In a hard-fought 83 laps around the Okayama International Circuit, Atze Kerkhof secured his second outright victory in the iRacing.com Pro Series Road Racing to further extend his lead at the top of the leader-board. With a brace of races now complete, Kerkhof’s is the only name to adorn the the winners column following another formidable driving display in his bid to reach the 2012 iRacing.com NVIDIA Grand Prix Series.
Although Kerkhof was pipped to pole position by Martin Kronke, who set a time of 1:06.416 during his solitary qualifying run, Team Redline’s newest member soon redressed the balance by snatching the lead at the opening corner. “The start was not one of my best to be honest,” conceded Kronke. “I released the clutch a little bit too fast and Atze got past me pretty easily.”
Whilst the front row got away from the line cleanly, the remaining grid was thrown into turmoil when Simon Crochart in third and Jeremy Bouteloup in sixth position, suffered simultaneous engine failures. Although the sim racers limped their cars off the racing line, unsighted by the twin plumes of black smoke, Roy Kolbe powered his Williams-Toyota FW31 into the back of Bouteloup’s car. Further back, Klaus Ellenbrand steered into Andrew Slocombe, who then collected Gerd Hoeffer on their way to an early retirement.
Capitalising on the baulked start for the majority of the field, Kerkhof, Kronke and Samuel Libeert made an immediate breakaway, with the trio establishing a two-second gap over the pack within a few laps of the green flag. By the time the leaders had visited the pits for their first scheduled stop around Lap 24, less than three-seconds covered the trio. And when Kerkhof stopped for his second service on Lap 56, Kronke was getting a jewellers-eye view of the leader’s gearbox.
Undeterred by the attention, Kerkhof continued to post hot lap after hot lap, before completing his final trip to pit-lane for fuel and tyres with a six-second margin. From here the Finn maintained the gap to the chequered flag, to crown a flawless drive around the virtual 2.6 mile Okayama track.
“I’m really happy with this one. Okayama was a complete new track for me and I struggled a lot to find the pace here.” the Pro Series points lead shared this week. “Martin turned out to be on the same strategy and at every end of the stint I it seemed that I was a bit more comfortable with the car. I must say that Martin drove a flabbergasting pace and big kudos to him and Samuel!”
For Kronke, his final stint proved to be a nervous one, as Libeert found a step-up in pace in the closing laps of the race.
“In the end I was shocked that Sam closed the gap so quickly forcing me to push a little bit in the final laps. And what I’ve learned this race: 83 laps of Okayama are exhausting,” My3id’s Kronke told inRacingNews.
“83 laps of Okayama are exhausting.” — Martin Kronke
Following an immense battle to finish in the top-five, Rudy Van Buren clawed his way through the field, to claim fourth position ahead of Emil Spindel. After picking his way through the smoke at the green flag, Van Buren found himself in seventh position and hot on the heels of Jeffrey Rietveld, Andre Boettcher and Spindel, who had pulled off a daring double-pass on the second corner to jump up to fourth spot. With the fleet’s first scheduled stops complete, Boettcher had gained as spot, as had Van Buren, when the pair poached the respective positions from Spindel and Rietveld. However, Boetcher’s promotion was short lived, as the German hit the wall hard on Lap 32 after getting a wheel on the grass on the exit of Turn Two, handing the advantage back to Spindel. But 17 laps later, Spindel dropped a position when Van Buren slipped past the Scandinavian through the infield complex.
Meanwhile, My3id’s Marcus Saari who was playing out a two-stop strategy, leap-frogged his way into fourth position by the half-way stage and looked set for his first top-five finish of the season as the race drew to a close. Then with just 11 laps remaining, a lapse in concentration sent him falling down the order and out of the race, following an innocuous contact with the tire-wall at Turn Ten. Saari’s exit left the path clear for Van Buren, Spindel, Rietveld and Schmalenback to claim fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh respectively.
“Starting off on the stints pace was good,” Spindel said. “But it got exponentially worse as the stints went on, as usual on high (downforce) tracks for me . . . I need to understand why this is. Why my pace on worn tires sucks so hard. If it’s a set-up issue or a confidence issue. I need to look into this.”
Rounding out the top-ten, Marius Golombeck made a net gain of thirteen positions over the course of the race, besting Pablo and Daniel Lopez to eighth position in the process.
Two rounds of the iRacing.com Pro Series Road Racing are now complete, and Atze Kerkhof holds a maximum 100 points in his pocket. With the Dutch sim-racer being the only one to show consistent form in the opening races, his lead stands at an impressive 38 points over Spindel, who is just four ahead of Roland Ehnström, who came home in 12th spot at Okayama.
Round Three of the iPSRR heads to Indianapolis in less than seven days time, where the fight for that all important top 25 in the standings and promotion to the 2012 World Championship will continue unabated.