March 21st, 2017 by Jonathan Simon (words) Hugo Luis (images)
Another round concludes and it’s now two wins in a row for defending champion Martin Krönke, who claimed the top step of the podium for VRS Coanda Simsport at Sebring. The German also maintained his perfect start to the 2017 iRacing World Championship Grand Prix Series, leading every single lap of the season so far.
Sebring International Raceway is a distinct challenge for the world’s fastest sim racers: 5.9km (3.7mi) of constant bumpy braking zones, high, touring car kerbs and medium to high speed sweeping curves, as well as the minimal run off available throughout the middle part of the lap. The circuit would require a different setup approach than a fortnight ago at Interlagos and a randomised grid would have been no surprise to the fans.
The paddock returned to the event constantly reminded by last season’s late race incident between Team Redline’s Greger Huttu and ineX Racing’s Joni Törmälä. The two were heading into the first corner during the closing stages of the event and by colliding, gifted Krönke the first win of his championship campaign.
However Huttu dominated qualifying this time around, grabbing pole comfortably by 0.378s over closest rival Patrik Holzmann. Now a “former” Apex Racing UK driver, Holzmann had notified the team that he would be leaving them days before the race, after spending less than a year with the British squad. Sharing the second row would be Krönke and Törmälä, while Team Redline rookies Freek Schothorst and Bono Huis would start on third row.
The sim racers waited for the red lights to disappear and begin proceedings for 52 laps of racing, albeit with an abundance of empty spaces on the grid due to pit-lane start penalties. 16 drivers were slapped with the penalty due to a failure in following qualifying procedures at Interlagos, however only 11 of those made the grid and were able to serve the penalty. This included Radicals Online drivers Daniel Arent Wensing and Cem Bolukabsi, both unfortunately serving the penalty after qualifying in the top ten.
The start provided further drama, with the front row going nowhere off the line as Krönke sizzled his way through the inside of championship rival Huttu, only millimetres separating the two McLaren MP4-30’s. This allowed Törmälä to also manage his way around the outside into the second position.
The dynamic iRacing weather produced a similarly sizzling track temperature of 41°C (106°F), coupling this with bumpy braking zones and vulnerability to lockups. This brought up the challenge of tyre management throughout the event, with the usual one stop strategy challenged by the risk of a front runner switching to a two stop.
Apex Racing UK’s Graham Carroll and Team Redline’s Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola both made significant progress in the first stint, climbing into 5th and 7th respectively approaching the pit stop phase after both started outside the top ten.
Notwithstanding initial predictions of a two stop race, nobody in the field had made their first pit stop until the one stop window opened. The extension of the first stint meant that the leaders would also have to preserve their virtual Pirelli rubber; pitting early would mean dealing with traffic in the mid-pack. Bolukbasi however would be the first in the field to pit on Lap 21, lapping two seconds faster than his first stint on his return to the track and opening the gates for the rest of the field.
Huttu struggled to make his way past Holzmann and Törmälä in the first stint and opted to pit early. It proved to be a smart move for the five time world champion, as his Team Redline engineers managed to find a clean slate of track in hope of undercutting his two race rivals.
After the pit stop phase, Huttu climbed into second with a successful strategy and attempted to pursue Krönke for the win. As the race progressed, it was seemingly evident that the slightly earlier pit stop, along with a possible lack of race pace in comparison to his Redline rival would allow the German to travel calmly towards his second successive win of the 2017 season.
Huttu came home in second, secure in the knowledge that further work would be required by the Finn to analyse where his pace issues lie in comparison to an improved Krönke. A delighted Törmälä rounded-out the podium, the first time he appeared in the top three since Suzuka last season.
Carroll wore the pride of his team on his sleeve post-race, pleased with fourth place after a valiant start to the season at Apex Racing UK with two valuable drivers leaving the team behind the scenes in the past week (along with Academy driver Pashalis Gergis who joined Isaac Price at CORE Sim Racing). One of those two included the aforementioned Holzmann, who finished less than a second behind the Scot for fifth place.
Bono Huis maintained a consistent start to the season with sixth, followed by Team Redline teammates Freek Schothorst, Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola and Olli Pahkala who finished seventh, eighth and ninth respectively, with Pahkala impressively achieving his top ten result from 26th on the grid. The Finn commented to himself after the race, to ‘qualify better’ and shook off his poor performance in qualifying.
Apex Racing UK’s Antoine Higelin and MSP-Driver’s Home driver Lukas Gotsch both flew under the radar to achieve brilliant finishes in tenth and twelfth respectively, split by Isaac Price in eleventh.
With the win, Krönke (78) extended his championship lead to ten points over Huttu, with Bono Huis (62), Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola (61) and Graham Carroll (60) still in the hunt.
The next round of the 2017 iRacing World Championship Grand Prix Series will take place at Circuit Gilles Villenueve, a street circuit with walls in close proximity, requiring emphasis on anti-roll bar setup, rear traction and balance over kerbs. Qualifying and the race will take place at 1:30pm GMT on Saturday the 1st 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 iRacing News.