The 2014 iRacing.com World Championship Grand Prix Series has already made history in a number of ways, with four different drivers winning the first four races of the campaign. Team Redline’s Greger Huttu wrote his own piece of history, breaking a streak of 50 races where he stood on the podium at least every other race. As the series moved to the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit in Victoria, Australia, there were more questions than answers, but in the end, it was the three time champion making an emphatic statement: He is back.
Qualifying was a tale of 3id Motorsports driver Hugo Luis dominating yet again, grabbing pole position on his final lap from Glacier Racing’s Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola. Martin Krönke (3id Motorsports) had his best qualifying position since Interlagos in third, with Huttu and Joni Törmälä (3id Motorsports) rounding out the top five. Rookies Isaac Price (ineX Racing) and Rocco Barone led the 2014 rookie class with impressive qualifying performances, but it was a tough day for Olli Pahkala, who qualified down in ninth, replicating his qualifying woes from earlier in the season.
The race start saw Uusi-Jaakkola get the better launch from the line. However, he appeared to get wheelspin when shifting from first to second, allowing Luis to keep the race lead coming into the first corner. Behind, Huttu snapped the string of bad getaways he had suffered in the previous two rounds, and slotted alongside Krönke into the second turn. The German sim-racer was able to get a superior run out of the corner however, placing him on the inside on the run down to the Turn Four hairpin, ultimately maintaining P3 for the moment.
Behind, two separate incidents occurring simultaneously ended the chances of a number of drivers aiming to get into the Top 10. Jake Stergios (ineXRacing), Ilkka Haapala (Orion Racing) and Robin Friskopps (Inex Racing) banged wheels at Siberia Corner, forcing Haapala into the grass, and ultimately ending his race. Although Friskopps was destined to retire due to damage sustained, he was able to gain some positions through attrition elsewhere. Still on the first lap, Borone and Price made contact exiting Turn Seven, sending Barone into the tyre barriers, and drastically cutting short a race that began with so much potential.
Out front, in a story similar to the previous round of the championship at Road America, Luis led the way in the early going with Jaakkola struggling to keep up. With each passing round in the championship, it becomes clearer that the 3id team has the early pace yet struggle once the fuel runs down. The opposite can be said for Glacier Racing, whose early lap pace often sees them fall back, before charging forward towards the end of the run.
For the moment, however, all attention was on the driver who started fourth, as Huttu finally found a way past Krönke on Lap Seven, and followed up by passing Jaakkola four laps later. Pahkala, who struggled in qualifying, was seemingly too struggling in the race. A self-spin at Turn Four cost him five positions, forcing him to spend the rest of his race limiting the damage to his points total.
One noticeable feature of the Team Redline race setup was its prodigious straight line speed. Historically, the Redline Williams-Toyota FW31 (just like Red Bulls in real life) have a slight deficit in straight line speed, caused by a mixture of aero packages and choice of top gears. In this race, Huttu was one of the fastest cars in a straight line, a privilege normally reserved for the ineX Racing entries. This proved pivotal once Huttu came up behind Luis, as he was able to maximise the draft to take the lead on Lap 29, and soon pull out to a six second advantage.
At this point, many started to ponder if Huttu was running lighter than the following cars. The first four races of the season have shown how a lead can evaporate within a couple of laps if the lead driver pits too soon, a situation the Finnish champion was all too aware of after Spa and Suzuka. This time Huttu would come to pit road on the same lap as Luis, laying to rest any doubts about his overall speed. Further bolstering Huttu’s position, for the second race in a row, a slow “in” lap hampered Luis’ chances of retaining a place through the pit stop cycle, as Jaakkola, pitting a lap later, was able to leapfrog him.
Behind the lead scrap, the action continued to be fierce in the mid-pack. Stephen Michaels had a great start to the race, moving up several positions, then leapfrogging Jeremy Bouteloup (Radicals Online) and Yuho Abe (Ronin Racing), after Abe got loose off the exit of Turn Four and Bouteloup slowed down to avoid an incident. Whilst defending from Abe on Lap 56, the Twister Racing driver spun in Siberia Corner, ending his online race, and continuing the string of bad luck that has defined his season to date.
Bouteloup, on the other hand, continued his impressive record of gaining positions from his starting spot. After the pit stops he (again) found himself scored within the top ten ahead of Enzo Bonito (Team Redline) and the 3id Motorsports duo of Andre Boettcher and Martti Pietilä. With Bouteloup’s team mate Filho just outside the top 10, the Radicals team were able to continue their impressive return to form after a tough opening couple of races. Abe and Alex Simpson (Apex Racing) also had strong finishes within the Rookie class, helping their momentum heading into the mid-season.
Jaakkola, and Luis had nothing for Huttu, as he stormed to victory. After the race, Team Redline principal Dom Duhan terms this victory as “One of Huttu’s best ever.”
Whilst on paper nothing stands out, Duhan’s comments may not be far off the mark. This was a Huttu not seen since 2011, having to adapt his setup and race execution in light of the strongest competition in years. Being able to pass three of his championship rivals cleanly on the racetrack will have a lasting effect on the Finn, knowing that he again has what it takes to place himself on the top step of the rostrum.
Round Five of the series sees drivers head to the historic Watkins Glen, as we begin the Month of May on iRacing. Last year, this track witnessed a huge championship momentum swing, with Luis out on the first corner of the opening lap. Will history repeat itself? Can Luis bounce back and remain in the championship lead? Will Watkins Glen confirm Huttu’s resurgence? What can Glacier Racing and ineX Racing do to match the pace of Team Redline and My3id? RaceSpot TV will carry full coverage of both qualifying and the race on May 10th from 1:30PM GMT.