Putting the ‘momentary blip’ of the previous round into the iRacing.com Pro Series Road Racing history books, Atze Kerkhof returned to the top-step of the podium in dominating at the virtual Virginia International Speedway. With the Dutchman taking his sixth virtual Williams-Toyota FW31 win of the season in Round Seven, there are now only three remaining candidates for the 2011 iPSRR title.
Although Kerkhof was pipped to pole position by Martin Krönke, who set a 1:21.480 qualifying time, the Team Redline sim-racer was at the front of the pack by the time he’d exited Turn One. In a points-punishing misjudgement of braking, Krönke relinquished the lead as he skidded across the grass around the outside of the first corner . The error sent the My3id pilot falling down the order and was compounded with retirement in the outer tyre-wall of Oak Tree, aka Turn Twelve, eight laps later.
With his main challenger out of the frame, Kerkhof soon broke free of Orion Racing’s Roland Ehnström who had assumed the role of lead-chaser following Krönke’s gaffe. By the time Kerkhof headed to the pits on Lap 23, the margin between the pair stood at twelve seconds. This gap was extended to nineteen seconds once the Dutchman and Swede had completed their final scheduled stops of the race on Lap 44. Yet despite this lead, Kerkhof continued to post hot lap after hot lap, setting the fastest time of the day (a 1:22.207) in true ‘Vettle-esque’ style on his final tour of VIR.
“This is a nice rebound from last weekend where I really fooled myself.” — Atze Kerkhof
“The gap to Roland kept increasing and back-markers were behaving like angels,” Kerkhof explained post race. “Lots of crashes, smoke, spins in front of me during the race, but I had all the time to slow down and avoid trouble. Not much to say about this race really, I enjoyed every lap in race where I hated it in practice, so for next year I’m a bit more prepared. I think this is a nice rebound from last weekend where I really fooled myself. Next week Road America, I’ve got some unfinished business there.”
Although Ehnström was unable to make any inroads on Kerkhof’s lead, the 40 points earned for the second place finish bolstered his runner-up spot in the iPSRR championship standings. With Simon Crochart filling his mirrors, Ehnström used all his guile to keep the Frenchman at bay for his opening stint, as the pair made their own breakaway during the first twenty laps.
“Great race and a great result for the No.52 Perfect Pedal team!” enthused Ehnström at the end of the fifty-eight lap race. “Towards the end of the first stint I was wondering if Simon was maybe on a very high fuel load, but then he went into the pits already at the end of Lap 22. I pitted at the end of Lap 24, and came out three seconds in front of him. In the second stint I opened this gap to close to five seconds, until a minor ‘off’ cost me a couple of seconds, bringing the gap back down to just under three. Once more Simon pitted two laps earlier than me, and after my second stop the gap was now six seconds and my second place finish was secured!”
It was a ‘race of two halves’ for CST Ajira’s Alex Arana, who secured his first top-five finish of the season ahead of Pablo López. Getting away from the start-line cleanly, Arana was immediately moved-up to fifth position at the expense of a slow-starting Klaus Ellenbrand. With Krönke’s early demise, fifth became fourth for the Spaniard by the time he’d reached Turn One, with Rudy Van Buren following closely behind. For the ensuing 24 laps, the duo remained glued together and, once Arana and Van Buren had completed their first scheduled pit-stop, they remained in a nose- to-tail procession. But within a couple of laps of taking service, Van Buren’s virtual Williams-Toyota FW31 caught a wheel on the grass through the high-speed esses, which sent him hurtling into the tyre-wall. With the Dutchman out out of the race, Arana was riding in fourth position, with Radicals’ Pablo López a distant seven-seconds behind. By the time Arana had headed to pit lane for the final time, the gap to López was pegged at seven seconds, which was extended to eleven by the time he took the chequered flag on Lap 58.
“From the first lap I began to fight with Rudy Van Buren that lasted until the end of the stint. It was an awesome fight,” Arana shared this week. “We enter in the pits to change tyres and put fuel together, but I was still maintaining my fourth place after the pit-stop. I made my last stop in box when there were eleven laps to go (and) when I was exiting the pits I still retained the fourth position. I saw in my relative box ‘Pablo López +6.5 seconds’ – I said to myself, if you get the fourth position, you have to push, push hard and not crashing.”
“If you get the fourth position, you have to push, push hard and not crashing.” — Alex Arana
Playing out a one-stop strategy, Roy Kolbe grabbed his second top-ten finish of the season just ahead of Oxford Brookes’ Richard Crozier. Although Kolbe’s tactics meant his run to the flag was a solitary one for most of the race, the German did have a scare on the final lap of the race that nearly proved costly. With the white-flag waving, Kolbe held sixth position, with a healthy twenty-five second gap – but approaching Oak Tree for the last time, his Twister Racing entry caught the grass and slithered into the outside tyre-wall. Despite collecting substantial damage, Kolbe was able to recover and nurse his car home, just a handful of seconds ahead of Crozier, who concluded his best performance of the 2011 Pro series in seventh position.
Electing to gamble on an extended final stint didn’t pay off for Zach Hudson Motorsport’s Norbert Wolf, who had shadowed LowLandLions Racing’s PJ Stergios for the first half of the race. Heading to pit lane for the second time on Lap Thirty-six, Wolf could only watch from afar as Stergios, relieved of pressure, carved-out a margin of seven seconds by the time he made his final stop for fuel and tyres, six laps later. In addition, Wolf found his eventual ninth place finish under threat in the closing stages, as CST Arija’s Martti Pietila, who had battled from twenty-ninth on the grid, harassed, harangued and stuck to gearbox of the Pole for the final ten laps.
With Kerkhof’s return to winning form, the ‘Flying Dutchman’ now has 328 points to his name, good for a lead of 118 over Ehnström, who is a further 31 clear of Krönke. Should the Team Redline racer take victory at Road America in less than a week’s time, he will seal the iRacing.com Pro Series Road Racing title, with three rounds still remaining – it could prove to be a Christmas bonus for Kerkhof.