March 24th, 2016 by Jonny Simon
Martin Krönke led home team-mate Mitchell DeJong in a VRS Coanda Simsport 1-2 finish at Sebring International Raceway for Round 3 of the 2016 iRacing World Championship Grand Prix Series. In a scintillating race going down to the final laps, Finnish drivers Greger Huttu and Joni Törmälä collided at high speed into Turn 1 with Huttu managing to salvage a podium, while the race ended for Round 1 winner Törmälä.
Qualifying saw Krönke take pole with DeJong joining him on the front row in a wave of nostalgia for the American who returned to the venue of his first pole and race win in the series last year. Huttu and Mogar Filho rounded-out the second row. It was a great qualifying performance from the Brazilian, but hardly a surprise as the Radicals Online driver tends to produce occasional spikes in qualifying year after year. Team Redline’s Olli Pahkala started fifth, coming into the round as the championship leader despite not leading a single lap of the first two races, proving consistency is key in the top echelon of open wheel road racing on iRacing.
DeJong jumped Krönke off the line and the two controlled the race in the early stages. Huttu maintained third while Törmälä had a rapid getaway in his ineX Racing McLaren MP4-30, moving up from sixth to fourth. Pahkala found himself going nowhere as the lights went green, dropping two positions and making his pursuit of his first win since 2014 a much more difficult task.
Yuta Saito made a mess of his line under braking into Turn 2, spinning himself around and all the way down to last position as he re-joined the race track. The Japanese sim racer who started the season off strongly, did not manage to do the same in his first race for the Radicals Online team following his switch from the Ronin Racing Team.
The race progressed and a minor hiccup for Jeremy Bouteloup at the Turn 8 braking zone caused a chain reaction which blocked a few drivers behind as the Frenchman’s struggle continue in 2016 in the wake of his substantial improvement in form towards the end of last season.
Due to updates in tyre life, a two or three stop race was predicted beforehand in comparison to the typical and ideal one stop strategy the tended to suit most teams and drivers. DeJong was the first of the leaders to pounce as he entered the pit-lane at the end of lap 17, proving a three stop would not be the way to go due to the tyres sustaining their life better than expected. Team-mate Krönke decided to push as a chance to pass DeJong in the pit-stop phase was likely; however the German went a little over the limit, losing valuable seconds as the rear end of the car snapped away at the Le Mans corner.
Surprisingly, both Huttu and Törmälä stayed out on the race track while the Coanda crew fought their way through traffic, eventually both Finns pitted and a one-stop appeared to be the way to go yet again at this stage of the race.
Further back, Apex Racing UK’s Cam Stark closed-in on the top 10, after starting the race from the 33rd position. The British sim racer is no stranger to overtaking; however his race ended abruptly after contact with Davy Decorps who attempted to pass him at Sunset Bend, the final corner around the bumpy and tricky Sebring International Raceway. Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola failed to finish for the second time this season after spending most of the race in the top 10, it was yet another race to forget for the Team Redline driver.
The Coanda crew identified that a one stop would not work and decided to fight it out on rubber that was worn an extra 10 laps compared to Huttu and Törmälä. The latter two eventually closed in towards DeJong, but struggled to make a move for numerous laps before finally passing the American in the closing laps.
Törmälä subsequently found his way past Huttu in a thrilling battle; however the two collided into the first corner at breathtaking speed, ending the race for Törmälä with his only finish this season a race win, while Huttu recovered to after dropping a spot to DeJong.
Krönke crossed the line and claimed his first win of the season, seventh of his career and propelled himself into the championship lead by six points ahead of Huttu and Pahkala. DeJong followed home in second, with Huttu taking third ahead of Pahkala. Peter Berryman came home a career best fifth for the Apex Racing UK team in his first official season as an iRacing World Championship Grand Prix Series driver. Robin Friskopps further lived up to his consistency in sixth, albeit a bittersweet result for the ineX Racing team. Ilkka Haapala was seventh, while Bouteloup rebounded from his bobble to take eight place ahead of Alex Simpson and Michael Dinkel.
The next round of the iRacing World Championship Grand Prix Series takes place on the 2nd of April for 47 laps of sim racing around Road America. The sim racing action will be broadcast by RaceSpot TV and streamed live on iRacing Live from 13:30GMT.