As the iRacing.com Grand Prix Series (iGPS) moves into the second quarter of 2013 Season 3, we make the journey back to North America – this time to Canada’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, right in the heart of Montréal on the manmade Ile Notre Dame. Montréal is another historic venue for
Formula 1 cars dating back to 1977, a track which has seen its fair of championship twists, heroic drives and heroic errors on this high difficulty circuit; a real drivers track that is notoriously tough on brakes.

Now in 2013, the circuit comes to iRacing after a long wait to host its first ever iGPS week, and with a new tyre model, it promised good action throughout the week and plenty of competition. Being the only sim-racer to post a sub 1:14 lap, Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola took pole position for the week despite completing only one qualifying session. Directly behind him, Kazuki Oomishima continued his imperious form in qualifying trim, securing the fastest A-Class qualifying time once again just adrift of Uusi-Jaakkola.

Saturday 16:00GMT set the scene for the first ever F1 Strength of Field (SoF) race at the long awaited Montréal – unfortunately however, many people would have to wait for another time to enjoy the race in great length, as nearly a dozen cars were involved in a massive first corner shunt, easily described as a catastrophe. The top six remained largely unaffected, but Samuel de la Fuente (Iberia) shot into a surprise early lead after displacing the two Italians ahead of him, Paolo Muia and Ariel Eduardo Bernardi – now becoming regular competitors in the iGPS.

Montreal’s renowned first corner is also occasionally the world’s most expensive car park.

De la Fuente ran upfront for eight laps before relentless pressure from last season’s Pro winner Paolo Muia took its toll, eventually leading to a mistake at the notorious ‘Wall of Champions’ corner.  The resulting damage to de la Fuente’s Williams-Toyota FW31 required an early pit stop. After that, the Spaniard never really found his pace again, hinting some damage was beyond the repair as he dropped off the lead lap.

The drastically reduced field didn’t provide copious action, allowing Muia to take a commanding win ahead of the impressive Istvan Steffel (DE-AT-CH), who worked his way up from eighth on the grid, displacing competitors one by one en route to 2nd place and 205 points – a points total he would surpass by the end of the week. Finishing third was Frank Levick IV (New England) who remained hot on the heels of Steffel for the entirety of the race but couldn’t quite mount a challenge. With Matthias Eckstein (DE-AT-CH) no doubt satisfied with his fourth place finish, de la Fuente somehow managed to claim fifth place in a race marked by attrition,

Unfortunately the following 18:00GMT race didn’t fare much better, as the onlookers were once again treated to a pile-up in the demanding T1 chicane, which has seen its fair share of accidents even in the Formula 1 World Championship over the years. Once again the top six stayed clear of the mess and began a race of their own, with Muia once again leading the way from the seemingly heavy Williams Toyota FW31 piloted by fellow countryman Ariel Eduardo Bernardi.

As Muia began to ruthlessly extend the gap, it became clear Bernardi was indeed on a no stopper, piling the pressure back on to Muia to create enough of a gap to leave the pits directly infront. That wasn’t to be however, as Bernardi took the lead. Muia mounted a late challenge for the win, but a half-spin put him out of contention and forced him to settle for second at best.

In the battle for third, Lee Thompson’s similar gamble on a zero stop strategy paid dividends when the Englishman sailed past his rivals as they made their fuel stops to leap onto the final step of the podium. Of his fuel-stopping rivals, Christiaan Tanahatoe (Benelux) got the upper hand by finishing fourth with Matt Hannagan (UK and I) close behind in fifth.

Sunday 16:00GMT: A new day, a fresh start, a clean sheet of paper. Some time for some much-needed reflection seemed beneficial for the sim-racers, as they set off the grid for the third SoF race of the week. Bernardi took the pole position and led unopposed into Turn One, with fellow front row starter Michele Chesini (Italy) keeping his position ahead of fast-starting Rafa Bordoy (Iberia), who overtook fellow Spaniard Javier Soto for third place.

To everyone’s relief, the start remained largely clean, albeit for Tanahatoe and Joshua Chin (Florida) getting up close and personal in the first turn. Tanahatoe continued, albeit with significant damage, whilst Chin retired on the spot to begin a week to forget for the American.

Chesini’s race began to come undone as early as Lap Three, unleashing Bordoy and Soto onto the zero stopping Bernardi. Although Bernardi seemingly could afford to let the two cars through, he didn’t make it easy for them.  Eventually Bordoy did muscle past, and began pulling away until his pit stop. Soto however could make no further inroads, and lost out heavily being unable to run at his normal pace. By the time the pit sequence cycled through, Soto fell to fifth behind the remaining zero stoppers, DWC license holders Marcus Caton (Georgia) and Paul Ilbrink (Benelux). In contrast, Bordoy’s crucial move earlier in the race put him in a much more competitive position, as he slotted-in to third position after the pit stops, between second placed Caton and Ilbrink.

With the positions remaining status quo, an unopposed Bernardi took his second win of the week, 20s to the good of  Caton with Bordoy collecting 226 crucial points for his podium finish.

A typical section of Montreal – straights leading into tight chicanes, being negotiated here by Oomishima.

Two hours later, the highest points field of the week emerged, putting great pressure on the A-Class drivers lining up for the start of the 18:00GMT race. Daniel López had been struggling all week by his lofty standards, but he nevertheless lined up on pole position, alongside de la Fuente – keen to make up for his costly mistake 24 hours ago.

This time around, the costly mistake proved to be Bernardi’s, as the on-form Italian spun bizarrely out of his grid slot, fortunately not collecting anyone else. However, as the pack shuffled in reaction, multiple incidents were unleashed with up to ten cars pointing the wrong way or suffering damage.

Yet again the top half of the field remained largely unaffected by the first lap curse.  However, Soto had a nightmare of a race, first being collected by Tanahatoe on the approach to the Turn Six chicane, then spinning wildly in the same corner on the following lap and taking the hapless Chin with him into retirement.

Through all the hysteria, Pro licensee Olli Pahkala (Finland) started from the back of the grid and danced like a ballerina around all mayhem to fourth place at the end of Lap Five – remarkably 15 places higher than his starting position. And things would get better for the Finn. First he elbowed his way past third-placed de la Fuente, then he forced second placed Bordoy into a critical error which effectively undid all the latter’s hard work. The Finn then went to the lead when López pitted, only for a sudden technical problem to send Pahkala into retirement – a cold ending to a fiery hot race.

De la Fuente approached the pit sequence in a very strong position place, and surprised everyone with his zero stop strategy by almost taking the lead. Sadly for him, López completed his pit stop and left the pits just a car length ahead – if not for Pahkala’s overtake, no doubt de la Fuente would’ve had the legs to leapfrog his Spanish rival. That didn’t stop him trying, but in the end López finished-off the job and took the victory.

Muhammed S Patel (UK and I) had a quiet outing, but his non- stop strategy also proved crucial, snatching third place and 237 handsome points. Frank Levick IV too benefitted from the high SoF taking fourth place and 222 points with Istvan Steffel rounding out the top five in a race marred by much debacle and incident at various intervals.

One of the most important corners on the circuit, the 180 degree hairpin leads onto the copious backstraight as Accurso defends from Hannagan

One more race remained with more than enough signups to create a decent-sized SoF. The week’s fastest qualifier —  Uusi-Jaakkola — finally showed his race face and took to the P1 grid slot, joined on the front row by second fastest qualifier Kazuki Oomishima – finally getting a run in the top split race.

The situation got off to a flier, as all drivers emerged through the first lap – all immaculate, apart from the ever-unfortunate Joshua Chin, who once again saw his race end on the first lap.

Uusi-Jaakkola looked to have a win in the bag, but a mistake under pressure allowed Oomishima to steal the lead and the high ground in the race. Third placed starter Matt Hannagan dropped progressively from his strong starting slot, a reversal of form explained when he was forced to make an early damage repair.  This left LJ Garnett (UK and I) to gather a commanding third place, with Paolo Accurso (Italy) advancing to fourth place, courtesy of Lasse Bruun-Hansen’s (Scandinavia) fortunes taking a turn for the worse on Lap Four.

From this point on, the top four positions would remain unchanged with Oomishima holding onto first place to ensure this was no ‘drop week.’

Thanks to the fact that he won his lone start in the highest points total race at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, López took the biggest score of the week.  He was followed by the impressive showing of Samuel de la Fuente, adding another name into the hat for the Race to Pro. As for the championship standings, Lee Thompson now holds the overall (as well as the A-Class) lead in the points, following team-mate Alex Simpson’s scarce point week. At the lower end of the top ten, the pack are closely-knit with five drivers separated by just 23 points as the battle continues in the pursuit for the final Pro licenses of 2013.

Moving onto Week Five the iGPS stays on the North American continent, but makes the trip south into the US as Road America makes it presence on the calendar.  The track is seemingly most likeable to marmite – loved or hated by the drivers, who will no doubt have a task on their hands adapting to the fierce challenge from the relatively simple-looking layout.

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