Deep in the heart of what is traditionally NASCAR country, Atlanta, Georgia, has turned into a mecca for every type of US motorsports in recent years. Not far from the city a racing enthusiast will find super speedway racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway, short track racing at Lanier National Speedway and road racing for both cars and motorcycles at Road Atlanta. And now even Formula One has found its way to the beautiful green hills of northern Georgia, when the 2.54 miles and 12 turns of iRacing.com’s virtual Road Atlanta played host to Round Five of the ISRA GP1 Championship, marking the mid-point of the season.
Fresh off of his first pole and win at Watkins Glen, Russell Hodgson made the most of qualifying by repeating his pole performance, with a lap at 1:01.078 in his dark red Williams-Toyota FW31. The new championship leader would surely be looking to also repeat his winning online race performance here in order to hold that lead in the title fight. Next to him on the front row once again was David Williams, looking for a better start here than he had at the Glen.
Williams did not get the jump off the line to challenge Hodgson when the green lights flashed. Instead he had to fight to hold off Nolan Scott from the third grid position. The two sim racers went side-by-side through the first three turns until finally Scott emerged in front of Williams and hard on the rear wing of Hodgson’s leading car entering Road Atlanta’s famous esses. From there the three leaders began opening an early gap from fourth-placed Bryan Carey. Behind Carey, Byron Daley had jumped from seventh on the grid to fifth in the first few turns, only to run wide the first time through the difficult Turn Five, spinning without contact and setting himself at the back of the field. Daley would later have a second spin at Turn Five, this time finishing in the tire wall and ending his race. Sebastian Lohse took advantage of Daley’s early spin to apply pressure to Carey for fourth in what would evolve into a race-long battle. Lohse spent 56 laps keeping Carey right in his sights, never more than a couple seconds behind. Carey used pit strategy to his advantage though to open the gap on Lohse after the second round of stops. While Lohse made his second stop on Lap 54, Carey held out until Lap 62 giving him a quicker stop and fresher tires for the sprint to the finish. That strategy gave Carey a comfortable lead on Lohse and enabled him to hold on to his fourth position until checkered flag.
“I led two laps during the first round of pit stops, and maybe could have pulled off a one stopper but I think in the end it would have been the same result,” commented Carey after the race. “Fourth place in the end, no inc at all in 75 laps and considering the track, I am more than pleased!”
Back at the head of the field, Scott kept up the pressure on Hodgson for the lead with a number of good passing attempts that he wasn’t able to make stick. Williams held down third, but kept distance about a second behind the top twosome, seemingly happy to let the leading battle play out in the early laps.
On Lap Nine, Scott got the run he needed exiting Turn Seven and drafted Hodgson down the back straight, positioning himself for a successful move for the lead entering the Turn Ten chicane. While trying to tuck back in behind Scott after making the pass, Hodgson got loose and spun, allowing Williams to slip past and relegating Hodgson from the lead down to third place. This seemed to be the trigger Williams was waiting for to put his mark on the race, and he began reeling Scott back in. By Lap 14, Williams was all over Scott for the lead, and on Lap 17, he drafted Scott on the long back straight and took the inside line for Turn Ten A. Scott was not going to hand the lead over with out a fight though, and the two went side-by-side through the entire Turn Ten chicane. Williams would get the better traction on exit though, and managed to take a firm grip on the lead as they passed under the bridge at Turn 11.
Once he tasted the clean air of the lead, Williams increased his pace by nearly a second a lap, very quickly opening the gap to Scott. No one was able to match the young English sim racer’s pace for the remainder of the race, leaving Scott and Hodgson to fight for the second step on the podium. Hodgson regained some of his earlier lost ground on Scott, but ran an unusual pit strategy of a short first and third stint with a long middle stint. As a result, he was never quite able to challenge Scott for second place again, and would later lament his choice of pit strategy. Williams’ dominant performance saw him take the win by nearly 42 seconds over Scott, with Hodgson rounding out the podium another six seconds further back.
With his win, Williams becomes the first driver to see the top step of the podium for a second time in the inaugural season of the ISRA GP1 Championship. His win also moves him closer to title leader Hodgson, whom he is chasing hard after missing out on points in the previous two races. The championship fight stays below the Mason Dixon line while moving to Virginia International Raceway next, another tricky circuit where Scott will be looking to finally get a win, Williams trying to repeat his Road Atlanta performance, and Hodgson aiming to rebound and hold on to his championship lead.