The Japanese double-header of the 2016 iRacing World Championship Grand Prix Series was dominated by Team Redline’s Greger Huttu, who followed-up his victory at Twin Ring Motegi with his second successive victory at the Okayama International Circuit to close-in on the championship lead of Coanda Simsport’s Martin Krönke. The Coanda sim racer failed to beat his title rival in Round 11 despite starting from pole position, but was still able to salvage a podium finish in second place, while ineX Racing’s Joni Törmälä rounded-out the podium finishing third.
The Okayama International Circuit is nothing new to anybody on the iRacing service, the race track formerly known as ‘TI Circuit Aida’ is used as a stepping stone for rookies entering iRacing’s Mazda MX-5 series. The circuit is renowned for its difficulty to overtake and with a very short lap time, there weren’t many areas to battle around the 11 turns available. However the world’s best sim racers would of course disregard anybody who says “you can’t overtake at this track” with plenty of adrenaline, feistiness and confidence throughout the grid.
Yuta Saito returned after being absent from Twin Ring Motegi for Round 10, as he and Radicals Online teammate Kazuki Oomishima looked to improve on their spectacular season so far in their second home race in succession.
Krönke however had all the bragging rights after qualifying, setting pole on the third and final lap allowed of a qualifying stint with a 1:07.649. Most drivers opted for similar qualifying stints, Mitchell DeJong joined his Coanda teammate on the front row while Huttu and Törmälä would start from an all Finnish second row.
The lights illuminated red and disappeared to begin 83 laps of sim racing with DeJong snatching the lead from Krönke into Turn 1 while Huttu challenged as well but was unable to capitalise. Eighth fastest qualifier Olli Pahkala jumped a couple positions at the start and improve to sixth; however, Saito made a mistake at the second corner of the second lap, running wide onto the gravel and feeding back into the mid-pack. It didn’t end there for Saito, who was three wide on the run down to the Attwood hairpin, with teammate Mogar Filho on the inside and the Apex Racing UK McLaren MP4-30 of Antoine Higelin attacking around the outside. The three made contact and eventually caused a domino effect incident which also involved ineX Racing’s Robin Friskopps. The only driver to suffer terminal damage, Saito retired from the event as a result.
The drivers were split on strategy during the event, with Huttu going for a one stop strategy while the Coanda twosome of Krönke and DeJong opted for a two stopper and the resulting need to make short work of slow traffic.
Huttu however would cross the line with a sure cheer and smirk as his one stop strategy paid dividends, taking his fourth victory of the season, equalling the number of wins he achieved in 2011 (the last time the series switched to a new car). Krönke settled for second and was left to lament his two stop strategy decision; the German will have to go back to the drawing board after losing out to his title rival in two consecutive rounds.
Törmälä was just able to stay ahead of DeJong in the closing stages. The two were alongside one another on the run down to the hairpin in the closing stages of the race when Törmälä seemed to slightly deviate from his line under braking, forcing the American off track. The Finn was reserved while commenting on the incident post-race, admitting, however, to not watching a replay at that time.
The drama did not end there, as Pahkala managed to run into the backs of both Orion Race Team’s Ilkka Haapala and then Patrik Holzmann a few laps later towards the end of the event. Pahkala came off best in both incidents and finished fifth while both Haapala and Holzmann were surely frustrated by being severely hampered by the incidents.
Vortex SimRacing’s Michael Dinkel was involved in some frantic battles in the closing laps of the event, eventually crossing the line in a career best sixth place. Apex Racing UK’s Graham Carroll climbed his way through the field to finish in seventh ahead of Oomishima, Haapala and teammate Peter Berryman who finished in eighth, ninth and tenth respectively.
Krönke (396) saw his championship advantage reduced to just nine points in the Land of the Rising Sun, but he still runs ahead of Huttu’s 387 points. Pahkala still maintains a distant third position with 313 points, well ahead of Törmälä (283), DeJong (276) and Carroll (272).
Round 12 of the iRacing World Championship Grand Prix Series is slated for the world famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, with the season’s final rounds at Spa, Suzuka, Nürburgring and the Circuit of the Americas just over the horizon. The sim racing at the Brickyard begins at 1:30PM GMT on Saturday, August 6 on RaceSpot TV, streaming live on iRacing Live.