In a dramatic 71 laps around the virtual Zandvoort Grand Prix Circuit, Emil Spindel became only the second sim-racer to chalk up a victory in the 2011 iRacing.com Pro Series Road Racing, breaking Atze Kerkhof’s monopoly on wins. Indeed, Spindel capitalized on a fuel calculation error by the championship leader to clinch his triumph on the final lap of the race.
On the face of things, Round Six of the iRacing Pro Series looked set to be another chance for Kerkhof to extended his 100% winning-record in the Williams-Toyota FW31’s. After all, Zandvoort is the Dutchman’s ‘home’ circuit and he grabbed the pole-position with a time of 1:12.398. What’s more, his clean break-away from the line and lead of two-seconds within a handful of laps, was certainly running to script. So by the time Kerkhof first headed to pit-lane on Lap 27 with a healthy lead, the engravers could have been forgiven for pencilling-out the Team Redline pilot’s name on the silverware. And when Kerkhof had completed his second pit-stop and established a lead of seven-seconds some 26 laps later, the etchers were probably knee-deep in shavings, putting the finishing touches to their squiggly underlines.
It only became apparent the silversmiths may have got it all wrong in the closing eight laps of the race, when Kerkhof’s times began to climb ever higher in an effort to save fuel. With three-laps remaining, second placed Spindel had caught up to Kerkhof, who was now doing everything in his power to hold onto the lead and save gas. Ultimately, the “Flying Dutchman” had to concede the lead and dive into the pits for a ‘splash and dash’ on the penultimate lap; dropping to an eventual sixth position as a result.
“The only option was to pit like a noob in the penultimate lap.” — Atze Kerkhof
“I was gaining so much time on Emil in the last stint and then the predicted laps of fuel in my fuel HUD showed me two laps less than the amount of laps to go,” Kerkhof explained post race. “I couldn’t believe it and some basic maths proved myself that I was completely low on fuel for real! Saving fuel didn’t really work so the only option was to pit like a noob in the penultimate lap.”
Whilst the victory for Spindel was determined in the pit-lane rather than on the track, the CST Ajira online-racer doggedly kept Kerkhof in his sights from the moment he made the leap from third to second position at the green flag.
“To get my win at Zandvoort of all tracks is amazing! Ending Atze’s flawless winning streak on his home track! Just an amazing feeling!” enthused Spindel this week. “Even if it was luck in the end that handed me the win, that takes away nothing from me! I’m so encouraged by the entire race before that. As a whole, this is a win on more than one level for me! It was a great race and a great fight!”
“This is a win on more than one level for me! It was a great race and a great fight!” — Emil Spindel
Despite colliding with his Twister Racing team-mate Simon Crochart on the opening lap, Jeremy Bouteloup was able to continue with no discernible damage and earn his highest finish of the season. But it didn’t come easily, as the Frenchman had to fight until the chequered flag to secure the runner-up position. Bouteloup had barely been challenged for what would be second position until the final round of pit stops, when he was confronted by Martin Krönke, who had clawed his way up the field with a series of hot-laps ahead of his last service. Krönke exited pit-lane just ahead of Bouteloup, but the My3id sim racer eventually conceded the position to the Frenchman while struggling with over-steer on the exit of Turn One. For the final third of the race, this pair remained coupled together, nose to tail, until the finish line, with Krönke unable to find a way past Bouteloup’s Williams-Toyota FW-31.
“I was surprised when I saw Martin leaving pits right in front of me in Lap 54 as I thought he was on the same pace than me,” Bouteloup told inRacingNews. “Actually, he was faster but heavier on the first two stints, and his strategy worked perfectly. I knew I had to catch him as soon as possible in the first laps in order to take advantage of his cold tires. I tried as soon as I could, that is to say on the next lap in Turn One. And it worked, on the outside.”
Also benefiting from Kerkhof’s last minute visit to pit-lane were Orion Racing’s Roland Ehnström and Radical’s Samuel Libeert, who came home fourth and fifth respectively. Libeert had started the race on the front row of the grid, but after getting ‘bogged down’ on the grid at the start and losing multiple places, the Frenchman never seemed to fully find his rhythm. After seeing-off early pressure from Alex Arana, Sweden’s Ehnström sealed his second top-five finish of the season with a sweeping pass on Libeert around the outside of Turn One.
Finishing a respectable seventh position behind a red-faced Kerkhof was Twister Racing’s Sebastian Schmalenbach who yo-yoed up and down the leader-board during the 71 lap race. Starting tenth, the German moved up a couple of positions during the opening lap, only to see his gains nullified after tangling with the sister car of Simon Crochart – collecting damage in the process. Electing to take repairs during his first scheduled stop, Schmalenbach rejoined proceedings in fourteenth position. By the time he’d completed his second visit to pit lane, he was up to ninth and catching Arana, the next racer in the chain. On Lap 63 Schmalenbach had taken the eighth position form Arana on the inside of Turn One and had his sights firmly fixed on Jaroslav Honzik, five-seconds ahead. Heading into the final lap, Honzik looked set to seal the seventh position, with a couple of seconds gap in his pocket Fate was to deal the Czech Republican a cruel blow when, in the middle of the final corner, the No.57 entry ran-out of fuel and slipped to eighth as Schmalenbach breezed past to take the flag.
Claiming his first top-ten finish of the season, Arana held-on for ninth position ahead of Martti Pietila, who launched a spirited late attack, and finished just over a second behind the Spaniard.
With Kerkhof showing the first chinks in his amour, even if it is in the mathematics department, his unblemished record is now just a memory — although the Dutchman’s current 100 point standings lead over Martin Krönke will act as some consolation. Hot on the heels of Krönke, just eight points away, now stands Ehnström, who has a further twenty between himself and the duo of Schmalenbach and Spindel.
Round Seven of the iRacing Pro Series Road Racing heads to the epic Virginia International Raceway. Will Kerkhof get his sums right and bounce back to the top of the podium as the season heads into its second half?
Watch this space, same time, next week.