In a race of pit-stop tactics and survival, Sebastian Schmalenbach scored his first 2011 iRacing.com Pro Series Road Racing (iPSRR) victory in the penultimate round of the championship with a masterful fuel-strategy over 52 laps of the virtual Sebring International Raceway.
As the green flag dropped Pablo López tried to squeeze his Williams-Toyota FW31 between the left-hand wall and My3id’s Andre Boettcher. Finding there was no room to get through, the Radicals Racing sim racer darted to the right, directly into the path of Twister Racing’s Jeremy Bouteloup. Bouteloup’s attempt at evasive action resulted in contact with Roy Kolbe, triggering a chain reaction involving a further eight cars – including Ian Lake, who barrel-rolled into retirement along the front-straight.
The midfield carnage on the start-line separated the field into two distinct packs for the opening laps, with pole-setter, Samuel Libeert leading Simon Crochart and Schmalenbach at the front. By the time Lap 10 came around, Libeert and Crochart had gapped Schmalenbach by two seconds. But by the following lap, Libeert found himself running alone, as Crochart out-braked himself at Turn Ten, dropping the Twister Racing entry to fourth behind Schmalenbach and Martin Krönke in the process.
Over the ensuing dozen laps, the newly-promoted Schmalenbach kept the leader’s advantage pegged at under two-seconds, and when the pair entered pit-lane together for their first scheduled service, Libeert had the German glued to his bumper.
“Because I got leap-frogged quite a few times in the last few races, I was going for long first stints and copied the strategy of Hugo Luis’ [DWC race],” Schmalenbach explained this week. “I was doing 21-17-14 laps and when I pitted for the first time, I came in together with Samuel. It was quite surprising for me, as his race pace was way slower than his qualifying pace. It was the first time I realized that I might have a chance to challenge him for the win.”
Exiting the pits, Libeert maintained his lead, and had extended his advantage to four-seconds, following Schmalenbach’s lengthier stop. However, it became evident on Lap 34 that Libeert had short-fueled his Radicals Racing car for his second stint. This gave Schmalenbach the necessary impetus to narrow the margin on the Frenchman as he recorded a handful of hot laps before making his second visit to pit-lane.
In fact, the five additional laps on low fuel were enough to give Schmalenbach a slender lead when he rejoined the track after taking service.
“During the stop he gained like four seconds and I was thinking ‘He must have paid extra salary for his pit-crew or he put way less fuel in for a short hot-lapping stint.’
“Well, as he extended the lead to nearly 7.5 seconds until Lap 34, I knew he was on low fuel. When he pitted in that lap I still had four laps to push until my pit stop was coming. It was my chance to finally win my first race in the Pro Series and pushed the car to the limit.
“From that moment on I knew I will win the race, as I had fresh tyres and my pace on equal fuel was slightly better I think. From that on I paced myself and tried not to do any mistakes, which has worked until the end.” Schmalenbach added.
I was thinking ‘He must have paid extra salary for his pit-crew’ . . .” — Sebastian Schmalenbach.
With fresher tires, Schmalenbach soon extended his advantage to over two seconds to keep Libeert out of his wake before powering to the finish line for his first visit to the top step of the iRacing.com Pro Series Road Racing podium.
Although Libeert saw his front running position evaporate over the course of the pit stops, the Radicals racer’s runner-up finish bolstered his chances at securing a top-five in the championship standings as the series heads for its final showdown at iRacing’s rendition of Suzuka, this coming Saturday.
After dropping to fourth position early in the race, Crochart hauled his Twister Racing entry back into a podium spot by the finish. Taking third position from Krönke on Lap 15 when the German had a ‘moment’ exiting Turn 12, Crochart was soon clear of the My3id car. In fact, Krönke now found himself fighting-off the attentions of Jaroslav Honzik. By the time Crochart had completed his first stop, fourth and fifth position were just specks in his mirrors, and with no further mistakes, the Frenchman completed an unchallenged run to the flag to earn his fifth podium finish of the season.
Whilst Krönke was able to bring the My3id FW31 home for fourth position, he was challenged for most of the race by Honzik. Unfortunately, the Czech’s race came to an untimely end just a few laps from the chequered flag. Employing a low fuel strategy, Honzik had managed to find a way past Krönke during the opening stint, but his first visit to pit road handed the initiative back to Krönke, who leap-frogged back to fourth by staying out for longer. Once the pair had completed their final visit to pit-lane, Honzik set about closing the gap to Krönke a few seconds ahead. But disaster struck when, two-laps from the finish. Having caught-up to Krönke’s slip-stream, Honzik got greedy on the exit kerb of Turn Four and ended in the tyre wall. This handed Krönke the fourth position, and sent Honzik limping to the finish in sixteenth spot with broken suspension.
In the battle for the final top-five position, Andre Boettcher came out as the honourable victor, ten seconds ahead of Fulvio Barozzini, although the gap doesn’t really reflect competitive nature of the fight As the race drew to a close, Barozzini held the advantage in what would become fifth position (following Honzik’s exit). But on the penultimate lap, the Italian had to rescue his car from a slide over the Turn 17 bumps, handing the opportunity to Boettcher, which he gladly accepted.
Despite having to recover from at spin at Turn 10 on the second lap, Alex Arana worked his way back up the order. He passed Martin Macjon for the eventual seventh position on Lap 15, when the Club DE-AT-CH racer had a ‘moment’ to contend with at Turn 16. Whilst Arana sailed off into the distance, Macjon had to contend with Riku Alatalo, who had jumped into eighth spot during the pit-stops and headed into the final stint with a one second advantage. With the ‘bit between his teeth,’ Macjon zeroed-in on the A-Class qualifier, and reclaimed the position through Turn One on Lap 41. Despite his best efforts, Alatalo just couldn’t find a way past the German in the remaining ten laps, and had to settle for a highly respectable ninth.
After gingerly making his way through the start-line chaos, Richard Crozier found he had been promoted from twenty-sixth on the grid to thirteenth position by the end of the opening lap. By the time the Scotsman completing Lap Five he was up to eleventh spot, thanks to a race-ending collision between Jason Lovett and Gilles Chauvet in Turn One. With Honzik’s demise late in the race, eleventh became tenth by the time Crozier reached the line – his first placing in the iPSRR top-ten this season.
Whilst the vacationing Atze Kerkhof sealed the 2011 Pro Series title several races ago, the fight for the remaining runners-up position is headed for a dramatic climax at Suzuka. Krönke heads Crochart by a mere four points, with Schmalenbach an additional nine behind but, as Sebring showed, very much in the mix for either of the remaining spots on the championship podium
Suzuka promises an equally compelling battle among those trying to finish in the top 25 in points and a berth in the 2012 iRacing.com World Championship Grand Prix Series. Macjon and Martti Pietilä are cautiously looking over the shoulders at Ales Simunek and Roy Kolbe. Occupying twenty-sixth and twenty-seventh respectively, Simunek and Kolbe each have a realistic chance of snatching the final qualification slots in the last round of the championship in the land of the Rising Sun.
Catch all the action in the live broadcast on iRacing.com on Saturday beginning at 5 pm Eastern (22:00 GMT). And be sure to read all about it next week on inRacingNews!