Thanks to Denis Garese for the collaboration sending the replay file and some good pictures for this story.
The IMSA iRacing.com Online SportsCar Championship started its third season in June. The first week was at the great Spa-Francorchamps circuit, counting 50 drivers racing the HPD-ARX-01c with 10 each on the Riley DP and the Ford GT and 17 racing the Ruf C-Spec throughout the whole week. All told there were 31 official race starts – all of them dominated by HPD racing cars, the main choice for the IMSA participants.
Gabor Mecs, reigning champion of the HPD class from Season 2, is competing again to defend his title and did a great job at Spa. He made three race starts and won three times, all of them from the pole position. Jari Lohtari, overall champion of the Riley Prototype class last season, didn’t have any starts during Week One and, for now, it seems that he won’t be competing in new season. The same also appears to be the case for Zach Rupcic, Season Two champion of the Ford GT class. Leonardo Corti, who won the Ruf C-Spec class last season, on the other hand, is definitely trying to keep his title this season, having 11 racing starts at Spa and finishing first 10 times, two of those wins coming from the pole position.
The race on June 21st had a Strength of Field of 3122 with 20 starters in HPDs, five Ford GTs, four Ruf C-Specs and only two Riley Daytona Prototypes. Mecs, starting from the pole position, kept Christian Thilo-Zuch at bay in second place, after the green flag dropped. Carl Burk, pole on the Riley class, had a private battle with Robert Bidwell l, while Sven Deml led the Ford GT class and Nicce Malmgre, the Ruf class, respectively.
With 45 minutes of racing to complete, things were getting busy on the fastest class. All HPDs ran closely together, each looking for a good opportunity to overtake. The top five kept the same order during the first eight laps with Mecs and Thilo-Zuch leading Mert Uzel, Dmitri Janis and Denis Garese. Things changed when Uzel decided to pit early, followed by Janis on the next lap, leaving Garese in third place for a brief moment, until he decided to pit as well.
Nick Thissen, who started ninth, waited until Mecs had to pit and led for one lap before he needed to stop as well. Francisco Gonzalez was the last to bring his car for pit services, leading for three laps before Mecs regained a lead he would keep to the end of the race. HPD class podium was completed by Thilo-Zuch (second) and Dmitri Janis (third).
Meanwhile, in the Riley class, Carl Burk had a very lonely race after Lap Six, when his only opponent, Robert Bidwell, got in trouble and had to call a tow for repairs. Bidwell would finish the race later, leaving his only rival free to win on his class. John Ulmer, Deni Raets and Nicolas Milesi (HPD) also had trouble on the first part of the race. Ulmer tried to mount a comeback but decided to retire a couple of laps later, after crashing. Raes and Milesi kept on the race to see the checkered flag, although five laps behind.
The RUF C-Spec class saw Nicce Malmgren blast through his rivals before La Source. He started fourth and was the class leader in a blink, staying there for the whole race. Nico Van Elk (2nd), Adrian Hettich (3rd) and Jefferson Padovani (4th) tried to catch Malmgrem with no success and instead waged a battle for the remaining podium spots. Besides a few place changes, the order would remain the same on the end of the race.
Something similar happened in the Ford GT class. At the start, Lukas Zapf (5th) failed to brake enough to keep his car away from Sven Deml (3rd) on the approach to La Source, with the resulting incident also involving pole sitter Joris Thielen. Although all three suffered minor damage, all were destined to finish the race with Deml coming home first, leaving the rest behind.
From Spa-Francorchamps, the IMSA iRacing.com Online Sports Car Championship competitors head to the virtual Finger Lakes for a date with Watkins Glen in Week Two with Road Atlanta on the horizon in Week Three.