In a breathtaking 53 laps around the virtual Suzuka International circuit, Emil Spindel held-off the advances of newly-crowned champion Atze Kerkhof to take his first victory in the iRacing.com Pro Series Road Racing (iPSRR).
As the lights went green on the twelfth and final race of the season, CST Ajira’s Spindel saw his pole-position advantage immediately evaporate, as Martin Krönke in the My3id Williams-Toyota FW31grabbed maximum traction off the line to lead the field into Turn One. Also making a good start was Kerkhof, who forced his Team Redline entry beneath Spindel as the pair entered the first corner. However, contact between the duo whilst heading to Turn Two sent the series champion sliding across the track and down to fifth position.
With a clear track ahead, Krönke set about trying to leave the field behind. The German was unable to shake-off the continuous attention of Spindel, Simon Crochart, Sebastian Schmalenbach and a recovering Kerkhof. This is how it remained — a procession of the championship front-runners — until Spindel pulled-off a daring pass on Krönke around the outside of the final chicane on Lap 11.
Once free of the My3id car, Spindel started to break away from the following quartet, and looked set to head to the first scheduled stops with a clear advantage. However, an unforced error sent the Swede pirouetting down to fourth behind Schmalenbach, Crochart and returning leader Krönke.
A couple of laps later, it was Krönke’s turn to give up the lead after going wide around the Spoon Curve and spinning his car 360 degrees – a mistake that sent the German tumbling to sixth behind Roy Kolbe and five-seconds away from the lead pack.
It was now Twister Racing’s Crochart at the front, followed by team-mate Schmalenbach, CST Ajira’s Spindel, plus Redline’s Kerkhof. And that’s how they remained, nose-to-tail, until Lap 20, when all four sim racers headed to pit-road for service.
Whilst Crochart retained the lead after taking fuel and tires, Schmalenbach found himself demoted to third when Spindel sneaked past the German on the exit of pit-lane. As Schmalenbach worked to regain second position during the out-lap, Crochart carved-out a margin of two-seconds from the trio of racers behind, a gap he doubled by Lap 38, when he headed to the pits for the final time.
In sequential laps, Schmalenbach, Spindel plus Kerkhof followed Crochart in for their final stops. By the time the pit-lane-shuffle had been completed, Spindel’s CST Ajira car headed the pack. Getting a relative clear run when the cars ahead of him pitted, Spindel had been able to make-up enough ground to leap-frog Crochart and step-back into first place when exiting pit-road.
The ensuing five laps saw Spindel and Crochart battle for the lead spot, with the Twister Racing Frenchman refusing to let the Swedish sim-racer break away at the front. That was until Lap 45, when Crochart was confronted by the perpendicular Williams-Toyota FW31 of Marcel Fachini, who was “enjoying” his fourth major incident of the race. Despite his best efforts, there was little Crochart could do to avoid the débutante clipping his right rear wheel, causing enough damage to end his challenge for victory and ultimately demoting him to an eventual finish of fourth place.
After passing Crochart’s hobbled car, Kerkhof put the ‘pedal to the metal,’ and found a new level of pace as the race headed into its final five laps. Within three laps the Dutchman had caught-up to the leader. Undeterred by Kerkhof’s late attention, Spindel kept the Team Redline car at bay to take his first victory of the iPSRR season by four-tenths of a second. Ending the season on the podium, his third of the championship, Schmalenbach trailed the lead pair to the line by three seconds, and 14s clear of Krönke in fourth position, who still managed a top-five, despite several ‘offs.’
For Kolbe, Round 12 of the iPSRR was the most crucial so far, as his assertive drive to a sixth place finish ensured the German a spot in the upcoming iRacing.com Grand Prix World Championship. Sitting just outside of the top-25 in the iPSRR standings before the race, Kolbe methodically chalked-off 53 laps to finish in the same position as he started – a result that propelled him into the forthcoming ‘big money’ championship.
In the process of making it through the opening laps, Martti Pietilä jumped from thirteenth on the grid to ninth position. He had Twister Racing’s Jeremy Bouteloup and My3id’s Andre Boettcher to thank for much of his progress, as their coming together at the Crossover also collected Radical Racing’s Pablo López. By the time he completed his first visit to the pits, the Finnish sim-driver had stepped up to seventh, passing Fulvio Barozzini and Alex Arana during the stops. Despite a late surge by Arana, Pietilä held-on to seventh position with a half-second margin at the chequered flag.
Prior to the start, Pietilä found himself looking over the precipice of World Championship qualification. By collecting his first top-ten finish of the season, the CST Ajira driver moved-up to nineteenth in the iPSRR points and assured himself of a berth in the World Championship.
Although Jaroslav Honzik dropped-out of the top-ten in the early exchanges, the Czech Republican put on a Lazarus-like comeback to steal ninth spot on the final lap of the race. Following a slide in the opening stages, and then a trip across the gravel, Honzik had fought his way back to eleventh as he started the penultimate lap of the race, in the duel slip-stream of Barozzini and PJ Stergios. Out-braking Stergios into the Chicane, Honzik took tenth spot as the white flag waved before breezing past Barozzini, who tragically ran out of fuel on the final lap – a miss-calculation that also handed Stergios his fourth top-ten of the 2011 finish of the championship.
Whilst Kerkhof’s iPSRR championship crown was sealed several weeks ago, the battle for the runners-up position was only decided at Suzuka International. Although Krönke was unable to keep his Williams-Toyota FW31 pointing in the right direction for much of the race, his fourth place finish was enough to best Simon Crochart in the battle for second in the series by 11 points, as the Frenchman saw his hopes scuppered in the closing laps. Finishing the season a mere two points behind Crochart, Twister-Racing team-mate Sebastian Schmalenbach, just couldn’t find the luck he needed to take third in the standings.
Martin Macjon earned just a single point at Suzuka, having exited the race just a few laps after the green flag. Thus he could only watch from the sidelines as Kolbe claimed a top-ten finish, ousting him from the final slot in the top 25 and qualification for the 2012 iRacing Grand Prix World Championship.
With the 2011 iRacing Pro Series Road Racing season now complete, the whole process begins anew in 2012 Season 1 when the ‘A’ Class Formula One series opens its doors to find the next crop of Pro division drivers. As for the top-25 from the iPSRR, there’s a few weeks to recuperate before they join the top 25 finishers from the ’11 World Championship in taking their first tentative steps in the 2012 World Championship at Watkins Glen on March 3.