June 21st, 2016 by Rachael Whiteford, Images by Hugo Luis
The iRacing World Championship Grand Prix Series arrived at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Italy for Round Nine of the championship and the first race at the newest circuit on the iRacing service. Martin Krönke entered the weekend on 288 points as the championship leader over Greger Huttu in second on 275 points leaving the gap between the two a slim thirteen points.
Krönke began the round with a flawless qualifying lap to earn the pole position, two tenths of a second ahead of teammate André Böettcher in second place. Not to be out done by his teammate on the pole, Böettcher’s qualifying was an incredible result for the driver who has long been one of the quietest members of the VRS Coanada Simport stable, showcasing the performance the team has found this year in the McLaren MP4-30 achieving his best qualifying result in over two years of championship competition. Reigning champion Huttu could only manage to place himself fourth on the grid behind Apex Racing UK‘s Peter Berryman who also earned a best qualifying position of the year so far.
The start of the race nearly ended in disaster for a number of sim racers as Böettcher’s car got loose on the launch and lurched to the left across the track, narrowly missing a number of other cars and leaving the field four wide in the run to the first turn and the Traguardo-Tamburello chicane. Krönke, clear of the field in the initial drama, began to run away from the field and opened a staggering two second gap after the end of the first lap and continued to widen it to five seconds by lap five.
As the race settled in, Berryman became the focus for the first phase of the race as he expertly contained the five time world champion Huttu in an exciting battle for second and third position. This battle once again exposed the weaknesses of the Team Redline machines’ behavior over the chicane kerbing at tight and technical Imola in similar fashion to the previous race at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Huttu finally managed to get the exit from the final corner he needed and used his DRS to pass Berryman into Turn One on lap 15.
The pit stops began at lap 29, with the first drivers bringing their cars in for service and the leaders cycling through on lap 31 of the 62 lap event with Krönke pitting first from the lead. A conservative in and out lap from the points leader resulted in what had been an 18 second gap back to second place reduced by five seconds as Huttu once again proved he is the undisputed master of the in- and out-laps of the pit cycle.
Krönke responded with the fastest lap of the race only to be shot down the very next lap as Huttu snatched the accolade from him. This exchange continued for a number of laps as both drivers tried to force the other into a mistake. They might not have been racing wheel-to-wheel through Imola’s tight twisting corners, but the master and the challenger only had eyes for one another as their battle unfolded on the timing board.
In the second half of the race, the on track action fell to Apex Racing UK’s Graham Carroll and VRS Coanda Simsport’s Martti Pietilä running in third and fourth positions. Series rookie Carroll, coming off of a career best third place finish in Montreal, was in desperate search of a second consecutive podium to back-up his meteoric rise from the Pro Series of Road Racing. For his part Pietilä, veteran campaigner in the series, could smell the opportunity to end his streak of four years without a top three finish.
Imola’s narrow straights and high kerbs made passing opportunities scarce for the two drivers, who quickly found the run out of the final corner and the front straight DRS zone the most important attack and defence zone of the circuit. With a handful of laps remaining, Carroll pounced and snatched the spot from Pietilä into the first corner. Unfortunately for Carroll, it didn’t last, as a late lunge from the Finnish driver into Turn One on the white flag lap gave Pietilä the position back after twenty laps of sim racing between the pair.
Up front there was no such late drama as Krönke took the flag after a dominant weekend and tipped the scales from championship contender to championship favourite ahead of Huttu who came home in second place 18 seconds adrift. Pietilä duly secured his spot on the podium while Carroll had to settle for a worthy fourth place.
A great race also for Radicals Online drivers Kazuki Oomishima and Yuta Saito saw them finish in fifth and sixth bringing home some useful championship points for the team, while Berryman ultimately faded to seventh ahead of Ilkka Haapala, Antoine Higelin and Joni Törmälä, with Marin S Colak the final unlapped runner in P11.
A fantastic race marked the iRacing World Championship Grand Prix Series’s first visit to the newly released Imola circuit and saw Krönke (327) widen his championship lead over Huttu (309) to eighteen points. The series now takes an extra week off before heading to Japan for Round 10 at Twin Ring Motegi on July 9 and Okayama International Circuit on July 23, respectively.