In its five year history, the iRacing.com World Championship Grand Prix Series had never made a visit to Italy. This was one of just a number of reasons why fans and drivers alike marked a red ring around Saturday 25th April, as finally, the cavalcade of the world’s greatest road racers in sim racing headed to the ultra-fast Monza.
Coming into the event, it was arguably ineX Racing who were the favourites. Known to be consistently the fastest in a straight line, they also had a history of coming through the field using long straights to their advantage. One of the big worries coming into the event is that for the first time in years, there was a real possibility of using either the high, medium or low downforce package and — especially for the championship-contending teams of Redline and Coanda — going in the wrong direction could easily cost them valuable championship points, and momentum heading into the middle portion of the season.
Qualifying was an up and down affair, which for the first time all season guaranteed a Pro level driver entry into the race, that honour going to Jorge Montañés. At the front of the field, it was first Coanda topping the time charts, but when all was said and done, Team Redline moved themselves to the front, with Huttu scoring his second pole position on the bounce, with Coanda’s Martin Krönke scoring his third second place start in a row and Redline’s Enzo Bonito rounding-out the top three. It was a tough day for Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola, who failed to make the top 10, and would therefore be right in the pack for the fast run down into the first corner.
The opening laps of every race are always a scary prospect for drivers, but Monza, from a fast straight into a slow chicane always bunches up the field, making it arguably the toughest start of the season. Ilkka Haapalla caught a white line under braking for the Variante del Rettifilo, causing a huge pile up behind him. He would fail to complete the first lap, as would his Orion Race Team team mates Joao Vaz and Davy Decorps. Richard Avery also failed to not make it past the opening lap, marking the largest number of cars out of the race on Lap One since the Autumn Suzuka race 2014. Jaakkola, starting down in the pack, was involved in incidents at both the first and second chicane, suffering aero damage as a result.
Out front, Krönke lost two positions on the opening lap following a rare poor start, whilst Olli Pahkala was on great form off the line. On virtual home turf, Bonito moved into second position behind Huttu on Lap Four, and would subsequently take the lead on Lap Eight, in what looked to be a staged pass, this becoming apparent laps later as Bonito moved onto the alternate two stop strategy. He would pitted on Lap 18, falling down the field, but thankfully into some clean traffic.
Despite the setup concerns, it seemed as though many had adopted the low downforce approach, seeing some of the fastest speeds in series history. This however meant passing was not as frequent as expected, with only a few places changing hands after the second lap. The issue that became more apparent was the difficulty maintaining grip, with a number of drivers spinning or crashing out of the race, a rarity in the series. Joonas Nukarinen was the most notable in the early stages in the race, though he wouldn’t be the last to have their race come to a sudden stop, which on Lap 31 would catch-out Bonito.
After cycling back to the race lead on his alternate strategy (of which only a small number of drivers partook), Bonito knew he had to be aggressive to make up a buffer before his second stop, to give himself a chance at victory. Coming into the Variante Della Roggia, it looked as though the car mistook the line through the corner, spinning Bonito out, though able to recover. This placed Huttu just two seconds back, down from over 10, and in essence ruined Bonito’s chances of a win; four corners later at the Variante Ascari, his race would be done, as he again spun out of the race lead in a scene reminiscent of the 1999 Italian Grand Prix and Mika Hakkinen. This placed Huttu back in charge of the race, and elevated Krönke to second ahead of Pahkala, which is where they finished.
Down in the mid-pack, an entertaining late race battle between Issac Price, Robin Friskopps, Jeremy Bouteloup and Patrik Holzmann created an entertaining spectacle for fans, with Friskopps and Bouteloup changing positions three times in as many laps. They would each gain one more position before race end, as Andre Boettcher and Jake Stergios came together into the Variante Della Roggia, and whilst Stergios could continue and limp his car to the line, Boettcher could not, finishing officially a lap down.
The day however remained Huttu’s as he scored his second win in a row, and re-established himself as the championship frontrunner in 2015. This is Huttu’s 46th win in series history, and gives him the championship lead for the first time this year. Jaakkola’s disastrous performance, placing only in P25, drops him to P2 in the championship, level on points with Krönke in third with a clear gap emerging between the lead threesome and those who’ll be battening to remain in the top five in points. In total 25 drivers finished the race out of 34, the highest attrition rate of the season.
Next, the series will move back to North America, as the series enters the month of May. Watkins Glen has long been a track which plays a pivotal role in the championship, and it’s one where Coanda (through 3id Motorsport), have had a history of running into themselves, most notably in 2013 where Kronke and Luis crashed on Turn One on the opening lap. Of the six previous visits to the upstate New York racetrack, there has been only one winner, and with momentum back on his side, that winner — Greger Huttu by name — once again looks unstoppable. Coverage will as always start at 1:30PM GMT on Saturday 9th May on RaceSpot TV and iRacing Live, home of the world’s greatest sim racers.