This weekend saw the virtual Williams-Toyota FW31s take to Dutch shores for Round 13 of the iRacing.com World Championship Grand Prix Series. Not only did the 29 sim-racers have to face the twisty turns of the former Formula One circuit, but in addition an updated tyre model released to competitors since their last race.
Starting from pole position with a lap time of 1:10.886, Team Redline’s Atze Kerkhof was immediately faced with a challenge from team-mate Greger Huttu as the field approached Turn One. With an excellent getaway, Huttu had nosed his car to the front as the pair approached the opening corner, but personifying bravery, Kerkhof fought to keep his top-spot. Holding onto the high line ala Mario Andretti, the Dutchman powered around the outside of the double apex corner to keep the current World Champion at bay.
“The race start was scary with the short first gear.” Kerkhof described post race. “I had a decent launch, but the guys around me were a little quicker. Greger sailed by on the right so in order to recapture the lead I had to take a bit of a risk in Turn One, by braking late. It worked greatly and I managed to stay on the outside with Greger slotting in on P2.”
“I had to take a bit of a risk in Turn One . . . It worked greatly and I managed to stay on the outside.” – Atze Kerkhof
Whilst Kerkhof negotiated the first few corners of the 2.6 mile virtual-Zandvoort, behind him there was the customary opening lap skirmishes that would send several into early retirement. Misjudging the entry into Turn Two, Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola collided with his Orion Racing team-mate, Illka Haapala, sending them both into the tyre wall. Taking avoiding action, Jake Stergios‘s FW31 snapped left, sending him into the same barrier. This would lead to the eventual retirement of all three cars from the 71 lap race. In a separate incident, Dion Vergers and Pierre Urbizu made contact at the next corner. Whilst Urbizu had to withdraw from proceedings as a result, Vergers would go on to launch a race-long comeback.
At the front, Kerkhof was leading a three car break, with Huttu and Hugo Luis giving chase. Behind this trio came Luke McLean, Martin Krönke and Emil Spindel. By lap 10 the front of the pack had split into three distinct groups – alone at the front Kerkhof, two-seconds clear of nose to tail Huttu and Luis, with McLean and Krönke a further 20 car lengths back. As the time counted down the field spread-out further, and with 20 laps on the board, Kerkhof, Huttu, Luis and McLean were running in their own clean air. Further back now was Krönke, whose progress had stalled following an attack on his fifth position by Martti Pietilä, Spindel and Simon Cattell.
Kerkhof and Huttu headed to the pits on Lap 45 for their only scheduled service of the race, and despite the Dutchman’s blistering pace, the Finn had closed the gap to less than a second. However, by the time the pair had taken new tyres and fuel, and completed their out laps, Kerkhof’s lead was back up to two-seconds. By this time, lapped cars were adding to the race equation, which played into the leader’s hands allowing him to maintain his margin at the front.
“Greger and I were on the same strategy so nothing really happened in the pits.” Kerkhof explained. “The first lap is always a bit weird after pitting, but soon the focus was negotiating the traffic rather than putting lap times down. I’m thankful to everybody for doing a great job on track here.”
With a flawless run, Kerkhof was able to keep Huttu at bay by two-seconds, a margin he carried to the finish line for his first victory of the season. Although Huttu missed out on the top-step of the podium, it was a valuable points finish for the World Championship leader at Zandvoort.
“I went into the race with a mindset of getting a solid result and points and the race went perfectly to that plan.” Huttu shared this week. “I dropped back a bit in the beginning because it isn’t much fun to follow closely behind another car through the fast corners. Typical to Zandvoort, the rest of the race wasn’t that exciting as I drove around a little under the limit avoiding any stupid mistakes. Really happy with the result though.”
“I went into the race with a mindset of getting a solid result . . . and the race went perfectly to that plan.” — Greger Huttu
Once My3id’s Luis had been ‘hung out to dry’ by the leading Redline duo, the Brazilian had a relatively simple run to the finish line. Pitting on Lap 42, the 2011 Champion only challenge to his third spot came from McLean, but a series of errors by the Australian sent him crashing out of the race. With his pit-stop looming, a lapse in concentration sent McLean backwards into the barrier at Turn Three, causing damage that would have repercussions a few laps later. Heading to the pits a lap later for fuel, rubber and repairs, the Team Redline pilot’s fate was sealed within a couple of circuits of taking service. Heading around the high-speed Turn Six, his car lost rear grip, sending him careering off the track, into the wall and out of the race.
This handed Luis an unchallenged run to the finish line and a podium spot, 10 seconds behind Kerkhof and Huttu. “I ran full tanks thinking the race was going to pan out differently. That was a mistake, the car just wasn’t really working with 120kg.” McLean summarised this week. “My concentration was gone and just lost it and damaged the car. End of race.”
For Pietilä, it was a race of two halves. During his opening stint, the Ajira Foracer team member had maintained sixth position with Simon Cattell sitting relentlessly under his wing, and Krönke just a few-hundred yards up the road. Then a slow-stop and below par out-lap by Krönke saw the German tumble down the order, and by the time Pietilä had exited pit-lane on lap 42, he was fifth, and clear of Cattell. With the demise of McLean, the Finn moved up to fourth place, with iNex Racing’s Cattell now launching a comeback. Despite cutting the margin to one-second, the Englishman just couldn’t find the the extra pace required, and had to settle for fifth at the line behind Pietilä.
“The last 10 laps I was just trying to push as much as I could without making any silly mistakes,” a relived Pietilä told inRacingNews. “On second to last lap we had a lapper in front which cost me about half a second, and Simon got to within a second, so the race was starting to get really interesting. However, he apparently did a mistake, and I was able to do an easy last lap to my best ever finish in WCS. So I’m happy with that!”
Slipping into sixth place ‘under the radar’ was Ben Cornett, making it three Redline cars in the top-six. The uncompromising Australian jumped five places in the opening lap to move from fourteenth on the grid into the top-ten. There he remained until making his solitary pit-stop on Lap 45, when he found himself further up the order in seventh, by leap-frogging Jason Lovett and Spindel who’d been awarded a black-flag. A handful of laps later, Cornett was then awarded his best finish of the 2013 iWCGPS season, when his fellow countryman retired.
It had seemed academic that Fulvio Barozzini would claim the seventh place finish at the line, and maybe even challenge for Cornett’s position. With five laps remaining, the Italian had caught up to Cornett’s gearbox and was aiming for a way past. However, a mistake at Turn Three put the MMM Team Williams-Toyota head first into the tyres, causing substantial damage. As Barozzini limped his was around the dusty Zandvoort circuit, Lovett and Spindel had to find their ways past, as they approached nose to tail. Seizing the opportunity, Spindel pounced and slipped past the Englishman as he gave Barozzini’s car a wide berth. Despite giving chase until the chequered flag, Lovett was unable to find a way back past the Scandinavian and had to settle for eighth, four seconds clear of Krönke.
Although Vergers’ opening lap incident caused front wing damage and dropped him to P18, the Dutchman recovered to seal a top-ten placing. Once he’d made his pit-stop on Lap 43, Vergers was up to thirteenth, then the demise of Andre Boettcher, Barozzini and McLean moved him to tenth at the finish of the online race.
With three rounds of the iRacing.com World Championship Grand Prix Series remaining, Huttu (540) carries a seemingly unassailable 112 point lead in the standings over Luis (428). Following his Zandvoort win, Kerkhof is just 28 points away from Luis and 116 clear of Stergios. In the fight for the top-five placings on the leader-board, Barozzini (250), Pietilä (228) and Stephen Michaels (225) are split by just 25 points.
Round 14 heads to Interlagos, where Huttu could seal his fourth world title. Find out if he can clinch the championship on iRacing.com/live in two-week’s time and read all about it here, soon after on inRacingNews.com.