Continuing his run towards the 2012 iRacing.com Pro Series Championship title, Richie Stanaway secured his third victory of the series at Spa-Francorchamps, his fourth of the season so far, to extend his advantage in the standings table to 36 points. With the final round of the Pro Series approaching this weekend, the New Zealand based sim-racer only requires a top-15 finish at Suzuka to be assured of his first ever iRacing championship title.
Starting from pole position with a lap time of 1:46.344, Stanaway’s pole-to-flag run at the front was given a helping hand from the very start. Entering Turn One, (aka La Source) unchallenged, Stanaway was able to break free from the squabbling pack behind, who were scurrying in all directions like cockroaches breaking for cover when the lights are turned on, with Christian Lorente stranded mid-corner after making contact with Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola. Although Mogar DG Filho was able to get into Stanaway’s wake by the time they’d reached the end of the Kemmel Straight for the first time, and even attempt an optimistic challenge for the lead, the Team Redline pilot held his spot at the front, breaking free to create a one-second lead by the end of the opening lap.
From this point, the race proved to be academic for the championship points leader, who laid down a relentless pace to maintain a lead of 1.5 seconds by the time he made his first visit to pit-lane on Lap 18. Once the leading Redline car had finished service and rejoined the race, his advantage at the front stood at two-seconds, a margin he carried through to his next pit-stop, sixteen laps later. In fact, being the last of the front-runners to stop for fuel and tyres on both occasions, also meant that by the end of the 44 lap race, Stanaway would be registered as the only sim-racer to lead the event.
Although Stanaway saw his lead cut by nearly half in the closing 10 laps of the race, with Davy Decorps leading a late charge to challenge his position, the Formula Renault 3.5 star was able to comfortably bring his digital Formula 1 machine to the flag unhindered.
The start of the penultimate round of the the iRPS championship proved to be decisive for Decorps. The Frenchman had qualified on the second row of the grid and made an immediate leap up to third position as Emil Spindel failed to get a decent pull away from the line. Then, as Filho mustered an attack on the leader through the Les Combes chicane, the Team Orion online racer snatched the opportunity and slipped past the second place car, whose ambitious attempt had caused him to scrub off vast amounts of speed.
Leading the chase to catch the leader, Decorps kept Stanaway’s Williams-Toyota FW 31 in his sights and refused to let the Antipodean relax in his front-running position. Once Decorps had made his first pit-stop, the margin remained then same, and it wasn’t until the end of his second stint, that the leader eaked-out a two-second advantage. Not content with his runners-up spot, the Team Orion regular put in a late flurry of hot-laps in the closing third of the race to try and unnerve Stanaway. Alas, although Decorps was able to get within 1.2 seconds of the leader, there just weren’t enough laps for him to ultimately harass the winner before the finish line.
Following another disastrous start by CST Ajira’s Spindel, the Scandinavian was able to at least grab his fourth podium finish of the season. Bogging down at the start, an issue that has blighted him several times this season, Spindel saw his front row spot vaporise as Filho and Decorps grabbed immediate promotions. Fortunately for Spindel, Filho’s opening lap battle with the leader allowed him to follow Decorps through and move back up to third position.
Matching Decorps’ pace ahead of him, Spindel was able to keep within one second of the runners-up spot, and although he lost some time during his first pit-stop, he got back onto the Frenchman’s tail by the end of his second stint. But then decisively, a slow stop by the CST Ajira team saw Spindel lose a heap of time, and drop from the wake of second place, putting him over four-seconds behind. Unlike his previous stint, Spindel was unable to make any inroads of Decorps, and had to settle for third position at the chequered flag.
Although Filho was the only competitor of the 29 car field to make a concerted challenge on Stanaway, it ultimately punished the Brazilian. The Radicals Racing’s racer had made his customary storming pull away from the start line to move into second spot and get himself in a position to make a bid for the lead. But in launching his opening lap attack, Filho left the door wide open for Decorps, Spindel and Enzo Bonito to slip past through Les Combes. This was compounded a few laps later, when Yudai Narumi demoted him to sixth position.
Undetered, Filho regained his top-five slot, when Narumi made a mistake that took him off the track on Lap 14 and then left his first pit-stop until as late as possible, four circuits later. Then on Lap 24, Filho was gifted fourth position, when Bonito, who’d started strongly, suffered from a technical issue that would send him to an eventual finish of eleventh. It was then a question of defending his position from Narumi, who’d worked his way back up the order and onto the tail of Filho, who absorbed the pressure all the way to the finish, to take the flag with a margin of just one-second.
Making the most of the opening lap confusion, Dave Gelink jumped from fifteenth on the grid to seventh, where he remained for the first half of the 44 lap race. Then, with the demise of Bonito, seventh became sixth. Although the Dutch online-racer did yield his position during the ‘pit-stop shuffle,’ Gelink brought his iNEX entry home, ten seconds clear of Simon Cattell just outside of the top-five. Likewise, Cattell had made huge leaps up the order in the opening lap, moving from fourteenth to eighth whilst the field picked their way through the confusion of Turn One, and ultimately followed his iNEX team-mate to the chequered flag in seventh.
It wasn’t such an easy task for the likes of Vasiliy Zaitsev and Paul Ilbrink, who had to battle their way into the top-ten over the course of Round Eight of the iRacing Road Pro Series. Finishing in eighth and ninth respectively, Ilbrink initially held the advantage, but with his final visit to pit-road complete, Zaitsev was back on his tail, and on lap 35, secured a pass on the Dutchman to move up a spot, ahead of the chequered flag.
It wasn’t until lap 24 that João Cardoso reached the top ten. Having to check-up on the opening lap resulted in the Portuguese dropping from ninth to fourteenth within a single corner. Cardoso then worked his way back up to tenth but, just when he thought the worst was over, Bonito mounted a recovery from his mid-race “off” that would see him trail in Cardoso’s wake by a few tenths all the way to the finish line.
With just the final round at Suzuka of the iRacing Road Pro Series, Stanaway holds 304 points, giving him an advantage of 36 over Filho in the overall standings table. Decorps’ occupies third position on 252 points, 19 clear of Spindel and a further 34 away from Bonito. Sitting on the cusp of the top-25 and looking to lock in their position to qualify for the ‘big money’ iRacing World Championship Grand Prix, Marcus Caton (90), Jason Lovett (89) and Miguel Martin (87) sit in positions twenty-three to twenty-five respectively. Looking to challenge them at Suzuka will be Wes Richards (73), Fabio Do Carmo (59), Ken Leach (52) and Max Dell O’rco (50) — Xavier Busoms on 59 points is now out of the picture after announcing his retirement at the end of the Spa Francorchamps race. Suffice to say they will need to put in a season- best performance to reach the pinnacle championship in sim-racing.