moved to the left side of the race track, then moved back to the right to avoid Luis slotting it down the inside. Whilst it was not deemed to be blocking, it was clearly aggressive driving from Huttu in a manner we rarely see from the usually calm and collected Finn . . . and it did look as though his cage was being rattled. The two ran side-by-side into Les Combes once again and Huttu seemed to be the one driver who was able to make the inside line work under heavy breaking whilst running two wide.
Down into the Bus Stop on the same lap, Luis’ charge came to an end as he was too aggressive over the inside ‘sausage’ kerb, which seemed to upset the balance of the car, and drop him back five car lengths. With oversteer coming out of La Source at the start of the next lap, the race was Huttu’s as he was able to hold on over the final two laps, but only by 0.562s after 44 laps of intensive racing, and one of the best lead battles the series had ever seen.
This was Huttu’s first win at Spa, and team principal for Team Redline Dom Duhan applauded both drivers after the race as well as Bonito who scored a podium in his first iRGPWCS race. When asked how the victory ranked in Huttu’s all time win list, the response was “Easily in the Top 10.”
Pahkala came home fouth after getting past Stergios in the late going, and was awarded driver of the race by the PSRTV crew, with Stergios completing the top five. 28 drivers finished the race, and perhaps most intriguing of all, five drivers from the Rookie class finished in the top 10.
The next race of the series sees drivers heading to Interlagos, for 71 laps of racing. The race will be broadcast live on iRacing Live beginning at 2PM GMT (9 am EST) on Saturday 15th March 2014.
For more information about the iRacing.com World Championship Grand Prix Series, head over to wcs.iRacing.com,