The 2013 Season 2 iRacing.com Grand Prix Series (iGPS) has reached the business end of the season. With ten weeks down, just two remain, as the battle for the Road to Pro is heating up. With ten Pro licenses vacant, nine sim-racers have almost certainly secured their spot in the 2013 Road Pro Series at the end of the year, leaving what looks to be a four-way fight between: Mikko Meriluoto (Finland), Jorge Montanes (Iberia), Christiaan Tanahatoe (Benelux) and Ryosuke Iwasaki (Asia) to battle it out over the critical final pro license. Mikko Meriluoto (currently sitting P10) appears to be in the driving seat to take the last spot with the Strength of Fields (SoFs) dropping, but as history has shown, nothing is certain yet.
Week Seven took us to Road America, which in-turn provided a surprising amount of attrition and collisions, with the first SoF claiming almost 75% of the field as casualties at some point. But as the weekend progressed, results stabilized as the sim-racers got accustomed to the abrasive track surface and technical layout. iRacing.com World Championship Grand Prix Series runner Daniel López (Iberia) dominated proceedings, taking the big points in the biggest SoFs at the end of the week, continuing on from his predator form in the series which most aspiring A-Class racers hope to tackle. Nevertheless, even at this early stage, season favourites Ariel Eduardo Bernardi (Italy), Pablo Muia (Italy) and Robin Friskopps (Scandinavia) came forward to almost guarantee their places in the 2013 iRacing.com Road Pro Series, after some deserving results at the 4-mile circuit. Michele Mancusi (Italy) too drove a solid weekend and capitalized on his early season strength to solidify his place in the iRPS.
Just three SoFs at Zandvoort heightened the pressures on the drivers for Sunday. Whilst Jan Niesiolowski’s Saturday SoF victory meant he was the only driver with a 200 plus point result, this gave him a useful comfort zone heading into the Sunday races, hoping to put his recent stronger form down on the tarmac. Instead, on the big day, Pablo Muia and Japan’s Ryosuke Iwasaki dismantled the opposition to claim the highest points of the week for themselves. In both races, Iwasaki followed Muia home as the two stole the march on the rest of the field.
This needed result put Iwasaki right back in the hunt for the Pro license. Niesiolowski couldn’t repeat his winning form on Sunday however, as the Pole suffered a broken rear wing in both races – a stark reminder of how fast things can change in F1. Nevertheless, he would still progress to the next level and too achieve his Pro license, three months after coming so close, but just falling short at the final hurdle.
Next up, Virginia International Raceway (VIR) – bane of many a rookie F1 driver. The tightening radius corners at this narrow, high-curbed circuit have collected its fair share of unsuspecting iRacers across the years since its introduction. F1 drivers are no exception.
With the circuit being one of the highest difficulty on the calendar, the situation was dire come race weekend – participation was low as the threatening circuit characteristics intimidates those too cautious. With only one SoF race, Paolo Muia seized the opportunity with both hands to take the victory and the highest score of the week. Following him home was Michael Gomen (Northwest) – proving to be one of the pleasant surprises of the season – comfortably securing his place in Pro. Close behind too followed Joonas Nukarinen (Finland), the Finn producing an impressive display to mark off a great season by becoming the latest name to enroll himself in the 2013 Pro Series. Elsewhere Lasse Bruun-Hansen (Scandinavia) and Matt Hannagan (UK and I) kept their noses clean when it mattered, placing their names into the pool for Pro license contention.
If VIR was the ghost town, then Zandvoortwas the graveyard, producing no SoFs during the week as the drivers struggled to come to terms with the undulating no-nonsense raceway. Hence, hefty point grabs were scarce, but it was left for Lasse Bruun-Hansen to acclaim the highest points total of the week (191 points) doing all he needed to, and in the process securing a black stripe for the rest of the year after a season of notable improvement. He held off Tommy Nilsson – making a rare but imperative appearance as he too secured his Pro license on the back of his bold showing early in the season. In third was Mikko Meriluoto – acclaiming points that could prove vital to his championship campaign as the Finn moved into the edgy tenth position in the standings.
So with time against their side, who will pick up the final Pro license and take the next step on the ladder to the highest sim-racing competition in the world? Keep your bets ready, this could be a close one.