September 6th, 2016 by Jonny Simon
Martin Krönke has taken his eighth win of the season after one of the most entertaining races in the iRacing World Championship Grand Prix Series this season, clawing his way from third on the grid to yet another dominant win around the narrow figure of eight circuit that is Suzuka. Krönke’s Coanda Simsport teammate Mitchell DeJong finished behind the championship leader in second and ineX Racing’s Joni Törmälä claimed another podium finish in third. Team Redline and Greger Huttu’s championship hopes fell into further turmoil, as the Finn managed to salvage a top five finish despite starting outside the top ten at Suzuka, with his teammates suffering from several self-inflicted wounds in the form of penalties.
The Suzuka International Circuit has been developed by iRacing using laser scanning as per the norm. It’s a race track built all the way back in 1962, a fan favourite and a driver favourite due to its sheer challenge and difficulty. The race track’s narrow layout and constant undulation means overtaking would be as dynamic as an artistic painting. Only the brave and the self-assured sim racers would be able to play the complex game of chess that is overtaking around the Japanese circuit, whereby “checkmate” would be a hard occurrence to come by.
In 2015, qualifying was remembered as the first race iRacing’s brand new dynamic track would come into effect. The last six drivers all improved to pole position in the dying moments, eventually a man now familiar to most of the sim racing community named Martin Krönke took pole position.
2016 however would be one of the most vibrant and surprising sessions in series history. Radicals Online would locked-out the front row with the unexpected duo of Mogar Filho and Kazuki Oomishima, both blitzing the timesheets with immense pace. Oomishima has shown glimpses of success this season in the world championship, notably in last season’s iRacing Pro Series of Road Racing event at Suzuka, the Japanese favourite would nail in astonishing lap times in what is his third virtual home track of the season. Filho however was the surprise of the day, taking his first pole position of his career in what many would think was a fortuitous situation. However the Brazilian has always been a rapid qualifier in the series and once again proved his worth on the big stage. Krönke and privateer Patrik Holzmann would start on the second row of the grid and with both Germans aware of Radicals struggle to maintain race pace throughout a long stint, a race win was potentially up for the taking. Krönke’s title rival Huttu would qualified in the 13th position, similar to his starting position in the previous year’s event.
Track temperatures for the race were at a mild 26°C, meaning tyre wear wasn’t going to be a significant issue and a one stop strategy would be the way to go. Therefore the race start was a fantastic opportunity to compensate for any terrible grid positions, especially in a grid as shaken up as this. With only 377m from pole position to Turn 1 on a narrow circuit, the initial getaway off was as important as the rest of the start.
The lights illuminated and disappeared as 53 laps of sim racing began with the top three of Filho, Oomishhima and Krönke retaining the status quo from qualifying. However DeJong rocketed off the line from seventh on the grid to P4 while Törmälä, who initially lost several positions off the line, impressively clawed his way back past a couple drivers through the ‘S Curves’ section of the race track. Team Redline’s Olli Pahkala was due to serve a drive through penalty after making no pretenses of letting teammate Huttu past on the final lap of the last round at Spa for extra points; likewise, Team Redline teammate Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola was facing two penalties this event for separate incidents at Spa. Thus the Finnish trio had their work cut out to support Huttu’s championship survival; however the penalties would automatically gain the five time world champion a couple of easy positions at the start.
Radicals Online’s Jeremy Bouteloup returned to the series and was also forced to serve a drive through penalty; unfortunately the Frenchman was involved in an incident with Mivano Racing Team’s Jorge Montañés and his race ended on the first lap. Montañés had the limelight for all the wrong reasons in this event, as a miscommunication at the exit of the Casio Triangle late in the event caused an incident with Pahkala, this after a bizarre spin at the Spoon Curve severely damaged Isaac Price’s car in his first race with new CoRe SimRacing team.
Traffic in the early laps was to be expected with the scrambled grid, however the sounds of the McLaren MP4-30’s Honda power units were far from a cacophony. Filho, Oomishima and most of the Radicals Online team have suffered in terms of long term race pace this season; however, there was a glimmer of hope for the team when Oomishima turned into a hindrance for Krönke, who struggled to get ahead of the hometown driver. Eventually Krönke disposed of Oomishima and Filho, as well as teammate DeJong and the race was a relatively seamless affair for the Coanda Simsport duo.
The pit window opened on lap 20 and Peter Berryman was the first to pounce on his competitors. After most of the field came in for their first and only stop of the event early, those staying late such as Krönke, DeJong and Huttu would suffer time significant time and track position loss. DeJong lost a position to Törmälä, eventually regaining the spot in the following laps while Huttu would have to climb his way through the field. As the final lap began, Huttu shaped one of the most brilliant overtakes of the season, forcing Carroll to defend the tighter inside line into the first corner and cutting back confidently and with poise to steal fifth place away from the rookie.
Krönke crossed the line for his eighth win of the campaign, a mark nobody other than five time world champion Greger Huttu had achieved in the past, reinforcing the German’s brilliant season. DeJong followed (time) behind in second while Törmälä claimed his second successive podium finish. The continuously impressive Holzmann finished in P4 yet again, showing a clean pair of heels to the multi-driver teams despite having gone solo this season after parting company with the Mivano Racing Team.
Huttu’s late pass on Carroll certified a top five finish, but with Krönke appearing to be unstoppable at this stage of the season it may well have merely delayed the inevitable. Carroll came home in sixth ahead of teammate Berryman, while Orion Race Team’s Ilkka Haapala and hometown heroes Yuta Saito and Oomishima rounded out the top 10. Most notably, Filho and Oomshima who started on the front row would finish a disappointing 16th and the aforementioned 10th position, respectively. Radicals Online must go back to the drawing boards to understand where they suffer in the race; if they do figure it out they could join the ranks of potential winners within the virtual paddock.
With only two rounds remaining, Krönke (482) has extended his championship advantage to 22 points over Huttu (460) and can potentially wrap-up the championship next round if contingencies swing in his favour. Pahkala and Törmälä are in a close fight for third in the championship, with only seven points splitting the two. Apex Racing UK teammates and 2016 rookies Graham Carroll and Peter Berryman are impressively in P5 and P6 in the championship towards the latter stages of the season. For extended championship standings, visit http://wcs.iracing.com/standingswcs.iracing.com/standings
Round 15, the penultimate round of the 2016 iRacing World Championship Grand Prix Series will take place at the Nürburgring, the first time in history that the historic German circuit hosts a round of the championship. There will be a three week break until the action begins at 1:30PM GMT on Saturday the 24th of September on RaceSpot TV, streaming live on iRacing Live. The Circuit of the Americas in Texas, USA will host the final round of the championship.