The 11th Round of the iRacing.com World Championship Grand Prix Series saw the series stay in Japan, as drivers headed to the Okayama International Circuit. This track hosted the Pacific Grand Prix in 1994 and 1995, won by Michael Schumacher on both occasions, however three time champion and runaway points leader Greger Huttu had yet to score a victory at the track coming into this season. Mid Race consistency, and solid track placement would change that, as he would increase his championship lead.
Qualifying saw Enzo Bonito score his second pole position in a row, as the Fanatec Team Redline driver was able to hold off his team mate by a couple of hundredths of a second. Glacier Racing’s Olli Pahkala and 3id Motorsport’s Martin Kronke would line up on the 2nd row of the grid for the start, but it was two big names who caused surprises; First, Hugo Luis again struggling, qualifying 8th for the second race in succession, and Inex V-Racing’s Jake Stergios, after a 2nd row start at Motegi, could not qualify within the top 10.
As the lights went out, Bonito would struggle to get off the line for the second race in a row. This would allow Huttu to take the race lead, and Kronke to move up into second. Behind, a good start for Ronin Racing’s Kazuki Oomishima coupled with low gear wheelspin for Pahkala would place Oomishima into the Top 5, playing a major role in the overall outcome of the race.
Huttu’s run at the front would be short lived, as coming down into Turn 1 on Lap 2, Kronke slid his 3id machine to the inside, and was able to complete the pass. It is well known in the series that the opening laps of a race is where 3id are generally strongest, and the pass allowed Kronke to open up an early lead. 3id team mate Luis was continuing to struggle in the pack however, being bottled up outside the Top 5, and it seemed as though his car was perhaps set up better to run in clean air rather than traffic.
Oomishima continued to lead the second pack, who were falling further and further behind the overall race lead. Following the race, Pahkala would call these opening laps critical for him not being able to compete for the overall race win, saying how it cost him the opportunity to fight for the win in the latter stages of the event.
Passing was tough throughout the race, and this hurt a number of drivers. As well as Pahkala, Stergios was struggling outside of the Top 15 to find his way past cars, and the Radicals Steelseries drivers after a collectively bad qualifying were well down the field. It wasn’t bad news for all however, as most notably the Orion Racing team drivers of Ilkka Haapala and Mitchell Dejong, the latter whom was finally able to make his first series start, and spent much of the day inside the top 5.
Whilst the first half of the season was full of one stop strategies, the summer break, and the abrasive Japanese asphalt meant that more strategy was in play. Gone was the traditional ‘Overcut’ strategy, and in it’s place, 2 and three stoppers were the order of the day. It was Kronke who came onto pit road first, and with the rest of the Top 5 not pitting till some laps later, it became clear that Kronke was to become the first driver all season to try the three stop approach. This led to an interesting middle section of the race where both Kronke and Huttu each had to drive to the limit to gain the advantage they needed.
For Kronke unfortunately, it would ultimately not be enough. Being caught behind slower cars off sequence would put paid to his chance of victory, and also cost him second place to Pahkala. Post race, Kronke stood by the strategy, stating that it seemed to be faster overall to him, whilst acknowledging how important track placement was in making it a success. Bonito would be hit by technical issues, ending his race, in an event where he seemed to have the overall pace to match his teammate.
It was Huttu who would again go onto dominate the race, and record his 7th straight victory in the series, and bring him closer to the overall season title. Pahkala was able to hold on to second, whilst Kronke was forced to settle for 3rd. Perhaps the standout performance of the day was Orion Racing’s DeJong, translating his excellent qualifying into a net 5th place, and earning him valuable experience as he prepares for the 2014 Pro Series of road racing.
Huttu’s lead in the championship extended to 139 points overall, though his closest rival was now Martin Kronke, and not Hugo Luis. A string of bad form and luck for the Brazilian saw him slip outside the top 2 in standings for the first time in over a year, and although the championship is unlikely for Kronke, it does seem as though the battle for P2 may go down to the wire. Luis can take solace that the next round of the championship sees a return to Spa, a track where he battled Huttu to the final lap in an epic showdown for the race lead.
36 hours after the race, the WCS community were stunned by the announcement that after 4 and a half years of competing in the series, 3id Motorsport were to disband with immediate effect. The news was posted on Social Media by team Principal Jack Basford, who said:
It is with sadness I announce that 3ID Motorsport is closed. We made lifelong friendships and raced our hearts out, but all good things come to an end. Best of luck to everyone and thanks for all the memories.
It’s not certain what will happen with the drivers within the team, although rumours are circulating that a new team may be formed with some, or all of the existing members. Be sure to check out RaceSpot TV’s coverage of the 12th round of the championship for all the latest developments in this emerging story, as well as full coverage of the 44 lap event.