The iRacing.com Prototype & GT Challenge traveled across the globe to Japan for their week of online racing at the Suzuka International Racing Course. The 17-turn, 5.81km, track hosts a multitude of real life racing series, including Formula One. Suzuka can be seen as a driver’s favorite for hot-lapping, but when the unique figure eight layout hosts multiclass onine racing there are drivers who get frustrated at the difficult or awkward overtaking situations it can present. Drivers keep that in mind this week as the series enters this track for the first time in a while.
The HPD main race saw Tommaso Carlà on pole ahead of Antti Neijonen, Leonid Sokolov, Naruko Ishida, Aidan Walsingham and Arkadiusz Neumann. Carlà got a good jump as the green flag waved. Carlà had won the pole by over a second, and he showed that pace in the race, extending his lead early. Another driver on the move early would be Walsingham, who jumped from fifth to third by the time he exited Turn One.
The end of the first lap would have Carlà out front with Sokolov, Walsingham, Neijonen, Ishida and Neumann. Ishida made a mistake early on, falling back numerous places and acquiring damage after brushing the wall exiting Degners 2, and would later fight his way back to the sixth position. The fourth and fifth positions would come down to the final lap, actually the final corner. Neumann was able to get a proper run on Neijonen exiting the final chicane and grab the fourth position by only seven one thousandths of a second.
That wasn’t the only position change on the final lap. Sokolov held second place over Walsingham as they entered the final lap. Walsingham gave many looks, but it wasn’t until Sokolov committed a small mistake in 130R that he was able to get alongside. The two ended-up splitting a Corvette entering the last chicane, with Walsingham somehow holding it on the outside and taking the second position over Sokolov.
There were no such dramas for Carlà, who took a strong victory over the others, extending his points lead in the bargain. Other top performers of the week were Raffaele A Di Palo and Martin Jones. Carlà now leads the championship over Palo and Walsingham as the HPD drivers leave Suzuka.
The Corvettes followed nicely with a strong main race featuring Kay Kaschube on pole ahead of Csaba Volyka Jr, Jack Sedgwick, Joni Hagner, Gunner Moore and Marcel Wiemers.
The green flag waved and the cars sorted themselves nicely in line exactly as they started. Kaschube would get in a groove early, pulling an early gap back to Volyka as Sedgwick and Hagner staged a strong battle for third behind the top two. Hagner eventually gained the upper hand with an outside pass going into Turn One on Lap Six. Sedgwick subsequently fell into the clutches of Moore, who looked for away past for multiple laps before making slight contact with Sedgwick in the hairpin, with Wiemers following past Sedgwick. Up front Kaschube continued to hold a strong lead over Volyka through to the finish. Similarly, Hagner maintained third while Moore and Wiemers finished in fourth and fifth.
Kaschube’s victory allowed him to jump Brett Taft in the points to become the new points leader in Corvette. Behind Kaschube come Taft, Hagner, Moore and Florian Denard. While the season is very young, Kaschube seems to be the early pick as the main contender for the championship.
The Ford GT class included a busy Volyka Jr (once again on pole) with Ferenc Asztalos, Erik Veidorf, Stefano Giuriali, Jonathan Fuller, Paul Van Mierlo and Bob van Katwijk all lined up behind him. Lap One troubles plagued Veidorf as he pitted, moving himself to the last spot in the field. Up front the top two remained the same, but Fuller moved into the third position over Giuriali in fourth. Lap Six saw Mierlo lose out to Katwijk for the fifth position after going off exiting Degners 2. While there was no damage to his car, he would later be passed by Veidorf and the two would finish in the sixth and seventh positions.
In front of them, Fuller headed to a solid third place but Giuriali suffered left wheel damage after contact with leading HPD cars on the second to last lap. He attempted to hold off Katwijk, but on the final lap Katwijk would make his way around entering the hairpin to grab fourth place while Giuriali would have to settle for fifth.
Up front the top two staged a great little battle, with Asztalos running down Volyka at the end of the race. Unfortunately, lapped traffic came into play as Asztalos made contact with a Corvette, effectively ensuring Volyka’s victory.
With Volyka winning for the second straight week, he simply extends his points lead in the Ford GT. Following him are Fabio Gonzalez, Fuller and Azstalos who all are very close in points at the top. Three other drivers looking for a little something extra while being close to the podium positions are Veidrof, Giuriali and Jason Mizzi. Once again the Ford GT championship is close, but drivers will need to step up in order to slow down the current early domination by Volyka.
The Prototype and GT Challenge series exits Suzuka and heads to the Southern Hemisphere for the first endurance race of the season at the Mount Panaroma Circuit (aka Bathurst). It will be the first time the series runs there, and many drivers are already skeptical on how all three classes will interact on the track. The narrow circuit will cause challenges, but drivers should be able to overcome those come next week.