The second half of the iRacing.com Prototype and GT Challenge series kicked-off at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca located in Monterey, California. The 11 turn, 2.238 mile (3.602 km) circuit promised to challenge not only the speed but the mental patience and awareness of drivers. In particular, traffic would play a pivotal role this week as the small-ish track mixed with a not-so-wide track width created huge obstacles for cars in every class.
Going into the week, sim-racers Paul Ilbrink, William Levesque and Roope Turkkila led the championship in the HPD, Corvette and Ford GT classes, respectively, and hoped to extend their leads on the Monterey Peninsula.
The Prototypes would have a strong grid for the main race, one led by Csaba Volyka Jr who snagged the pole from Dominik Batz and Ilbrink. When the green flag waved, the field spread out wildly with Vincenzo Amico and Pawel Bienkowski making aggressive moves shooting past multiple cars before the Andretti Hairpin. However, the corner would claim many victims, including one championship contender (Batz) and the pole sitter (Volyka).
After the first lap, Ilbrink, Bienkowski and Amico would be your top three. Ilbrink and Bienkowski pulled away from Amico, with Bienkowski hot on Ilbrink’s heels for the top spot. As Ilbrink has shown many times this season, he is one of the best at negotiating traffic cleanly and quickly. He used that asset to gain a substantial lead on Bienkowski once the two reached traffic. Then, on Lap 17, Bienkowski made contact with a Corvette in Turn 10, heavily damaging the front of the HPD ARX 01c and putting Bienkowski out of the race.
Bienkowski’s demise left Ilbrink with a commanding lead over Amico. However, Daniel Lee has begun reeling-in Amico and putting heavy pressure on him. The two continued in tandem until Lee dropped a wheel exiting Turn four on Lap 30, sending him head-on into the inside barrier. This utimately boosted Matthieu Leroy to third position, behind Amico and the victorious Ilbrink, whose win extended his lead in the HPD championship over Batz and Stephane Schodduyn.
The Corvettes field witnessed another small and stacked grid this week as Felipe Persona sat on pole ahead of Richard Eklund, Joeri Withouck and Dylan Murcott. Persona and Eklund got-off to quick starts as Withouck and Murcott battled for the third for the first two laps, swapping the position back and forth. Eklund’s off-course excursion on Lap Three dropped him to fourth and simultaneously raised Withouck and Murcott to the second and third positions.
Persona attempted to extend his lead until Lap 12 when he too went off track after losing control of his car, allowing Withouck to close the gap to first position. Even though the gap between first and second closed dramatically, Persona was able to regain his focus quickly and resume to extending his advantage over Withouck, Murcott and Eklund.
The running order would remain unchanged until the end with Persona taking the victory. The victory would shoot him into the top five in the Corvette points standings, behind leader William Levesque, as well as Timo Verhoest, Egil Sandfeld and Stefano Giuriali. For his part, Levesque extended his points lead in the Corvette with another strong victory during the other main race of the week.
The Ford GT field lacked a punch from the top drivers in the championship, but welcomed plenty of newcomers to the top of the grid. Starting on pole for this week’s main race was Enzo Bonito, followed by Maxim Ramsteijn and Nick Thissen.
While Bonito would pull away out front, the real battle would be for second between Ramsteijn and Thissen. Although Thissen stayed close to Ramsteijn inititally, once they encountered traffic Ramsteijn looked comfortable ahead. However on Lap Eight, Ramsteijn went off-track after contact with an HPD driver, allowing Thissen to slip by for the second position. Then the two would swap positions a couple of times until Lap 25 saw Ramsteijn slip past Thissen who went off-track and allowed the easy pass. Thissen regrouped and was rewarded with another chance on Lap 30 when he worked his way past Ramsteijn for keeps, resulting in a podium of Bonito, Thissen and Ramsteijn.
The Ford GT points wouldn’t change much as many of the top drivers didn’t travel to California for the races. Thus the top spot in the championship is still owned by Roope Turkkila, followed by Jason Mizzi, Daniel Vernes and Phillip Diaz.
The first week of the second half of the season has came to an end, and atop of the HPD, Corvette and Ford GT standings are Paul Ilbrink, William Levesque and Roope Turkkila respectively. Next week the iRacing.com Prototype and GT Challenge series heads to Canada for one of the fastest circuits of the season – Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (aka Mosport) – and Round Eight of the twelve round championship.