Round 10 of the 2013 iRacing.com World Championship Grand Prix Series brought the virtual Williams-Toyota FW31s to the epic Spa-Francorchamps circuit for a second time this season. Despite an accomplished win by Hugo Luis – a repeat of his success in Round One — the Brazilian still trails second place finisher and current World Champion Greger Huttu by a hefty margin with six races remaining on the calendar.
Starting from pole position with a lap time of 1:47.215, Luis led the field out for the start, with Huttu following closely behind. Whilst 35 cars negotiated the Turn One hairpin (La Source) relatively cleanly, Luis soon found himself felding-off Huttu’s Team Redline F1. Making use of the draft along the Kemmel Straight, the Finn was able to move into the number one spot with a pass on My3id sim-racer around the outside of the Les Combes chicane.
As the leading duo began their second circuit of the Spa course, an incident at the Bus Stop chicane would change the complexion of the mid-field. As Radicals’ Paul Ilbrink approached the first part of the chicane, a late dive by ineX Racing’s Teemu Iivonen resulted in contact. Whilst Ilbrink was able to recover, the damage sustained caused his car to spin in the second part of the corner, leaving him stationary on the racing line. This caused a major bottleneck, that resulted in Daniel Lopez colliding with Ilbrink and then Ricardo Castro Ledo following in, making it a three-car pile-up. Taking avoiding action, Simon Cattell looked set to clear the carnage unscathed before a recovering Lopez clipped his left-rear wheel, sending the Englishman through the air with suspension damage.
Back at the front, Huttu (with Luis under his wing) was starting to carve out a lead over the Redline duo of Luke McLean and Atze Kerkhof along with Max Dell ‘Orco and ineX Racing’s Jake Stergios, who’d made his way to sixth place in as many laps. By Lap 10, Huttu and Luis had broken clear by four-seconds, as they played-out a two car tango for the lead, whilst McLean and Kerkhof continued to duel.
With 26 laps on the board, the race was to see its biggest turning point, as scheduled pit-stops became part of the equation. In a bid to save fuel, Huttu dropped his pace. Requiring no second invitation, Luis used the opportunity to move into the lead mid-way through the lap. The pair then entered pit-road together, nose-to-tail, but by the time they’d both taken fuel and tyres, Luis had built his lead up to two seconds.
“I struggled a bit more at the end of the run as the rear grip just went away completely.” — Greger Huttu
“I struggled a bit more at the end of the run as the rear grip just went away completely,” Huttu explained. “Things got even worse as I noticed I was about 0.4 kg short on fuel at the start of the pit-in lap which meant I’d probably have to let Hugo by at some point during the lap. I tried to save as much fuel as possible in the middle sectors which worked out ok but lost the lead there as well. I hoped I had saved enough and did the last straight flat out so I’d be able to stay in contention for the win. I just about ran out of fuel in the pit-lane and the stop took a long time so I lost about 2 seconds.”
Compounding his issues, Huttu then made a rare mistake a couple of laps after rejoining the circuit, one that almost sent him into the barrier and out of the race. As he recovered, he momentarily lost second spot to his team-mate McLean, but was able to return to the runners-up position with a pass at the final chicane.
Meanwhile, Kerkhof who had remained in McLean’s wake in the battle for third place, was dropping down the order and, by the time the Dutchman headed to the pits, he’d fallen to sixth behind Stergios and MMM’s Fulvio Barozzini.
With Huttu now a distant seven seconds behind, Luis was able to relax and cruise over the next 15 laps to take the chequered flag and his fourth victory of the season.
“In the final first stint laps I decided to attack a little bit and could make the pass on both our in-laps as Greger was trying to save fuel,” Luis shared. “After the pit-stops and Greger have done a mistake I decided to take it easy for the rest of the race to make sure it wouldn’t slip out of my hands. It was a shame Greger had fuel problems in the final laps of the first stint. It was one of the most fun battles for the lead I ever had.”
“It was a shame Greger had fuel problems . . . it was one of the most fun battles for the lead I ever had.” — Hugo Luis
Once McLean had broken away from Kerkhof, the Australian found himself on a lone run to the finish line. Electing to run a long first stint, McLean didn’t take to the pits until Lap 27, and rejoined proceedings three-seconds clear of fourth place. Although he had a brief spell in second position thanks to Huttu’s off-track excursion, McLean was unable to match his team principle’s pace and came to the line for a podium finish, six-seconds behind.
For most of the first half of his race, Barozzini had followed Stergios’ wake in the battle for fourth place. On Lap 26 the Italian inherited the position, as the American dived into the pits for service. A couple of laps later, Barozzini was making his own visit to pit-lane and — thanks to a fast stop and a slide by Stergios at Les Combes — the MMM sim-racer was still in fourth and 8.8s clear. With Stergios a distant speck in his mirrors, Barozzini ran to the flag unchallenged to bolster his top-five championship status.
Whilst the closing stages of the race for Barozzini were relatively simple, Stergios was dealt a late surprise that cost him a top-five finish. Radicals Racing’s Jeremy Bouteloup had amazingly stormed his way up the order after starting from twenty-sixth on the grid. Leaping ten places during the opening lap carnage, Bouteloup continued to rise up the rankings as the laps counted down and occupied sixth position once he’d made his only scheduled stop in the race. As time whittled down, the Frenchman slowly but surely reeled-in Stergios, latching onto the American’s gearbox as they started the final lap. With the chequered flag in sight, Bouteloup out-braked Stergios into the final chicane to steal fifth place.
After falling down the placings mid-way through the race, Kerkhof mustered a small comeback to secure seventh position at the flag. In a closely-fought fight with Ilkka Haapala, the Dutchman shuffled his way past the Finn, who’d started on the fifth row of the grid, with just a handful of laps remaining.
“Eighth place at the finish line was a good result after so many bad races.” Haapala enthused. “Don’t even remember when I had a trouble-free race before this one. Should have done a better job with pit-stop and the following laps and the result could have been a bit better, but this will do.”
Following Haapala home in ninth and tenth respectively, Petteri Kottavara and Matthias Egger made huge gains to take top-ten placings. The duo had started outside of the top-twenty, but as a result of the opening lap incident and strategy, they made net gains of 16 and 14 places each.
With just six rounds of the iRacing World Championship Grand Prix Series remaining, Huttu has a commanding 450 points to his name, with Luis a further 89 back. Despite dropping points to Stergios who has 227 marks, Kerkhof maintains third place in the standings, 88 clear. Appropriately, his top-five finish at Spa places Barozzini fifth in the overall standings.
Round 11 sees the iWCGPS head to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where Luis will be hoping for a Huttu slip-up that will put his championship hopes back on track. You can follow the action live on iRacing.com/live and read all about it here on inRacingNews.com.