In an action-packed 44 laps around the virtual Spa-Francorchamps, Atze Kerkhof became only the third sim-racer to stand on the top step of the 2012 Grand Prix Series World Championship podium. The thirteenth round victory for the Dutchman sees the Team Redline sim-racer consolidate his fifth position in the championship standings, and edge closer to the final cash-prize placing of the series.

Starting on the front row of the grid, Kerkhof had a perfect view of the exceptional start by third-placed Hugo Luis to pass himself and then Greger Huttu on the outside of La Source to head the pack of Williams-Toyota FW31s  through Eau Rouge. Whilst Huttu searched for a way back to the front, Kerkhof patiently shadowed the leading championship protagonists, maintaining a margin of just over a second for the initial third of the race.

Luis made a storming start to grab the lead from Huttu and Kerkhof ’round the outside of La Source.

With the first round of schedule pit-stops approaching, Kerkhof had worked his way up to the rear wing of Huttu, who continued to hassle Luis for the lead throughout. On Lap 15 the the lead duo headed into pit-lane nose to tail, handing Kerkhof an extra lap to charge around the 4.3 mile circuit. Meanwhile, in pit-lane, a long stop by Huttu not only allowed Luis to increase his advantage to one-second, but enabled Kerkhof to grab second place when he’d completed service.

“I decided to try something different to at least get some clear running so I put in a bit more fuel than normally during my first stop,” Huttu explained. “I was actually thinking of going to Lap 32 but got the fuel a bit wrong. I should have put in one kilo more than I did. Out of the pits I was behind two guys who hadn’t pitted yet and lost some time to Hugo in the dirty air. As I had thought, Atze got in front of me by running one lap longer.”

As Huttu haemorrhaged time to the leaders, Kerkhof patiently trailed in Luis’ slipstream, and by the time the field were considering their second visit to the pits, the pair were four seconds clear.  On Lap 29, Luis steered down pit-road for his final scheduled service but, crucially, when the Brazilian rejoined the circuit, he was surrounded by traffic that had yet to make their final stops. This played into the hands of Kerkhof, who stopped two laps later and despite also finding traffic on his out-lap, inherited what would become the lead, once the rest of the field had visited the pits.

Already into second ahead of Huttu, Kerkhof would take advantage of Luis’ traffic issues to grab the lead and go on to his first iGPSWC win.

“Unfortunately for the last pit-stop I was going to be some laps heavier as Atze was doing longer stints and the situation got worse when I left pit-lane behind heavy traffic.” Luis shared this week. “I believe that was an interesting moment for those who were watching. You have not only to maintain things under control, but also try to avoid anything that could destroy your race.”

With the extra fuel from his first stop, Huttu was able to avoid any pit-exit traffic woes, and rejoined for his final stint with the deficit to Luis at just 1.5 seconds. Over the next 10 laps, Huttu closed the gap, and then pushed Luis to narrow Kerkhof’s lead. Just as in the opening segment of the race, the trio battled nose-to-tail for the lead, albeit in a different order.  But as Huttu hassled Luis for the runner-up spot, Kerkhof was able to squeeze out an advantage of over a second, a gap he carried to the chequered flag to claim his first iGPSWC win.

“All I could do is drive flawless and push as hard as I could.” – Atze Kerkhof

“All I could do is drive flawless and push as hard as I could,” Kerkhof said post race. “The last eight laps I drove all within a tenth of a second on 47.3, which didn’t give Hugo the room to get within the dangerous one second. The final lap I had to keep my head cool and just get through the final hairpin chicane. After that it was smiling time! I couldn’t believe it! My first victory in DWC with such an awesome race against the best out there. It’s something I’ve been looking out for since I started sim-racing.”

Living up to his ‘Mr Consistency’ nickname, Martin Krönke  secured his fourth top-five finish of the season, whilst wading around in ‘no man’s land.’ Despite a tentative start, the German was able to grab fourth position from Stephen Michaels when the lights went green, and follow in the wake of Kerkhof for the opening laps . . . until the iGPManager online-racer cut too much kerb at Eau Rouge, and had to yield his position to Roland Ehnström.

“Luckily he didn’t defend too hard two-laps later into the bus stop chicane and I could then go my usual pace,” Krönke  told inRacingNews. “After passing Roland, the race became almost as boring as the Mid-Ohio race. I had no chance to gain any time relative to Atze, Hugo and Greger and I had a manageable gap to Fulvio [Barozzini] so I decided to take it easy and cruise to the finish.”

Barozzini leads P López, Ehnström, Michaels, Egger et al into the Bus Stop.

Building on his season’s best performance at Road Atlanta in Round Twelve, Fulvio Barozzini claimed his second top-five finish on the bounce. Running side-by-side with Ehnström through the Bus Stop chicane, then the legendary La Source, the Mortadella Race Mission driver, moved into fifth place, and defended the spot as the pair continued their fight into Les Combes – a move that saw Ehnström drop a further position behind Pablo López . As a huge battle played out behind him, Barozzini broke away after the first pit stops to head to the chequered flag pressure free. “Awesome race!” the Italian wrote. “I was looking forward to repeating the Road Atlanta performance on a real track and I made it.”

It wasn’t such a simple task for Ehnström, who battled the likes of López, Jeremy Bouteloup, Jake Stergios, Matthias Egger and Stephen Michaels throughout the race. As the field stretched out following the final round of pit-stops, Bouteloup was the only remaining challenger to what was now sixth position for Ehnström. Despite Bouteloup filling the mirrors of the Team Orion car for the final third of the race, Ehnström was able to fend-off the Frenchman to claim sixth place by two-tenths of a second.

Majestic Spa-Franorchamps provided a magnificent setting for Round 13 of the Grand Prix Series World Championship.

In an unrelenting fight for eighth position, Stergios headed a blanket finish across the line, narrowly beating Michaels and López  by mere tenths. US-based Michaels, who was making only his third appearance of the season, had started the race in an exceptional fourth place, but a poor getaway sent him tumbling down the order. In fact, Michaels had run in tenth position before Radicals Racing’s López  paid the price of too much fuel in his final stint, a strategy that sent the Spaniard dropping several places.

With just three rounds of the World Championship Grand Prix remaining, arithmetic alone prevents Huttu from reclaiming the title he lost to Luis in 2011. Effectively, the Finn must suffer DNFs in at least two of the remaining three events for Luis to have any hope of retaining his title. Meanwhile, Kerkhof’s superb win at Spa puts the Dutchman in a commanding position to claim fifth in the 2012 championship, as he now carries a 33 point advantage over Bouteloup. In the fight to make the top 25 cut for automatic entry into next year’s series, Jason Lovett is closing in on Jaroslav Honzik’s final qualifying spot, just 10 points away.

The iWCGPS stays in Belgium for the next round of the series, heading to iRacing’s newest circuit — Circuit Zolder-  in two weeks time. Catch all the action live at iRacing Live.

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