From one side of the map to another, the iRacing.com Grand Prix Series circus travelled across the globe and Down-Under to the Phillip Island Circuit in Victoria, Australia for Round 3 of the 2012 Season 1 Championship. New faces emerging as top contenders for the race to the Pro series including Max Dell’Orco and Laurent Beteille put an end to Jake Stergios’ so far dominant performances by out-qualifying him in the Strength of Field (SoF) races taking places on Friday and Sunday respectively.
An exciting race prospect was in full swing for the Friday night American SoF race. An impressive qualifying performance from Dell’Orco put his car on pole ahead of Stergios, but the New Englander’s better launch saw him grab the lead and never look back en route to a comfortable win, despite an off-track excursion near the end of the race. Davy Decorps too produced an excellent performance, also advancing ahead of Dell’Orco at the start and holding on for a well-deserved second place. However, the main talking point of the online race involved an incident between A Class drivers Bryan Heitkotter and Phillip Diaz in the fight for sixth place on Lap 8 – the two tangled in the Turn 3 hairpin, sustaining damage to their cars and causing a multiple car pile-up close behind. David Martinez – despite a first lap crash – scooped the spoils to take a credible fifth position by the end of the race, closely following fourth placed Ryan Terpstra.
Despite taking the fastest qualifying time of the week, DWC sim racer Luke McLean did not show for this race or the European Sunday SoF races. In his absence, Laurent Beteille led the field away from pole-position on the 18:15 CET race. However,the Frenchman’s luck turned bad at the start of the race as a poor launch from the grid saw him dropping down to fourth entering the tricky Turn 2. A slight miscalculation with his entry speed saw him put a wheel on the grass, spinning him out of contention. This put DWC entrant Andrew Slocombe in the lead followed by Belgian representive Wolfgang Reip and Finland’s Teemu Iivonen.
The two front-runners would pull away from the rest of the field and stage a race-long battle only to end up four tenths apart when the chequered flag waved with Slocombe earning the top step of the podium. Pierre Urbizu got around Iivonen for third in the early stages of the race. However, the Finn got the position back after the pit-stops had cycled through. Jose Madrid cruised to 5th place after driving a clean and consistant race.
Finally, in the last SoF race of the week at this high speed circuit, Dell’Orco led into Turn 1 followed by a fast-starting Stergios. However, a huge incident behind them got most peoples’ attention and left Slocombe, Iivonen, Terpstra and Jason Lovett with damaged Williams-Toyota FW31s whilst an even less fortunate Wolfgang Reip had to retire with more severe damage from this crash. The duo of Dell’Orco and Stergios engaged in a ten minute scrap clear of the troubles behind them, followed by the pack of Slocombe, Martti Pietilä and Beteille. As Lap 8 commenced, the leading two drove side-by-side through Turn 1 and continuing to Turn 2 – where Stergios misjudged his entry speed and met the gravel trap. That provided Dell’Orco some breathing space and dropped Stergios to 5th place behind the three cars now battling for second place.
Lap 15 and DWC drivers Slocombe and Pietilä collided when Slocombe , struggling with damage sustained on the first lap, spun in the penultimate corner. Pietilä tried to avoid his rival’s spinning car to no avail as the two suffered excessive damage and were now out of contention, promoting Stergios back up to second and Beteille to third. Slowly but surely Stergios began to close-in on Dell’Orco, closely pursued by the strong pace of Beteille. The race reached its climax when Dell’Orco exited the pits just one second ahead of his rival. After a 10 lap scrap in the final stint, their fun was cruelly cut short when a fuel miscalculation caused Dell’Orco to stop at the last turn with just over a lap to go. Dell’Orco’s misfortune handed the win to Stergios and promoted Beteille to second whilst an impressive performance from Marcus Caton saw him grab third place. Riku Alatalo managed to stay out of the mayhem at the start to take a strong fourth place finish.
In the standings, Stergios extended his lead to 100 points over his nearest rival and highest ranking Class A driver, Alatalo. Despite nursing damage in the strongest SoF race, Terpstra remains third ahead of high-scoring Beteille in fourth with Simon Cattell rounding up the top five. Bryan Heitkotter’s low-scoring week still sees him round up the top 10 in the 10th position needed to achieve the Pro license. Next week the iGPS moves to the legendary 7km Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium with even stronger competition promised at this popular track.