Taking his first steps towards the 2012 iRacing.com NVIDIA Grand Prix Series, Atze Kerkhof took the spoils of victory and maximum points at the opening round of the iRacing.com Pro Series Road Racing at Spa-Francorchamps with a dominant flag-to-flag performance. With the top 25 in the standings gaining entry to next years iNGPS following the twelve-round iPSRR season, the battle is intense as demoted sim racers from this year’s World Championship and newly-promoted Pro sim-racers fight it out in the virtual Williams-Toyota FW31s.
Starting from pole position after setting a 1:44.967 qualifying lap, Kerkhof maintained his position at the front when the green flag dropped, closely followed by Andre Boettcher and Samuel Libeert who made the jump on Roland Ehnström before reaching Turn One, aka La Source. Whilst it looked like the race had made a clean getaway, chaos ensued as the field filed around the opening corner as a multi-car collision sent several cars out of the race before reaching the legendary Eau Rouge corner.
In an ambitious move to gain places at the opening turn, Martin Macjon drifted wide on the exit of La Source and collected Jeffrey Rietveld in the process. This triggered a chain reaction that sent Rietveld spinning into the path of Marcus Saari, who then collided with Milos Miljkovic, George Sandman and Richard Crozier. With the carnage in his mirrors, Macjon continued, only to find himself embroiled in another skirmish when the field reached the Le Combe chicane on the same lap.
Battling for second position, Libeert and Boettcher touched wheels on the entrance to Le Combe, sending the pair spinning across the track. Being the first to arrive on the scene, Simon Crochart, Ehnström and Jeremy Bouteloup all backed-off to pick their way through the strewn Formula 1 cars. Emile Spindel continued to power through the corner, however, and made contact with Bouteloup, who was left sitting sideways at apex. With nowhere to go, Martin Kronke, Roy Kolbe, and Alex Arana all collided with the Frenchman’s car, followed up by Macjon, who collied with Bouteloup and then side-swiped My3id’s Marius Golombeck as he made his escape.
Being the only Williams-Toyota not needing to take evasive action on the opening circuit, Kerkhof was able to make a clean break from the field. By the time he’d reached the end of Lap One, he had established a lead of a couple of seconds over Crochart. From here, the Team Redline pilot was able to build on his lead over successive laps, to carve-out a margin of nine seconds by the time he made his first pit-stop on Lap 18. In fact, the European was never challenged throughout the 44 lap race, and after completing his second scheduled visit to pit-lane, breezed to the flag with a twenty-seven second gap.
“The race was quite uneventful.” said Kerkhof post race. “I had a super launch this time and after Turn One I was a very happy man. I was sad to see that Andre and Samuel had contact. The car was very hard to drive through the race but since there was no real pressure I tried to keep to zero incidents.”
Whist Kerkhof sailed into the distance, Ehnström and Crochart were playing-out a fight for second position that would last for the entire race. After picking their way through the Lap One turmoil, Crochart held the advantage, with Ehnström following closely behind. On Lap Six, Ehnström had taken the position, and by the time the second round of scheduled pit-stops were due, enjoyed a gap of several seconds. But in a nervous final stint, Crochart dug deep to reduce the margin and catch Ehnström with just a handful of laps remaining. However, as the old racing adage goes, ‘catching them is one thing, passing them is another’ and the Frenchman ran out of laps and had to settle for third position, half a second behind Ehnström.
“I had a super launch this time and after Turn One I was a very happy man.” — Atze Kerkhof
“After the first stop I was three seconds in front of Simon, and I doubled this gap before the second stop.” explained Ehnström this week. “But now Simon went THREE laps longer, and finally emerged just a couple of seconds behind me! Now I had a race on my hands, to try to stay ahead in the final 11 laps with three-lap older tires. Simon caught up with five to go, but the aero push helped me maintain the gap at just under one second.”
Despite collecting damage in the opening lap, Spindel was able to bring his CST Williams-Toyota home in fourth position, and even looked set to challenge for the podium at one point. “Surprisingly I caught Simon and didn’t know if he was really heavy or damaged too.” Spindel shared post race. “But I decided to not be too aggressive and the car definitely didn’t like being in the slipstream in the corners and top speed sucked so was hard enough to close anyway. A stupid spin in the second stint cost me a potential fight for a podium.”
With a heavy fuel strategy, and a big smattering of luck that saw him end the opening lap unscathed, Andrew Slocombe claimed a top five finish, a deceptive three-tenths of a second ahead of PJ Stergios. “At the end of the second stint I noticed PJ was relatively close behind, but I was far ahead enough and based on my pace I’d been running the entire race, that I would finish safely in front of him without having to push.” the Floridian told inRacingNews.
Claiming seventh and eighth positions respectively, Norbert Wolf and Jaroslav Honzik were the only remaining FW31s to finish the 44 laps on the lead lap, whilst My3id’s Marcus Saari recovered from the multiple collisions on the opening lap to best Fulvio Barozzini to ninth spot at the chequered flag.
With the first round of the 2011 iPSRR complete, Atze Kerkhof sits atop the standings table on 40 points ahead of Ehnström, Crochart, Spindel and Slocombe. Round Two of the championship heads to the Okayama Circuit in less than seven-days time, where the ‘victims’ of Spa Francorchamps will be hoping to kick-start their season’s and score valuable points.