With V8 motors feasting on the cool Georgia air at Road Atlanta, Mustang sim-racers broke qualifying and race lap records in Week 7 of the iRacing.com Mustang Challenge. Matthew Pilus set a new qualifying record of 1:32.323, just edging out Kimmo Suominen’s 1:32.387. But at race time, it was Patrick Bieri setting the new competition lap record at 1:32.283, again leaving Suominen in the bridesmaid’s position just 0.014 sec slower.
Whether they were setting new world records or just personal best times, 233 sim-racers competed in at least one of the 39 official races producing 28 different winners at Road Atlanta. Great racing was to be found throughout the field in most of the races. However, there was no race more exciting or with a closer finish than the Saturday 0:15 GMT race. In fact, it would be impossible for a finish to be any closer than this one since the end result was a tie to the thousandths of a second.
Suominen started on the pole with Bieri lined up to his side. Todd Honczarenko and Kester Baird lined up in the second row, with the series points leader Patrik Runald as well as Mike Baures in the next row. From the drop of the green flag through all 16 of the furious laps that followed, the top three battled nose-to-tail and side-by-side, exchanging positions more than ten times and each taking a turn running in the leader position. In a demonstration of incredibly intense but clean racing, lap 12 appeared to produce what would ordinarily be the highlight moment – when all three drivers were momentarily 3-wide charging up the hill to turn 11.
But that was just a teaser for the last-lap fireworks. Suominen started lap 16 in the lead and defended the inside line going into turn 1. That was fine with Honczarenko who used the draft to get a run and initiate a daring charge around the outside of the first turn. Momentum carried Honczarenko to a half-car length advantage entering turn 2, forcing Suominen to tuck in behind the new leader as Bieri threatened just inches off his bumper. All three drivers executed The Esses and turns 5 to 7 with machine-like precision, the mere inches between them never changing.
Working up through the gears on the long straight after turn 7, Honczarenko knew Suominen and Bieri would use the draft and some late braking to challenge him at the bottom of the hill. But neither challenger made a move, waiting instead to spring their attack with a charge off turn 10. Suominen set up an extremely late apex in turn 10a then mashed the throttle through 10b while diving to the inside of the leader. Honczarenko held a tight line but left enough room for Suominen to get a nose alongside as they crested the hill for the final run into the right-hand sweeper leading to the finish line. The two drivers entered the final turn door-to-door, with Suominen up on the curbing. The curbing bounced his car just enough to the left to give Honczarenko a tap, inducing the already fully-loaded left rear tire into a slow lurid slide. Eyes fixed on the finish line just a few feet ahead, Honczarenko stayed in the throttle with full-lock counter-steer.
According to the final results, both cars hit the finish line in a dead tie – the final margin showing 0.000. The winner’s points were awarded to Suominen, perhaps based on having led the most laps, with Honczarenko officially second. Bieri managed to avoid the wrecking Honczarenko unscathed, finishing third just two-tenths behind all the excitement.
Runald finished that race in fourth place but earned enough points to keep himself at the top of the series overall points standings for yet another week. Baird moved into second place overall, just 13 points behind the leader with a third-place finish in another hotly contested race on Sunday afternoon. Honczarenko has only scored six weeks out of the seven run so far, but nevertheless has scored big points in key races to put himself third overall, just 20 points out of the lead. Nicholas Bailey and Mike Baures round out the top five by continuing to turn in solid performances every week. But all eyes will be on Bieri who sits in sixth place with only five weeks scored so far as he’s been earning a higher average points-per-week than any of the other top 10 sim-racers in the series. Since it is the best eight of 12 weeks that count for the series championship, there should be a lot of excitement when the “drop weeks” start figuring into the totals following Week 9.
Before that, the Ford Mustang FR500S racers will be enjoying another great week at Mount Panorama during Week 8. Last season the Bathurst track drew more than 300 sim-racers and featured 66 official races. All drivers will find helpful tips, a track map, lap guide, videos and setups from the top drivers in the Series Forum.