The rendezvous-point this week for the iRacing.com Grand Prix Series teams and drivers was Road America – a 4.048 mi (6.515 km) circuit consisting of 14 turns. Constructed in the mid-1950s, Road America is one of only a hand-full of road circuits in the world maintaining its original configuration. The track features many elevation changes, along with a long front stretch where speeds approaching 200 mph (320 km/h) may be reached. Two of the best known features of this course are a high speed turn on the backstretch known as “The Kink” and the long, never-ending right hander named “The Carousel.”
In Friday’s Strength-of-Field (SoF) race, Max Dell’Orco took yet another pole position and the fastest qualifying time of the week as he – like so many times this season – pulled something special out of the bag in qualifying. As the red lights turned to green, the Italian sim racer maintained his lead in to the first turn as Marcus Caton who also was starting on the front-row, had a dismal launch of the grid. Third-place starter and series points leader, Jake Stergios snatched second place and put his sights on passing Dell’Orco. Riku Alatalo was held-up behind Caton at the start and did not have the best of days he was destined to bury his Williams-Toyota FW31 in the tire wall exiting Canada Corner on Lap 6. This promoted the surprise of the race – Mogar DG Filho into third place.
Up front the clear leading duo of Stergios and Dell’Orco set the pace. The latter – seemingly on higher fuel load — did not let the slightly lighter Stergios get under his skin, which paid-off when Stergios hit a bump exiting of Turn Five, launching his car into the barrier and forcing him to retire from the race. In addition to leaving the Italian with a comfortable lead, Stergios’ untimely demise handed second place to DG Filho, followed by Danny Davison asTroy Schulz found himself all the way up in fourth following a mistake by Caton that dropped him to fifth.
As the race approached its climax, the top five maintained their positions and looked comfortable. But with just three laps to go, the drama heightened as Schulz’s slow end-stint pace was revealed to be the result of a fuel miscalculation, one which enabled Caton to take a very welcome fourth place. Dell’Orco never looked back and took an easy win followed by a strong performance from DG Filho second with Davison was a valiant third despite some strong end stint pace from Caton who finished fourth. Schulz clung on to a fifth place despite his late-race issues.
Sunday’s 17:15GMT SoF race saw carnage at the start as Pierre Urbizu got a great launch from fifth on the whilst his rivals ahead of him, Laurent Beteille (fourth) and Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola (third) had slow starts. Urbizu attempted a risky move as he tried to squeeze between the cars ahead making it 3-wide and inviting problems. Beteille’s Williams-Toyota FW31 got slightly loose, resulting in contact with Urbizu and triggering mayhem as flying Finn Riku Varje made it successfully through the carnage. As the dust had settled, polesitter Wolfgang Reip found himself in a comfortable lead ahead of Caton, Laurent Beteille, Riku Varje and Paul Ilbrink in that order. With most of the field wiped out at the start, the race did not see a lot of overtaking apart from Beteille jumping Caton for second during the pitstop phase.
Most of the drivers involved in the carnage in the previous race lined-up once more in the 19:15GMT race to try and score valuable points for the championship. Up front the season-long scrap between Dell’Orco and Stergios would be renewed, to the delight of the spectators. Happily, this time all the cars made it through the start cleanly and slotted into their positions in the opening laps with Dell’Orco wasting no time in keeping Stergios behind him.
The illustrious Dell’Orco continued his great pace, manoeuvring his Williams-Toyota FW31 to another win. Stergios took second, but only coming under massive pressure from Wolfgang Reip who finished just .3s tenths back of second place as the chequered flag fell. Finnish-duo Uusi-Jaakkola and Teemu Iivonen who retired amid the mayhem in the 17:15 race-start, had their own battle as lapping cars caused the two to run almost nose-to-tail a big part of the race for 4th and 5th position. Lap 30 of 30 however saw Iivonen trailing-in 0.8s adrift of Uusi-Jaakkola for fourth.
The last SoF race of the week scheduled at 21:15GMT saw fellow countrymen Davy Decorps and Urbizu starting on the front-row of the grid. The start saw Urbizu get around Decorps, who seemed to be on a higher fuel load. The two pulled-away from the rest of the field as Decorps settled into a chase that would pay dividends on the 11th lap. Flashing through the Moraine Sweep and entering Turn Five, Urbizu struggled getting around a lapped car, allowing Decorps through and demoting Urbizu to second with David Martinez moving up to third at the expense of Xavier Busoms, who rolled his Williams-Toyota FW31 after hitting the wall at The Kink.
Once the pitstops had cycled through, Decorps emerged with a comfortable lead. His lead was destined to grow on Lap 23, when Urbizu spun out of second place and into the wall exiting Turn Three, ending his race prematurely. Urbizi’s exit promoted Martinez to a brilliant second place with Cristian Lorente holding position in third. After starting 13th, Paul Ilbrink piloted his way through the traffic to take a strong fourth followed by Varje in fifth.
Not much changed in the season standings at Road America, as Stergios continues to top the points followed by Alatalo and Beteille, with Dell’Orco fourth ahead of Uusi-Jaakkola. Just past the half-way point of the season, Phillip Diaz currently holds the all important tenth and final place eligible for promotion to a Pro license in what will surely prove to be a season-long battle.
Next week that battle moves from USA to the Netherlands, as the iGPS heads to Circuit Park Zandvoort for Round Seven in parallel with Round Two of the iRacing.com Grand Prix Series World Championship. One thing is for certain: the North Sea will echo with the sounds of the Williams-Toyota FW31s in the coming days.