Two things have become true in recent years when considering the iRacing.com World Championship Grand Prix Series during the Month of May. First, there’s a trip to Watkins Glen International on the horizon, and second, Greger Huttu is guaranteed to win a race. Every year since joining the iRacing.com service, the four time world champion has won a race in motorsport’s greatest month, and this is helped to a large degree due to the fact that he has won each of the half dozen previous visits to the 11 corner racetrack in series history. In fact, the only time the Team Redline leader has failed to win a virtual race in the State of New York came in 2009, where he lost to Richard Towler by ¼ of a second.
With this in mind, as the series once again headed to the virtual Finger Lakes region, there was only one favourite, although rival Coanda Simsport have traditionally been strong here. This showed in qualifying, as Martin Krönke took pole position, with teammate Hugo Luis alongside on the front row of the grid, and three Coanda drivers in the top four. Huttu claimed third place, but a full tenth of a second off pace as Team Redline drivers overall were outpaced by their orange and purple-liveried rivals. Qualifying saw 39 sim racers attempt to make the field, but as there was a full 35 contingent of World Championship drivers, none of the four pro drivers was able to secure a spot on the grid.
The start at Watkins Glen can be chaotic, most notably demonstrated in 2013 when Luis and Krönke put themselves out of the race at Turn One. As the lights went off to start the seventh round of the championship, the two Coanda drivers on the front row of the grid had a better initial phase of the start, however, Huttu was better at managing the wheel spin, enabling him to pass Luis into Turn One, and draw alongside Krönke into the Boot section of the track for the first time. Behind them a pair of incidents took out a number of drivers, starting with a three car incident working up the hill through The Esses precipitated by Joni Törmälä which took-out two TNT racing drivers. A couple of corners later, Aleksi Juusi-Jaakola spun at the tarmac transition in The Chute, causing absolute chaos behind. Redline team mate Atze Kerkoff (returning to the series for first time in 2015) rotated in sympathy, trying to avoid running into the Finnish driver’s gearbox.
From here, one could only describe the situation as desperate, with a number of drivers having to come to a complete stop in order to get past the melee. As this all unfolded so close to the front of the field, a number of drivers seeking top 15 finishes would have their days ruined, as they were either being knocked -out of the event at the end of Lap One, forced to pit for repairs or being spending parts of the race nursing a wounded car. Drivers out included Paolo Muià, Isaac Price (ineX Racing), Patrik Holtzmann (Mivano XTeam), João Vaz (Orion Race Team) and the Ronin Racing duo of Ryosuke Iwasaki and Yuho Abe. Orion Race Team’s Illka Haapala was destined to retire four laps later after being unable to repair damage to his car, leaving only 22 drivers in the race. Along with the “losers” there were some big winners, most notably Riku Alatalo, who made up more than 15 positions on the first lap, ironically due to starting at the rear of the field following a penalty from Monza.
Out front of all the commotion, Krönke led the opening stint, maintaining a consistent gap of about a second over Huttu. Luis would ran in third, although he started to drop off from the rear of the top two drivers as the first round of pit stops neared. Barone held fourth spot, and by virtue of the first lap calamities, Mogar Filho was scored in the fifth position. This would be the order for much of the first stint, at a track which offers good opportunities for side-by-side racing, yet requiring bravery to make a move happen, particularly into the Outer Loop. One driver learning this the hard way was Richard Avery for Friction Racing, who would spend much of his race staring at the rear diffuser of Paul Illbrink’s Radicals Online Williams-Toyota FW31. Despite pulling alongside on a number of occasions into the Outer Loop, Avery could not maintain the advantage on the outside line to allow him to grab the inside line into The Chute.
The first round of pit stops saw each of the top five drivers stop simultaneously, right at the edge of the half stop window. Despite slightly different times, with Luis being the fastest on the stopwatch and Huttu the slowest, they each came out as they came in, though. As is traditional for Huttu, a long stop would prove to be critical later in the race, as he took on-board an additional lap of fuel, allowing him to pit a lap after Krönke the next time.
Most drivers partook in the late first stint two stop strategy, though Jake Stergios for ineX Racing sought to buck the trend and became the only driver to complete the race on a one stop strategy. Down the field, drivers were still recovering from the first lap incidents which created much larger gaps than is usual for this racetrack, meaning the race was more about consolidating position than gaining ground. With some drivers up in excess of 15 positions from their starting spots, this would provide useful momentum in staying inside the Top 25 of the series standings as we prepare for the summer stretch of the season.
Second pitstops saw all but Huttu in on the same lap, with Krönke conservative on the way into the pits. Despite there being only one lap of overcut, Huttu did what has earned him four championships to date: Crack-in an incredible in lap, followed by an ultra-aggressive pit entry and flawless stop, to turn a one second deficit into a 1.5s lead, most crucially, being far enough ahead to leave little draft for Krönke. As in previous rounds, the German driver would close the gap in the laps immediately following pit stops, it was to no avail, as Huttu managed the game and took his third win of 2015 in a row, and win #47 of his career. Krönke again had to settle for the runner up position, with Luis coming home in third, but again being outmatched by his teammate, as has been the case to date all season.
The win further bolsters Huttu’s championship lead over Krönke, as the series crosses past the one third stage of the campaign. The gap between first and second is now 34 points, with Luis 66 points behind his long-time rival, and realistically already only five drivers remain in with a shout at the championship.
Next up, the series heads to Virginia International Raceway on Memorial Day Weekend, a track Huttu regards as his favourite. Team Redline and Coanda Simsport have been close here over the years; at one time the race came down to pit stops themselves as Luis and Huttu fought for the same piece of real estate out of the pits. As always, the race will be live on iRacing Live, from 1:30PM GMT on Saturday 23rd May 2015.
Click here to watch a replay of the Watkins Glen race.