4385.  Not only is it the postcode of Texas in Queensland, Australia but it was also the strength of field for the main 8:15 split 1 race on Monday night in the iRacing official V8 Supercar series.

A strong field of 24 cars gridded up for Round One of 2015 Season 3 at Circuit Zolder for 35 laps under overcast skies that made for some quick sim racing.  The re-introduction of a live broadcast with RacespotTV through sponsorship from Demidov Innovations to the V8 series seems to have bought some new enthusiasm to the category.   With the return to the series of many drivers it promised to be a great race.  All up there were four splits in what was a very encouraging start to the season.

Qualifying
With just 12 minutes to put in a quick time, the field was very tight throughout.  The SDC car #3 of Ethan Grigg-Gault, however, on his last lap of qualifying was able to break the 1:25 barrier with a 1:24.989 to narrowly edge-out TTL’s veteran Vail Riches by just seven one hundredths of a second.  TTRs Shaun Kelly, last year’s third place overall getter, qualified in third position .094 off the pole, while just second covered the field from Sam Sutton’s fifth to James Keene in 21st position.

Grigg-Gault leads a strong field into Turn One.

Race
With the quality field gridded up, early concerns for the drivers would be the tyre temperatures.  Upon the green light to the season Grigg-Gault got the job done early and was able to hold on to his position.  Into Turn One the field tightened behind him with SDC teammate Mic Cracknell getting a strong getaway to challenge Riches for the number two position in front of Beau Cattell and Sutton.  Ben Smith in the Evolution Racing Australia Stix Holden, however, had the best start, going from 14th on the grid to seventh by the end of an incident-free first lap.

The field settled into a strong pace, with little or no incident, proving the quality of the field in such tight racing.  There were constant battles throughout the field, however, out front Grigg-Gault maintained a strong pace to gradually pull away from his pursuers.  The main field however, remained tight including some great battles with the Kelly, Sutton, Ford, Cattell and a returning John Emerson.  Marcello Rivera and James McKnight showed steady pace and kept error free.  They would eventually finish in seventh and eighth positions.

With the new fuel restrictions placed on the cars, 80.6 litres was the most at the start the drivers could run.  Kelly the first to blink on Lap 11, had a 15 second pit stop that would get him out of the racing pack an into clean air.  Kelly’s TTR Holden would go on to finish in fourth place.

Last season’s runner up Ian Ford in the Demidov Innovations-sponsored car, after starting in sixth place was the first casualty with a disconnect on Lap 13 from fifth position.

With Kelly’s early stop, other drivers reacted and pitted.  Interestingly Cattell had a pit stop four seconds faster than the rest of the field, later explained by Beau as due to his braking technique that saves him fuel.  No doubt this ability to save fuel assisted him in jumping  the pack to the point he was able to challenge Riches who, through a strong, incident free, steady pace maintained his second position throughout the online race.

Cattell after a quick stop was able to apply pressure to Riches who held on to second.

After a 32 second pitstop, Sutton lost touch with the leading pack; however, he drove a strong race thereafter, battling with a group consisting of last season Star Mazda Australian Champion Michael Shreyer, Aaron Hamilton and John Emerson was able to show his hard charging pace and come an eventual 9th, where, for a while, it seems a top 10 would be out of reach.

As the closing laps loomed, Emerson, the last to pit, made a slight error into Turn One enabling both Marcello Rivera and McKnight through for position.  Dramas at the Jacky Ickx chicane, where the Emerson car ran out of fuel, would drop the TTL car from 10th to 12th at the chequered flag in what, despite the late disappointment, was a promising race after being away from driving for so long.

The battle of the race had been brewing for a while though with the ERA car of SMITH and SDC vehicle of Cracknell in a tight, tense tussle for the final spot in the top five.  A great move under heavy braking by Smith helped gain that position into the Klein Chicane; however, the next time around on Lap 33 Cracknell attempted to repay the favour by getting a stronger exit out of that chicane to the approaching Gilles Villeneuve chicane.  Both cars again, under heavy braking, made contact with the ERA car suffering minor damage.  Sportingly and without hesitation Cracknell readdressed the position where both cars would finish in fifth and sixth respectively.

Up the front though, leading throughout was Grigg-Gault.  Without incident he crossed the line an eventual 16.5 second winner to Riches in what was a very steady second place with Cattell rounding out the podium.

Is this a sign of things to come?? Grigg-Gault. The defending champion off to a perfect start.

Is this a sign of things to come?? Grigg-Gault.  The defending champion off to a perfect start

Interestingly the top five positions were taken by five different teams, showing the depth of talent in the Australian iRacing community.

Grigg–Gault’s points haul from such a strong field puts him in a strong position at such an early stage of the season and with Oulton Park due next week, it will be interesting to see who can challenge the defending champion.

Results

Split 1                    Split 2

Grigg – Gault         Preston
Riches                  Vlasic
Cattell                   Parkes
Kelly                     Blackhall
Smith                    Meyer

Split 3                    Split 4
Cananzi                Parker
Aylward                Trim
C. Jones               Clarke
M. Ford                 Findlay
Hammond             Sawtell

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