Where better to start any racing season that at Spa-Francorchamps?

The first week of iRacing’s 2015 sim racing year saw the IndyCar Road Series take to a ribbon of asphalt in Belgium’s beautiful Ardennes Forest. This, however, was not just any ribbon of asphalt. Holding its first race in 1921, Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is just about the most historic and majestic track in motorsport, possibly only rivaled by tracks such as Monaco, Circuit de la Sarthe (Le Mans) and, of course, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It sees drivers go from a near standstill at the La Source hairpin to shooting up a nearly vertical corner combination through Eau Rouge-Raidillon. Drivers then fly up the Kemmel Straight into the Malmédy chicane. At Malmédy, the new circuit pulls away from the older and much more dangerous circuit. The drivers take to the new circuit and rejoin out of Paul Frere, where they shoot to Blanchimont, the Bus Stop, and the end of the lap.

The circuit’s inaugural winner was one Antonio Ascari in 1925. His son Alberto would win twice in 1952 and 1953. Other winners make-up racing royalty: Fangio, Clark, Stewart, Gurney, Brabham, McLaren, Surtees, Prost, Senna, Hakkinen, and Schumacher to name a few.

Gonzalez leads the field through Eau Rouge on the opening lap.

The iRacing IndyCar race saw Fabio Gonzalez start on pole over Naruko Ishida, with Carlo Labati starting in third. When the green dropped, Gonzalez quickly cleared Ishida into the fearsome combination of Eau Rouge/Raidillon. For the most part, the field did the same and most of the drivers had gotten single file before Eau Rouge. Calamity, however, struck the back part of the field as Pasi Valtanen and Simeon Lynch2 got together in Raidillon, sending both Dallaras careening into the wall at a rather high rate of speed.

Valtanen and Lynch come together at Raidillon . . . with predictable results.

Ishida had timed his entry well, and coming onto the Kemmel Straight he held the run over Gonzalez, and challenged to Gonzalez’s left as they screamed into the Malmédy chicane. They went side-by-side through the chicane only for Gonzalez to got a bad run out of Malmédy, and come under attack into Rivage. Ishida executed a nearly textbook outbraking maneuver, and cleared Gonzalez as they hit corner entry. This opened the door for Labati to attack Gonzalez as well, but he failed to complete the pass, putting him on the outside of the next corner, and Joonas Nahkala was able to sweep by.

The field continued to file through the lap, but in the mid-pack there was another pileup. Valerio Pianezza got into the rear of Danny Roberts, who spun into the wall at Campus. Behind them, in the same spot, Benjamin Gregory and Joel Blewitt came together in the ensuing check up.

Roberts (11), Blewitt (12) and Gregory (13) have problems at Campus.

By the time the leaders entered Stavelot on Lap 2, Ishida had gapped Gonzalez, who was under attack from Nahkala. Nahkala entered Blanchimont on the inside of Gonzalez, who decided that discretion was the better part of valor on that section of track and backed off to allow Nahkala through.

Nahkala immediately set about trying to catch Ishida, who was a steady three tenths a lap faster. Lap 4 saw more carnage as Pianezza crashed, presumably because of his front wing damage. This spun him into the wall at Blanchimont, sending him onto his roll hoop and ending his race. By the end of the lap, the remainder of the field was largely spread out.

Nahkala (black) and Ishida (white) engaged battled for the lead throughout most of the race.

Ishida and Nahkala were now the main two players in the race, with Ishida slowly pulling clear. Both drivers came to the pits for service by their simulated crews on Lap 11. Also pitting was third place man Gonzales, Labati having pitted from P4 on the previous lap.

Nahkala’s stop and outlap were a second faster than those of Ishida, aiding him in his quest to get past the leader. On the next lap, Nahkala was two tenths faster. Slowly but surely, Nahkala had begun reeling-in Ishida. The stage was set for a spectacular dash to the checkers.

For the most part, the two were just about equal in pace, but Nahkala managed a great lap that was four tenths faster than Ishida every two laps or so. The battle continued on Lap 18, as Ishida struggled to lap Pasi Valtanen, losing time through Blanchimont. Nahkala had no such issues, and continued his attack as he was able to slid past Valtanen before the Bus Stop. The two leaders continued their battle, but Ishida began delivering faster laps at precisely the right time, and on the twentieth and final lap, he crossed the line a mere 1.092s ahead of Nahkala with Gonzalez in third ahead of Labati and Steve Honan.

Ishida carried the day after a hard fought race.

Leaving Spa, Ishida seems to be the driver to beat for the 2015 Season 1 title, as he defeated most of last season’s players in a head-to-head battle. That said, the stage is set for an incredible season in an incredible car, and the title battle can be won by anyone.  Next up?  Another of the world’s classic venues in the form of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

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