Amongst the sim-racing fraternity, it was pretty much expected that Greger Huttu would fly out of the blocks and continue where he left off in his domination of the 2010 iRacing.com World Championship Series Road Racing. Whilst the names of Luca Masier, Klaus Kivekas and David Williams were bounded around like cheap candy as possible rookies to shake things up, the undertone from the people ‘in the know’ was Huttu would once again prove unstoppable. However, flying in under the radar to dumbfound the most experienced of armchair pundits, Jesse Nieminen became the new name on everyone’s lips following the opening round of the 2011 NiWCSRR at Spa, after dominating the race and securing a pole-to-flag victory, ahead of the current title holder.
It shouldn’t really have come as a surprise, seeing as the Scandinavian made cameo appearances in the 2010 and proved himself to be an accomplished racer, taking podium finishes in both of his races. But the nature of his inaugural championship win announced his arrival as a serious contender. For Nieminen, it was a case of the ‘perfect storm’ with everything coming together at the right time. “Although I knew from practice times that I might have a chance to challenge Greger if everything went perfectly, I never expected the race to go as well as it did,” he told inRacingNews this week. “I think without his mistakes it would have been a really, really close race and it’s impossible to say which way it would have gone. It was good preparation I’d say too. It’s also my favourite circuit in the calendar by far, and I think the Williams-Toyota FW31 suites my driving style quite nicely as well.”
As mentioned by Nieminen, preparation was key to his recent success and the concerted effort of his My3id team-mates. “We’ve definitely learned quite a bit about the car, most of us in the team did the A class Grand Prix series before the season started so I think we have a pretty good understanding of the car already,” shares the Pro Division qualifier. “I think once you get the basic stuff right it just becomes about small details that are more about driver preference than anything else. Frankly, I don’t see the set-ups improving that much by the end of the season from what they are now.”
Whilst the 2011 championship points leader claimed the lion-share of acclaim for his victory at Circuit de Spa Francorchamps, his My3id team-mates blitzed the front of the field, placing five drivers in the top six. An impressive feat under any circumstances, that ranks as a major achievement for a team established a matter of months ago. “It’s definitely a big help to have such a good group of drivers to work with, just with set-ups you get a lot of ideas and feedback so it’s easier to get the best out of the car. Having all these incredibly quick drivers to compare your pace with is also a big motivation to push yourself, you really need to do a good job to beat them,” explains Nieminen.
Next on the rookie’s agenda is Round Two of the iRacing World Championship Road Racing Series at Philip Island on Saturday, and the time for the business of focusing on driving to fill the hours of preparation. “I’ll prepare the same way as every race, just doing laps, trying to improve the set-up and get to know the track as well as we can.” he explains.
But despite the wave of ‘Jesse-Hysteria’ enveloping the championship at the moment, the Finn has his feet firmly on the ground when it comes to the season ahead. “Hopefully I can win some more races,” he offers earnestly. “I know beating Greger over a long season like this would be incredibly difficult, and to me he’s still the favourite. I will just try to do the best job that I can each round and see where I end up.” And where will the series protagonist look to take those wins? “Definitely the European tracks, Zandvoort, Silverstone and the repeat of Spa Francorchamps. I think they all have such a nice flow to them and they really bring out the best in the Williams-Toyota F1 car. I also can’t wait to race at Suzuka at the end of the season as it’s one of the most legendary circuits in the world.”
Time will tell if Nieminen can sustain the momentum, when the series heads the the tricky and tight virtual Philip Island for Round Two of the iRacing World Championship Road Racing Series. One way or the other it’s sure to be fun as the story unfolds this Saturday at 10PMGMT/5PM EDT, live on iRacingTV: https://www.iracing.com/multimedia/live-broadcasts/