Week 8 of the iRacing V8 Supercar Series by Bigpond Sport turned Japanese, as the V8 sim racers faced off at Okayama International Circuit.
The title has hotted up. NFinity Esports’ Mitchell McLeod’s lead had evaporated under the heat from Madison Down’s charge and, to make matters worse for McLeod, he was absent from this round.
Down kept the pressure on with pole at Okayama. This time V8 Supercar star Shane Van Gisbergen took up the challenge of trying to spoil Down, lining up alongside him on the front row. The ever-present Rens Broekman was in third, from Joshua Muggleton, who can no longer be described as an impressive top-split up-and-comer, but an established front runner in the series.
Graduating from the lower splits was Paul Larkin with fifth place from a returning Troy Cox. Next was Craig Woodhouse, real-world V8 up-and-comer Scott McLaughlin in eighth, then Richard Hampstead and Lewis Dodimead. It was a packed 23 car field.
With talk of pitstops in this 39-lap race, the spectator gallery had its usual buzz.
Down kept the status quo by jumping to a clear track at Turn One, and it was grid order to fourth place. McLaughlin had made a handy start, passing Woodhouse, Larkin (who had an off at Atwood Curve) and Cox on the first lap to be fifth. Boulton tapped Stuart Wood into a spin through the esses.
Muggleton’s race came to an unjust end on Lap Three when his virtual engine let go in clouds of ugly grey smoke.”I dont know if I’ve broken a mirror, with a black cat, while walking under a ladder…my luck is ordinary at the moment.” This elevated McLaughlin to fourth. By Lap Seven, Down had, predictably, pulled out a three second lead on the closely bunched Van Gisbergen-Broekman-McLaughlin pack.
Keeping in sight of the leaders in fifth was Cox from Hamstead and Woodhouse and Dodimead. George Fullerton, having qualified 12th, was inside the top ten even sooner than usual, in ninth. He had a little breathing space as Richard Lock and Simon Black battled, Black taking Lock for tenth place on Lap Ten into the hairpin.
Lock then had to give up 11th to Guy Leach, as he cut the track at the Turn Six “revolver”.
There was little change up front with Down leading from The Giz, Broekman, and McLaughlin having dropped back slightly. Cox, Hamstead and Woodhouse were nose to tail for fifth, sixth and seventh. Dodimead and Fullerton were relatively alone in eighth and ninth. Tenth was Black. Next came Leach, Lock, Mitchell Boulton, Chaz Mostert, Larkin, Marty Atkins having survived contact from the now-retired Simone Gelli, Samuel Collins, Darrin Vouch, then prolific karting champ Barclay Holden in nineteenth.
Rens Broekman was the first to answer the pitstop questions when he dived at the end of Lap 16 from third, emerging in thirteenth well clear of Mostert. Having pulled off a strategy coup at Phillip Island earlier in the season, he was banking on an early stop paying off again. Cox pitted Lap 19 from fifth and re-entered 12th.
The corporate boxes gasped as Down went off at Turn One on Lap 21. No loss of position, but with fried tyres he decided to pit at the end of that lap. Broekman was already lapping well over a second faster. Down emerged fifth.
Van Gibsergen had assumed the lead with Hamstead second, and Fullerton now third but yet to pit, although the charging Broekman overhauled him on Lap 23. Down also closed in on Fullerton and made quick work of him, up to fourth. But, Broekman had again pulled a strategy masterstroke, now ahead of Down on the road.
The pair of them were around 25 seconds behind leader Van Gisbergen, with Hamstead still between them in second. The gallery were now buzzing with the question: Was The Giz trying to go non-stop?
Fullerton was asking himself the same question, dropping like a stone to McLaughlin, then Cox, then Woodhouse. He’d had quite enough of this by Lap 25 and duly pitted.”Lots of different strategies tonight, but mine wasn’t doing me any favours… ”
Down closed right up on Broekman and they both closed on the non-stopped Hamstead. Van Gizbergen was still 20 seconds up the road, and by lap 28 of 39, they were gaining by around a second per lap. Down nailed Broekman under brakes into Turn One, still not sure whether it was for the lead, or second. Hamstead was not an issue, both Down and Broekman passed him on Lap 30.
The gap Van Gisgergen-Down on Lap 30, 19 seconds. The following lap, 17 seconds. The Giz’s times had dropped into the 1 min 34’s, Downs were in the low 32’s. The Giz was, indeed, trying to run the distance without a stop. This was one gripping race. Broekman seemed to have settled for third. Hamstead still fourth, but McLaughlin was closing fast. Cox was sixth from Woodhouse, Dodimead, Black and Lock.
Lap 32, gap first to second: 12 seconds.
“I had to try something” -Shane Van Gisbergen
Boulton and Leach were fighting furiously for 11th-12th, with Fullerton ruing his late stop, trying to hang on in 13th. Next was Wood, Atkins, Collins, and Vouch in 17th, last on the lead lap as Down lapped Bigpond Sport’s Vern Norrgard.
Five laps to go. Gap first to second: 8 seconds, Van Gisbergen madly sideways. Some traffic.
Lap 36, six seconds. Down also wringing the neck of his Falcon, kicking up dust.
Lap 38, 1.9 seconds.
Starting the final lap, they were side by side in the final turn, Van Gisbergen squeezing Down wide. But the job was done into Atwood, Down taking the lead. If the title race had lost some flavour by McLeod’s absence, this race made up for it. The virtual applause from the spectator box was deafening.
The non-stop strategy turned out to be wanting, but only just. “I had to try something”, grinned Van Gisbergen.
Broekman was 15 seconds back in third, and with McLeod’s absence, takes over second place in the series. McLaughlin was fourth from Cox, Woodhouse, Hamstead, Dodimead, Black, and Lock in tenth. Boulton, Fullerton and Leach were playing bumper cars with a furious dice for 11th-12th-13th. Next was Atkins, Collins, Wood and Vouch.
Other split winners, across a total of four splits and ninety drivers, were Colin Boyd, Spud Gibson, and Rikki Stevens.
OVERALL DIVISION TABLE
|31||Stefan Miller||2||Western Canada||629||-1077|
|33||David Jaques||1||New York||626||-1080|
|38||Thomas van Bussel||4||Benelux||595||-1111|
|39||Saso Prosen||4||Central-Eastern Europe||594||-1112|