Coanda Simsport’s Martin Krönke claimed win number three of the 2017 iRacing World Championship Grand Prix Series, further putting a dagger into the hearts of his title rivals with his much improved form. The German led all but four laps around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, those being the only four laps he hasn’t led this season.
Team Redline’s Greger Huttu and Bono Huis rounded-out the podium, with Huis celebrating the first podium of his career in his rookie season.
The 4.3km (2.7mi) of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is situated around the Saint Lawrence River in Montréal, Canada. From the bumpy, high kerbs of Sebring, the challenge of the virtual race track at Canada are the close proximity of the walls, along with rear grip, front turn in and anti-roll bar setup. There is minimal elevation change and runoff around the 13 turns that make up the circuit, although the final chicane with the Wall of Champions on exit was to be a surefire challenge for the sim racers.
In one of the edgiest and entertaining qualifying sessions in recent memory, it was Graham Carroll who held provisional pole for most of the session with an impressively rapid banker lap. The Scot’s driving style suits this track perfect, with his ability to maintain balance with a loose front end and stable rear grip. However to nobody’s surprise Krönke yet again snatched pole from the Apex Racing UK driver, climbing ahead in the dying stages of the session.
Huis and teammate Freek Schothorst also impressed in qualifying and filled the second row of the grid while Greger Huttu and ineX Racing’s Joni Törmälä qualified down the order in 9th and 13th respectively, although Huttu was much closer to the pack. Mitchell deJong returned to the series in his first race of the season, the pole sitter last year only qualified 16th this event, not the result the American wanted. Apex Racing UK’s Peter Berryman also qualified in fifth, but would have to start the race from the pits as a result of his ensuing penalty from the first round at Interlagos.
With a slightly scrambled grid, the red lights illuminated and disappeared to launch into 70 laps of action. In 2016, Mitchell deJong went nowhere off the line and was in third place by turn two. Déjà vu for a certain German named Martin Krönke in 2017, as his Coanda Simsport car had an extremely poor getaway (possible due to reaction time as Martin stated in his post-race interview) and Graham Carroll took advantaged and swiped into the lead.
The first few laps were unfortunately far from clean, with Mitchell deJong, Vortex SimRacing’s Stephen Michaels, Radicals Online’s Yuta Saito, as well as Apex Racing UK’s Jamie Fluke and Törmälä all retiring from the race.
Carroll however wouldn’t last long as he was caught by the end of lap 4. The championship leader of Krönke disposed of him into the final chicane with a brilliant move, getting the car stopped in time to make the chicane with enough momentum to defend on the main straight.
Track temperature was in the mid-20°C range, signifying that one stop was purely the ideal strategy for most to all drivers in the field. Initially it was Carroll in the Apex Racing UK car that suffered the grunt of the rear tyre wear, this was mainly due to the stop start nature of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. However towards the end of the first stint, the Team Redline MP4-30’s were starting to drop off in terms of pace and this would force their drivers to box as soon as a gap would open up in the mid-pack.
Cem Bolukbasi would also note the difficulty of maintaining rear grip, discussing the issue in his post-race interview. The young Turkish prospect who is aspiring to be Turkey’s first ever Formula 1 driver, is now a former Radicals Online team member after he left the squad ahead of Montréal. The privateer did leave on a good note however, mentioning that their testing schedules would conflict and that in turn would limit their ability to grow as a team.
The pit stop phase shuffled the order as Huttu would pit earliest of the bunch at the end of lap 29. Bono Huis managed to slice his way past Carroll on his in-lap, further fragmenting the Scot’s event. However coming out of the pits, Carroll and Huis would battle alongside each other on the run into the right hander at turn 4. The two would collide and collect damage, although luckily for both they would be capable of continuing relatively unscathed. While all this went on, Huttu used the undercut to perfection and sailed cleanly into second place through strategy.
In a bizarre incident towards the end of the event, Carroll was lapping Orion Race Team’s João Vaz heading across the start/finish line when a miscommunication between the two resulted in the Apex Racing UK driver ploughing into the back of the Portuguese driver. Ending both their races with terminal damage. Carroll was far from pleased after the event.
It was Krönke again crossing the line with a comfortable advantage, although the gap between himself and Huttu in second place was just over 11 seconds, much closer than previous rounds. Huttu also started down the order and lost significant time in the early laps, signifying that there is still plenty left in the tank from the five time world champion and the season is far from over.
After Carroll’s catastrophic incident, Huis was able to round out the podium and join the top three for the first time in his career. The rookie is gradually developing, although it’s unsure where his Team Redline teammates of Olli Pahkala and Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola would have placed had they attended this event.
Freek Schothorst claimed fourth place ahead of Coanda Simsport’s Mack Bakkum who was able to wrestle his way past good friend Cem Bolukbasi (who finished sixth) in the closing stages. Bolukbasi would defend the inside going into the hairpin just as Mack decided to throw it up the inside as Cem did a few laps earlier. The stewards will certainly have a look at the incident, however the two were playful about the battle after the event.
Apex Racing UK rookie Marcus Jensen crossed the line in seventh ahead of teammate Antoine Higelin who continued his improve form this season, finished eighth after starting from 18th on the grid. Peter Berryman passed Radicals Online driver Kazuki Oomishima on the final lap of the event to finish an impressive ninth after starting from the pit-lane. The apprehension for Oomishima fans yet again came out in the wash, and many of whom recall how he gifted the 2014 race here to Huttu in the closing stages. However the Japanese driver has impressed this season as usual and seems to be quick around circuits such as Interlagos and Montréal whereby kerb usage, rear grip and front turn-in are important.
With the win, Martin Krönke (117) yet again extended his championship lead to 15 points over Huttu (102), with Bono Huis still trailing in third on (95). Krönke has led every lap this season except for the opening four that were led by Carroll.
The next round of the 2017 iRacing World Championship Grand Prix Series will take place from Road America, a circuit that will challenge left side tyre wear along with the constant elevation changes and blind corners. Qualifying and the race will take place at 1:30pm GMT on Saturday the 22nd of April on RaceSpot TV, streaming live on iRacing Live.
This article was written by Jonathan Simon who provides commentary for RaceSpot TV on the iRacing World Championship Grand Prix Series. He also owns and hosts his own podcast called “The Simon Racing Report” which features guests from around the sim racing world, along with writing columns for the website and contributing to “Sim Racing News.”