When iRacing announced the addition of the RUF Rt12 R to its wide array of race vehicles, the excitement of countless iRacers across the globe was quite evident. That excitement carried over to the brand new RUF Cup series, which made its debut during the first week of the first season of 2014, which began when the clock struck midnight GMT on January 28th. You could not have picked a better track for racing, as 1,156 sim-racers made starts throughout the week at the home of the Formula One Brazilian Grand Prix, Autódromo José Carlos Pace, or more familiarly, Interlagos.
The 4.3 kilometer (2.67 mile) road course has had a few configurations over the years, with the current fifteen-turn layout being in use since 1990. Interlagos provides drivers with a unique set of challenges, from the “Senna Esse” just past the start/finish line, to a slow, technical portion of that is very easy to overdrive, to the last corner on the track which is paramount to the lap time as it leads to the circuit’s longest straightaway. The 450 horsepower RUF C-Spec used throughout the RUF Cup series really took a liking to Interlagos, as we saw plenty of side-by-side online racing and spirited battles throughout the week.
Of the 526 drivers who set qualifying times throughout the week, Fredrik Follestad (Scandinavia) navigated Interlagos faster than all of his competitors, as he claimed the top spot with a 95.219 second lap time. Julian Rodriguez Moreno (Iberia), Danilo Jacobs (Iberia), Jan-Paul Niehuis (DE-AT-CH), and Antoine Higelin (France) rounded out the top five qualifying times, with all five drivers being within a tenth and a half of each other.
Antoine Higelin made the most of his quick speed this week, as he won all four races he entered, including the highest points-paying race of the week against several high-rated drivers. Higelin’s victory allowed him to walk away with 234 points as well as the points lead. Seventeen of the twenty-two drivers in the race were able to run laps in the 1:35 and 1:36 range, which kept the pressure on Higelin, but he was undaunted as he remained in control throughout the race. Joao Pinho (Iberia) came home in the second position, with Petri J Lempinen (Finland), John M Sullivan (New England), and Danis Richard (Central-Eastern Europe) all taking home top five finishes.
One of the fastest drivers of the week was Jan-Paul Niehuis (DE-AT-CH), whose race pace was unmatched, as he managed to average 1:36.079 for a sixteen lap race that he led from start to finish. Niehuis, who won all four races in which he competed, grabbed the second-highest points total of the week courtesy of a victory on February 2 against a field that included eight different drivers who were running laps in the 1:35 range, as well as NASCAR Sprint Cup series driver Parker Kligerman, who has a background in road course racing. Julian Rodriguez Moreno (Iberia) and Mate Ballai (Central-Eastern Europe) both led laps throughout the affair before Niehuis took the lead on the fifth lap and inched away from the field. From that point on, the race was on for second place, which Ballai occupied for much of the event until late in the going when Rodriguez Moreno would take the spot.
There was no shortage of action at Autódromo José Carlos Pace, and thankfully, no trips to the original front straightaway à la Kimi Raikkonen. With Antoine Higelin atop the point standings, the series heads to Bathurst for the second week of competition in a schedule filled with unique and difficult circuits. With so many competitive drivers finding a home in the RUF Cup series, it’s anyone’s guess as to how the points will look after week number two.