Putting his early exit at Okayama a fortnight ago in the annals of history, Greger Huttu claimed maximum points at Road America this week in Round Six of the iRacing.com Grand Prix World Championship Series. Avoiding a huge start line crash that saw pre-race championship leader Hugo Luis retire after barely crossing the start line, Huttu took a pole-to-flag victory in a strategic charge to the finish line.
As the green flag dropped on the 47 lap race, Team Redline’s Luke McLean struggled to control his virtual Williams-Toyota FW31 as it wheel-spun off the line from second on the grid. After slewing from right to left, McLean finally regained control in front of My3id’s Luis as he got up to speed. The pair connected, sending Luis into the path of Martin Krönke’s iGPManager entry, resulting in Krönke flipping over the pit wall, whilst the defending champion barrel-rolled along the start/finish straight. With the field behind trying to hazard a guess at Luis’ flight plan, the concertina effect caused further problems as sim-racers darted left, right and even underneath the ‘flying’ Brazilian; but the ‘Carnag-edon’ wasn’t to end there.
Carrying damage from the initial contact, McLean found himself in the thick of things once again in Turn One. Spearing to the right, he bounced off the inside wall back across the track beneath the famous Briggs and Stratton sign. Just as the Australian’s car came to a rest, Jason Lovett caught its front wing, sending the Team Redline pilot into a further spin, whilst knocking Lovett into Ryan Terpstra’s car and punting Terpstra into the wall on the inside of Turn Three.
Meanwhile, at the front of the pack, pole-sitter Huttu had retained his lead position with Team Redline team-mate Atze Kerkhof following closely behind as the carnage unfolded in their mirrors. The pair remained locked together in a form of car-ballet for the opening dozen laps, until the Dutch sim racer was forced to retire from second place with technical gremlins.
“In the end it was an easy win for me with others in the qualifying top-four having bad luck.” — Greger Huttu
By the time Huttu had completed 17 laps, he had amassed a substantial lead over the rest of the field, as behind him the majority of the top-ten headed to the pits for their first scheduled service of a two-stop strategy. Once he completed his one and only pit-stop of the race 10 laps later, the 2011 World Champion sat in second position, secure in the knowledge the cars around him would be making a return to pit-lane. And so it was, that despite being passed by Jeremy Bouteloup in the early stages on his final stint, Huttu was back at the front with a 20 second lead, when the Frenchman and Jake Stergios ahead of him took to pit lane for a second time. Unchallenged, Huttu maintained the margin to power the Team Redline entry home for his fourth win of the season.
“Well, getting the win is a perfect result after Okayama. Too bad about what happened in the start and was a shame for everyone involved in it,” Huttu shared post race. “I got away well from the line but mayhem ensued behind me. After Atze dropped out with a connection issue the race was pretty lonely. Jake [Stergios] and Jeremy [Bouteloup] were very fast on their two-stop strategies and after my stop I didn’t make it difficult for them to pass when they got a good run. In the end it was an easy win for me with others in the qualifying top-four having bad luck.”
Also making a single pit-stop strategy work was Orion Racing’s Roland Ehnström, who meticulously followed his predetermined tactics to secure his best finish of the season so far. Narrowly avoiding the start line carnage, Ehnström was up to fifth place once the open lap was completed. Although he lost spots in his heavily- fuelled digital F1 car to Andre Boettcher, Fulvio Barozzini and Pablo López by Lap 10, Ehnström was in second position nine circuits later, as one-by-one the field ahead of him pitted. The Orion racer dropped to seventh after his only stop on Lap 26 but, as the cars in front headed for a second service, Ehnström stepped back into the runners-up spot – a position he maintained until the finish line.
“Talk about unexpected results, the (i)Racing Gods really smiled at me this time!” enthused Ehnström. “Later all the two-stopping drivers had completed their second stops, and I was back up into second place, with Ilkka (Haapala) now some seven seconds behind and crucially in front of Jake Stergios, who was the leading two-stopper. With 11 laps to go Jake got past Ilkka, but I now had a nine-second gap to him, so even with his fresher tires I wasn’t too worried that he would catch me.”
“The (i)Racing Gods really smiled at me this time!” — Roland Ehnström.
Equalling his third position from his 2011 iWCGPS Road America appearance, Stergios brought home his Formula One car as the leading two-stopper – quite a feat considering he started ninth on the grid.
Employing a one-stop race plan, Haapala worked his way through the order from fourteenth on the grid to a fourth place finish, his best result of the season so far. The Team Orion pilot miraculously avoided the opening lap shenanigans (driving underneath the barrel-rolling Luis), to hold ninth spot in the opening stages. This became eighth once the Finn had taken his only service of the race and then third, once the ‘two-stoppers’ ahead made a second visit to pit-lane. Alas for Haapala, he was unable to hold-off the charge of Stergios, who made the pass for the final podium spot with 10 laps to go.
Making it two top-five finishes in a row, Radical Racing’s newest member, Jeremy Bouteloup, overcame an error during one of his pit-stops to finish three-seconds behind Haapala and move into striking distance of the top ten in the iRacing.com World Championship Grand Prix Series standings.
“Bringing home P5 for the second week in a row is an excellent feeling, even if it’s thanks to the mayhem that happened at the beginning of the race,” Bouteloup told inRacingNews. “I’m really happy about my race even though my pace could have been faster. This excellent result brought me back to P11 in the standings, which is close to my initial goal of the season.”
Putting on one of the greatest shows of Round Six was Pablo López, who tussled and traded blows with My3id’s Andre Boettcher throughout the race, as they shared a similar two-stop plan. In fact, the Radicals Racing team-member had to pass Boettcher three times over the course of the 47 lap race, with the Spaniard planting overtakes on the inside of Canada Corner during his first, second and third stints. The scale of battle for sixth position was reflected by Boettcher following López across the finish line by just two-seconds.
Likewise, Ben Cornett kept his Team Redline team-mate, Darren Marsh, at bay, despite the latter putting on a late charge in an attempt to take eighth spot. Heading into the final few laps, Cornett held an advantage of several seconds, but as the chequered flag drew nearer, Marsh found a turn of speed and began to reel-in his fellow Australian. Fortunately for Cornett, the flag flew just in time, with his team-mate a mere half-second behind; placings that could have easily been reversed if there’d had been any more laps.
Whilst Barozzini had been fighting for a top-five with the likes of López, Boettcher and Bouteloup during the early exchanges, a mistake just ahead of his first scheduled pit-stop sent the Italian falling down the order. Taking an excursion across the Turn 6 grass whilst closely following Boettcher, the Mortadella Motor Mission Racing Team driver lost a hat-full of time, which was further compounded when he missed his pit-stall during his first scheduled stop; errors that sent consigned him to an eventual finish of tenth place.
With six rounds of the iRacing.com Grand Prix World Championship Series now complete, Huttu (236) returns to the top of the points table, with a 42 mark advantage over Hugo Luis, who failed to score at Road America. With McLean’s second early exit in as many races, Ehnström moves into third spot with 150 points to his name, six more than Jake Stergios, who is 20 clear of Cornett.
Round Seven of the iGPWCS heads to the technically challenging Infineon Raceway in the virtual hills of Sonoma, California. Will Huttu be able to maintain the momentum, or can Luis bounce back from a race to forget at Road America? Tune in to iRacingLive in two weeks time to find out who will be on top in the globe’s number one online road racing championship.