Week 2 of the short 2014 Season 4 took the IndyCar Series to the famous Autódromo José Carlos Pace, aka Interlagos. The renowned Brazilian circuit is a drivers’ favorite. Technical, flowing, and requiring throttle delicate control, the circuit challenges every aspect of a drivers’ repertoire. Every man, monster and Finn would be challenged to the max on this historic circuit.
This week, Joonas Nahkala brought bringing the field to the green. Starting second was Fernando Guerrero Ortega ahead of Jonny Simon. The lead trio plunged into the Senna S in order but behind, Antoine Higelin made an incredible start from the 14th. Exiting the Senna S, he was already up to 10th and, by the end of the lap, the hard charging Higelin was up to 8th. Nor did he stop there and by Lap Four he had advanced to sixth place.
Higelin’s charge continued until Lap Seven when he and Kevin Siggy made netcode contact, which send Higelin spinning into the run off and back to seventh place. His tires subsequently overheated, compounding Higelin’s issues and, despite many charges, the end of the race found him sidelined and classified in 20th place.
Up front, Ortega and Simon were locked in an epic battle for second position as Nahkala slowly pulled away in the lead. Lap Seven saw Simon slid his way past Ortega and take over the runner-up spot. However, even with the clean air flowing to his his wings, he could not close the gap to Nahkala’s Dallara DW12.
The field would stay maintain position until Simon brought his car to the pit lane on lap 15 of the 32 lap event. Ortega called on hit pit crew the nest time by, and Miguel Domingo Prieto brought his car in two laps after Simon, on Lap 17. The following lap saw Nahkala bring his car in for service from his virtual crew and, thanks to his considerable lead, retained first place during his stop.
By the end of the 20th lap, the field had cycled back through their pit stops and retained the positions they occupied before the stops began although Simon had closed on Nahkala courtesy of his short-pitting strategy.
Shortpitting, for those who don’t know, is a commonly-used strategy in the IndyCar road series. The Dallara DW12 tends to wear tires quickly, so the fresher the rubber the better. The goal is to pit as soon as possible so you can have the advantage of the fresh rubber at the earliest possible moment. The only problems are, pit too early and you might run out of gas, or you might use up your second set of rubber before your opposition. Another issue is that you exit the pits on cold tires — often amid drivers still on hot virtual rubber — and can easily make a mistake. Also, taking-on enough fuel to make it to the finish results in a longer stop than those stopping later, not to mention having a heavier fuel load once you return to action . . . so you may lose time in that regard as well.
If done right, shortpitting can be the golden snitch of strategy; if not, it can be a driver’s greatest danger in terms of their race. Simon had played the call well though and was right on Nahkala after the stops.
Nahkala, however, had the superior pace and was gapping Simon to the tune of a half a second a lap at one point. Nahkala’s pace was the final nail in the coffin, as he pulled enough of a gap to maintain the lead all the way to the end, even under pressure from Simon . . . at least initially. At the end of the 32 lap event, Nahkala took the checkers by 5.335 seconds over Simon.
Throughout the race, Simon was under heavy pressure by Ortega, who came across the line .3s tenths behind Simon while Prieto took fourth ahead of Kevin Siggy.
Nahkala has proven to be an extremely able competitor this season. He duked it out with no less than Greger Huttu last week and seemed to be the only main capable of challenging the sim racing legend. This week, Nahkala proved to be the top man, and he hopes to battle for the title in the absence of the players from last season in the forms of Marcus Hamilton, Jeffery Rietveld and Richard Avery. Simon has, however, proved capable of challenging Nahkala this week, and he could play a role before the short season ends. All this goes without saying that Ortega could very well make a run at the title. At this point, it is anyone’s game . . . and anyone’s guess who will take the title. One thing for sure: It’s going to be a barnburner, and no one is quite sure what will happen next.