In a breathtaking 56 laps around the virtual Watkins Glen ‘classic boot’ configuration, Samuel Libeert took advantage of champion-elect Atze Kerkhof’s absence to register his second win in the iRacing.com Pro Series Road Racing championship. Even though the Team Radicals online racer started from the third row of the grid, Libeert cut his way through the field to take the chequered flag and lead home a French 1-2-3 at the line.
As 35 iRacing Williams-Toyota FW31s — headed by Twister Racing’s Simon Crochart, who posted a qualifying time of 1:17.559 – took to the grid, no one could have predicted the chaos that was about to ensue. As the lights turned to green, the engine of Team Podium Assault’s Ian Lake decided it wasn’t going to take any further part in the race, and threw a tantrum of black smoke into the air. Despite hitting the brakes, Daniel López was unable to bring his virtual-Formula One car to a halt soon enough to prevent contact with Lake. This turned the Australian into the path of Fulvio Barozzini, who hurtled into Lake’s car, flew across the track into pit-wall, collecting Ken Leach on the way, before coming to a stop on his roll bar, just past the start/finish line.
Meanwhile, towards the front of the grid, contact between My3id’s Andre Boettcher and Danny Davison, sent the latter bouncing into the Glen’s signature sky-blue armco barrier. Davison rebounded onto the circuit, into the firing line of PJ Stergios and Norbert Wolf. With both LowLandLions’ Stergios and Zach Hudson’s Motorsport’s Wolf, vying for the same piece of tarmac as an escape route, it was inevitable that they’d collide, and fully connect with the Davison’ s stricken machine.
“I was debating starting in the pits, but I remembered Silverstone where I did that and Lap One was clean as a whistle and I finished twentieth, so I didn’t want a repeat of that.” PJ Stergios explained. “Of course it doesn’t work this way and I got caught-up in the massive crash at the start.”
Whilst the field behind staged their tribute to the Chicago chase scene from the Blues Brothers movie, Crochart, Jaroslav Honzik, Martin Krönke, Jeremy Bouteloup and Libeert got away from the line cleanly, and were soon tussling for track position at the front. The first to make a move was Honzik, who swept around the outside of Turn Five, aka the Carousel, to grab the lead from Crochart. However, Honzik’s spell as the race leader proved short-lived. On the next lap, at the very same corner, a stray wheel on the grass sent the Czech Republican into the safety barrier and back across the track – narrowly avoiding the remaining field in the process.
Back into the lead, Crochart soon carved-out a lead over his Twister Racing team-mate Jeremy Bouteloup and Radical’s Libeert, who had both passed Krönke during the opening lap exchanges. By the time Libeert snatched the inside line of Turn One to take second position on Lap 17, Sebastian Schmalenbach had hitched his car to third-placed Boutelop’s rear-wing, whilst the leading Frenchman was clear by a healthy five seconds. But, by the time the first round of pit-stops had been completed, the gap between Crochart and Libeert had narrowed to just over a second. On the thirty-second circuit of the 3.4 mile Watkins Glen track, Libeert grabbed the lead along the back-straight when Crochart was baulked by Levi Poland — who has probably now found his way off the Twister Racing sim-driver’s Christmas card list. At that, Crochart is likely to save himself some further postage fees at the next Yuletide, after finding himself in a lapped car sandwich on Lap 38, a dish that handed the advantage and second position to his team-mate Bouteloup.
After Bouteloup completed his final scheduled visit to pit-lane on Lap 42, Libeert’s leading car stood two-seconds ahead. Despite his best efforts to catch his countryman, the Frenchman couldn’t find enough to prevent Libeert taking the chequered flag with a three second advantage.
“I knew this stint was all about being fast and consistent.” Bouteloup shared post-race. “I slowly closed the gap, lap by lap. But too eager to catch him, I made a mistake in Turn One that killed my chances of success. He had more than three-seconds and it was just impossible for me to catch him, even if I’d pitted two laps after him. A podium with a second place was just unexpected. Almost a flawless race, perfect strategy that helped me a lot to get that second spot.”
“(Libeert) had more than three-seconds and it was just impossible for me to catch him.” — Jeremy Boutelop
Following his gradual fall from first to third position, Twister Racing’s Crochart was able to hold off the sister car of Sebastian Schmalenbach, who had left My3id’s Krönke trailing several seconds behind after passing him for fourth spot on lap 10.
Klaus Ellenbrand’s sixth place was his highest finish of the iPSRR and came from a methodical drive that saw the Podium Assault sim-racer knocking on the door of the top-five by Lap 17 of the race. However, the German was unable to match the pace of a distant Krönke ahead of him and mustered no challenge for fifth. LowlandLions’ Dave Gelink must have been wearing his lucky pants for Round Ten of the iPSRR. After tiptoeing his way through the opening lap carnage from twenty-first on the grid, the Englishman had somehow worked his way into the top ten and looked set to secure eighth position, behind American Andrew Slocombe. Then as Slocombe started his final lap of the race, he slowed dramatically in a bid to save fuel and make it to the flag. Although this immediately handed the position to Gelink, Slocombe was able to get enough mileage from the tank to complete the lap and make it to the line in eighth spot. Whilst Ales Simunek almost gained a late promotion at the behest of Slocombe, the Czech Republic online-racer claimed a grateful ninth position, holding-off a late charge by Twister Racing’s Kolbe, just over a second behind.
As the final two weeks of the iRacing.com Pro Series Road Racing approach, Kerkhof heads the standings table with 428 points to his name, a score that has long since assured the Dutchman of the championship. In the fight for the runner-up spot, Krönke (276) enjoys a seven point advantage over Crochart, who is 25 clear of Schmalenbach. At the other end of the table — and balanced on the cusp of the top twenty-five, the cut-off mark for entry into the 2012 iRacing NVIDIA Grand Prix Series, Slocombe, López, Ellenbrand and Simunek will be hoping to hold-off Kolbe and Martin Macjon. Occupying twenty-sixth and twenty-seventh, respectively, Kolbe and Macjon have yet to register a full complement of ten results, and so could leap-frog their way into qualification by the end of the next round at the virtual Suzuka International.