The run of great race tracks continue in the iRacing.com Grand Prix Series, with Silverstone Circuit on the Week 11 agenda. Host to the first ever Formula 1 Grand Prix back in 1950, Silverstone is one of the most historic circuits in the world, often nicknamed the “Home of British Motor Racing.” Although the layout has undergone significant change over the years to spice-up the racing and challenges, the circuit has retained its high-speed nature despite the overall lap speeds dropping since Keke Rosberg’s famous 160mph qualifying lap average in 1985.
This week of iRacing competition took us to the Grand Prix circuit, which is now known as the ‘Bridge layout.’ Mastering this 3.4 mile configuration in qualifying was 2013 iRacing.com World Championship Grand Prix Series runner-up Atze Kerkhof (Benelux), who narrowly beat Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola (Finland) as the two scraped into sub-1:19 lap times for the week. Taking the honour of fastest A-Class runner was Rasmus Tali (Scandinavia), with an impressive showing in a qualifying order swamped by black-striped, established sim-racers.
The first Strength of Field (SoF) race took place at 16:00GMT on Saturday afternoon, with Isaac Price (UK and I) lining up on pole. A nightmare start left Price with a lot of work ahead of him to get back up to the front as Tommy Nilsson (Scandinavia) jumped the lot of them to lead at the conclusion of Lap One, with Jorge Montanes (Iberia) second and Paolo Muià (Italy) third. For much of the first stint, Price followed Montanes’ wheel tracks, struggling to get past as Nilsson cruised away. That was until Lap 11, when Price pulled a crucial pass to set after the race leader, though a ten second gap looked difficult to recover.
Montanes maintained his third place before the only round of pit stops, when a heavier-fuelled Muià overtook him courtesy of his strategy. Muià’s strategy itself was trumped by the no-stopping Michele Mancusi (Italy), who persisted on his heavy fuel load at a high-speed track that multiplies the weight penalty to take the final podium slot.
The race to decide who would stand on the top slot was not cast in stone yet. Nilsson looked to have it under control, but a late race charge from Price kept the fight alive until the very end when Nilsson took the chequered flag, one second ahead of his rival.
With a SoF of 4437, Saturday’s opening round looked handsome enough. However, the following 18:00GMT race obliterated that result with a 4719 SoF. One of the highest SoF’s in A-Class racing history, the race offered a multitude of strong points finishes at a critical time of the season. Contributing to this points haul, Kerkhof lined-up his Williams-Toyota FW31 on pole position with Price alongside on the front row, followed by Daniel López and Paolo Muià on the second row. As the lights turned green, the top two remained unchanged, but Robin Friskopps (Scandinavia) shot into third place ahead of López with Muià dropping down to sixth behind Nilsson. Muià would eventually lose a further place to Jörn Jens (DE-AT-CH), suggesting he could’ve opted for a no stop strategy as his pace looked absent this time around.
Back upfront, a prolonged cat and mouse chase took place, with Price trying to stick with Kerkhof, despite the imaginable uphill struggle. As they came around to the pit stops, both bailed on Lap 28, enabling Kerkhof to retain his lead as the two left their boxes considerably ahead of everyone else. In the more uncertain battle for third, it soon became clear López and Muià had opted for no-stop strategies, whilst Nilsson and Friskopps would have to pit at some point. Before the stops, Nilsson made a brave pass on Friskopps, but a few crucial mistakes undid his work and cost him valuable track time, dropping him out of the fight. López, however, made the most of his strategy to consolidate a strong third place finish ahead of Friskopps and Muià, who ran each other very close in the final stint.
On the following day, 16:00GMT provided one of the most enthralling races of the week, all stemming from one fast starter. Uusi-Jaakkola claimed the first grid slot from Riku Alatalo (Finland), Alex Simpson and Muià but nobody expected Tali to beat the lot of them on the approach to Copse from fifth on the grid. The Class A driver did just that however, grabbing the lead and taking-up a defensive stance against Uusi-Jaakkola, whilst Alatalo held solely onto his third position, with the leaders in sight. The Finnish duo tried in vain to find a way through to the lead, but the scarce overtaking opportunities — coupled with Tali seemingly not putting a foot wrong — enabled the latter to hold onto the lead right up until the pit stops. Although Tali surprised by keeping the DWC drivers behind him, his pit stop two laps earlier than his rivals looked to have settled his fate and ended victory hopes. But minor pit repairs for Uusi-Jaakkola and a not-so perfect in-lap for Alatalo unbelievably gave the lead back to him, but only just.
Now it was Alatalo who held the responsibility of attacking the leader, albeit briefly, as a mistake in Brooklands corner allowed his team-mate Uusi-Jaakkola through again. The result was a breath-taking final few laps with Tali maintaining his position despite the pressure. Uusi-Jaakkola’s counterattack almost paid off, but it wasn’t enough, hence, a popular victory for Rasmus Tali resulted. Alatalo held on for third, whilst the battling leaders caught a whiff of Muià in the closing laps, who came home to take fourth, with Paul Ilbrink’s (Benelux) zero stop strategy giving him track position in the end to take fifth place, just 13 seconds from the victory.
Immediately after, the second biggest SoF of the week was in the pipeline for 18:00GMT, again with Uusi-Jaakkola taking the pole position and –this time– having an unchallenged run to Copse corner. As the Finn looked to be enjoying a much simpler race this time around, Troy Schulz (Northwest) and Stephen Michaels (Mid-South) occupied second and third places, until simultaneous off track excursions from the two dropped them behind Muià, with all three (as well as the leader) seemingly on the faster one stop strategy.
Interestingly, as the group maintained the status quo until the pit stop phase, they all pitted at virtually the same moment of the race with Michaels displacing Schulz, and Lee Thompson (UK and I) emerging from the round of pit stops on his zero stop strategy being the main focus points. Uusi-Jaakkola enjoyed a 13 second lead before the pit stop phase, and kept his nose clean as he cruised to the finish with Muià taking an excellent second place, despite pressure from Michaels in the closing stages. The American held third, with Schulz and Thompson rounding-out the top five in a smooth, but nevertheless competitive race.
With eleven weeks completed, the championship standings reach boiling point. Samuel de la Fuente (Iberia) and Kazuki Oomishima (Asia) look to be locked-in an intense battle for the A-Class championship. Although de la Fuente has the points advantage, Oomishima has the advantage of a lower drop week, giving him the chance to claw back more points if he claims a better points haul at his home track, Twin Ring Motegi, for the final round of the season.
Slightly further down the order, a strong fight remains for the last remaining places in the top ten and guaranteed entry into the 2013 Pro Series. As many as nine drivers are squabbling over five licenses, in this, the last chance to earn a Pro license for the year 2013.
As previously mentioned, Motegi is the destination for the season’s clincher, with fights up and down the field, not just in A-Class eligibility, but for black-striped drivers too as the first season of the NTMv5 (new tyre model version five) reaches its conclusion after a very popular showing throughout.