The iRacing.com Prototype & GT Challenge series rolled into the sixth round of the season at Twin Ring Motegi. While last week featured the first endurance races on the schedule at Interlagos, this week the races were held at night for the only time this season. The Twin Ring Motegi circuit is located in the heart of Japan and hosts not only an International circuit for Moto GP and Super GT, but a one and a half mile oval that has hosted IndyCar races and a NASCAR exhibition event in the past. This week, however, was all about our Prototype and GT sim-racers as they attempted to conquer the 2.983 mile/4.8 km GP circuit.
The HPD ARX 01c prototypes had a strong main race for the week, one including the top three in the championship — Paul Ilbrink, Dominik Batz and Stephane Schodduyn. The qualifying order for the race saw Batz on pole, followed by Ilbrink, Matthieu Leroy and Schodduyn. Heading into Turn One for the first time, Ilbrink quickly found himself battling with Leroy for P2 behind Batz after failing to get the launch he wanted at the green flag. The two would run side-by-side until Ilbrink out-braked himself into Turn Three and and went off track on the outside. He was able to recover quickly and retained the third position over Schodduyn.
Lap Two was a case of deja vu as as Ilbrink once again out-braked for Turn Three which sent him off track while managing to avoid Leroy’s car. This time, however, Schodduyn took advantage of the situation to move up to third as Ilbrink fell down to fourth.
Lap Three would change the outlook of the race dramatically when Leroy dropped a wheel into the dirt exiting Turn Four, causing his car to make heavy contact into the barrier. At this same moment, Ilbrink made a pass on Schodduyn to shoot himself from fourth to second behind Batz.
Ilbrink mounted a charge in an attempt to catch Batz who had already driven his way to a comfortable nine second lead. Ilbrink slowly closed the gap until Lap 15, when Batz was balked through Turns Seven and Eight by a Corvette. The five second lead Batz once enjoyed would be cut in half as Ilbrink had no traffic during the lap. Ilbrink continued to close in. The two battled nose-to-tail through traffic until Lap 22 when Ilbrink stuck his nose under Batz through the first two turns to take over the top spot.
Once out front, Ilbrink built a small but useful gap on the run to the finish, coming home ahead of Batz and Schodduyn. The same three, in the same order, are also the current championship podium following Round Six.
The Corvettes had two main races this week, but the action from the two races was be remarkably smaller than normal. Felipe Persona earned the most points on the week, mainly due to only having two racers in his given race.
The week’s other main ‘Vette race consisted of William Levesque, Egil Sandfeld, Felipe Persona, Timo Verhoest and more, largely running in the order in which they started. The only change in position saw Peter Ridley get around Bekir Karaca and Stefano Giuriali at the beginning of the race . . . only for Karaca and Giuriali to redress the situation later in the race . In the end, the eight car field maintained the status quo, finishing in the exact order they started in, the podium being Levesque, Sandfeld and Persona.
In terms of the Corvette championship, Levesque remains up top, followed by Verhoest and Lieven Drijkoningen. Persona’s result at Motegi launched him forward in the championship and he could be knocking on the door for an overall podium by the end of the season.
Ford GT would have two main online races this week at Motegi, the first of which included Jonathan Fuller, Jason Mizzi, Ivan Fernandez and Duane Burns. While Fernandez and Burns would fade early, the top two ran strongly until Lap Three when Fuller made a mistake, went off-track and relinquised the lead to Mizzi. Mizzi extended his gap to Fuller all the way to the end of the race, taking the most points for the week.
The week’s other big Ford GT race saw Enzo Bonito, Daniel Vernes and Roope Turkkila in the top three positions on the grid. Bonito used his pole position to maximum effect, taking the lead at the green and trying to build a gap. Vernes made a mistake coming to the green, allowing Turkkila to take over the second spot. Subsequently, Vernes held his position over Ralf Hulsker and set his sights on Turkkila.
Bonito continued extending his lead until lap traffic slowed his progression, even as Vernes continued to hunt down Turkkila. A bobble by Turkkila exiting Turn Nine on Lap 12 enabled Vernes to close the gap to a car length. Vernes stalked Turkkila for the next few laps, going nose-to-tail and often taking peeks to the inside under braking. The battle continued until Lap 20 when a Corvette attempted to pass Turkkila on the inside of Turn Three. With Turkkila forced wide, Vernes followed the Corvette down the inside of Turkkila and, ultimately, finished the pass going through Turn Four. However, Turkkila fought back with a move down the inside into Turn Five. The two stayed side-by-side until Turn Seven, where Vernes had the inside line finally secured the second position.
Vernes and Turkkila ran nose-to-tail to the finish behind Bonito, but no further changes in the order were in store. Thus the Ford GT championship exits the sixth round of the season with Vernes, Turkkila and Mizzi occupying the first three spots, with Vernes and Turkkila separated by only 13 points.
As we reach the halfway point in the season and exit the night racing in Motegi, Ilbrink, Levesque and Vernes sit atop the championship standings in HPD, Corvette and Ford GT respectively. Next week the series heads to Monterey, California and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for Round Seven of the iRacing.com Prototype and GT Challenge.