The iRacing.com Prototype & GT Challenge headed to the legendary Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the fourth round of the season. The circuit has hosted nearly every series you can think of, including NASCAR, Grand-Am, American Le Mans Series, and IndyCar . . . not to mention USRRC, F5000, Can-Am and the SCCA National Championships. Therefore it is only fitting that this tight and twisty circuit is on our schedule to challenge our sim-racers. While these drivers are constantly battling the track with its intense elevation changes, as always they are also battling the traffic with the three class format of HPD LMP2, Corvette GT1, and Ford GT (GT2).
The HPD field had a dilemma this week when choosing which downforce package for their cars. At most tracks, the drivers choose low downforce trim in order to be able to pass the GT cars not only in the corners, but on the straight. However at Mid Ohio, the surplus of faster corners forced the drivers to use a medium downforce package which, in turn meant they were unable to pass Corvettes on the straights just by planting the throttle. This led to on-track altercations, especially on the back section of the course where the medium downforce came into play.
The main race for the HPD field featured Teemu Iivonen, Paul Ilbrink and Dominik Batz. As soon as the green flag dropped all three showed quickly they were the class of the field. The first six laps saw the threesome laying down the fastest laps possible in order to gap each other before encountering traffic. On Lap Five however, Iivonen had an “off” while leading and even though he was able to retain P1, Ilbrink was now right on his tail once they entered the traffic. Once they entered the traffic, Iivonen was able to build a gap on Ilbrink who, in turn, was being pressured heavily by Batz. On Lap 20, Ilbrink and Batz went through Turn One nose-to-tail when the latter caught his right side tires on the grass sending him into a spin, somehow missing the tire wall on the outside and retaining third position. The trio were now be spaced out and at the finish it was Iivonen, Ilbrink and Batz on the podium.
For the week, Iivonen claimed top honors over Stephane Schodduyn, who competed in a different race at Mid-Ohio, followed by Ilbrink and Batz. The championship is still shaping-up as Ilbrink leads over Batz and Schodduyn, while Iivonen occupies fifth position as he has only competed in three of the four rounds this season.
The Corvette drivers entered Mid-Ohio with a chip on their shoulders as they attempted to dethrone William Levesque, winner of the first three rounds of the season. The toughest opposition yet came this week in the form of Enzo Bonito who qualified on pole ahead of Levesque, Kerem Avan, Jack Sedgwick, Peter Ridley and Timo Verhoest. The top two launched out to an early gap, with Ridley and Verhoest moving-up a position when Sedgwick made a mistake exiting Turn One. Bonito continued to lead Levesque, but by never more than about five car lengths, while Avan maintained a healthy gap in third.
On Lap 19, Bonito was going into Turn Eleven when an HPD attempted a late overtake which ended in retirement for Bonito. Levesque slid through to take over the first position and cruised to victory, with Avan doing the same behind for the second position. The last step on the podium was up for grabs between Ridley and Verhoest, with Verhoest stalking Ridley throughout the race. On Lap 26, Ridley out-braked himself and ran wide in Turn Three, allowing Verhoest comfortably through to make it on to the last step of the podium.
The week ended with Levesque once again on top, followed by Joni Hagner, Avan, Bekir Karaca and Elis Jackson. The Corvette championship is beginning to look like a runaway for Levesque, as he has a 234 point lead over Verhoest, Lieven Drijkoningen and Fredrik Follestad after just four rounds.
Ford GT boasted a small but powerful grid for its main online race of the week, one consisting of Joni Bäckman, Niccolò Cedrati, Ralf Janiak, Richard Sobolewski, Kimmo Suominen and Bob van Katwijk. The start of the race seemed pretty tame with the exception of Suominen getting around Sobolewski for fourth. Suominen then made it around Janiak – not without a bit of car contact which allowed Sobolewski to follow Suominen through. On Lap 10 Suominen grabbed the lead after Cedrati and Bäckman made contact, which allowed Sobolewski to take second ahead of Bäckman. However, a few laps later a mechanical problem with Bäckman resulted in contact with Sobolewski which would eventually end both of their races. Suominen was then able to cruise to victory as Janiak and Katwijk rounded-out the podium.
The week concluded with Suominen atop the podium, with Janiak and Csaba Volyka Jr below him. As not all racers having competed in all four rounds, the top five in the Ford GT championship fight are Suominen, Phil Diaz, Daniel Vernes, Roope Turkkila and Jon Hall. With Suominen, Turkkila and Hall competing in just three weeks, they are the current favorites for the title.
As the first third of the season comes to a close, the current championship leaders are Ilbrink, Levesque, and Suominen. With the next track being Interlagos, officially known as Autódromo José Carlos Pace, attendance from all the top drivers is likely, which in turn will deliver more of the great racing we have seen all season long.