In a strategic 73 lap race around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix Circuit, Atze Kerkhof secured maximum points for the third consecutive week, tightening his stranglehold on the iRacing.com Pro Series Championship standings. With a quarter of the season now complete, Kerkhof has established himself as an early favourite for the title, and a likely front-runner in next year’s iRacing.com NVIDIA Grand Prix Series which will see an influx of the top 25 Pro division sim racers in 2012.
For the second race in succession, Kerkhof was beaten to the front row of the grid by Sebastian Schmalenbach, who grabbed the pole position with a time of 1:05.734, and Samuel Libeert. Nevertheless, the Team Redline pilot was able to move into second spot by the first corner. Running a heavy fuel load, Kerkhof was eager to snatch the lead whilst the field dealt with cold tyres, but Schmalenbach refused to be intimidated by the Dutchman and slammed the door shut as the pair headed into Turn Four. Playing-out a two-stop strategy, Schmalenbach looked to seize the advantage of less fuel, and powered into the distance to establish a substantial lead by the time he headed to the pits on Lap 30.
Meanwhile, Kerkhof was pulling-out all the stops to maintain his recently acquired second position, as My3id team-mates Martin Krönke and Andre Boettcher, who were also running light on fuel, swarmed all over the back of his Williams-Toyota FW31. For a dozen laps, Kerkhof stoically defended his position, but finally succumbed to Boettcher, who had swapped positions with Kronke a few circuits earlier. By the time Lap 26 arrived, Kerkhof had dropped to fourth spot, following a pass by Krönke through the infield complex; but just a few minutes later, the cars ahead all made their first visit to pit lane for fuel and tyres, promoting Kerkhof to point.
On Lap 39 it was Kerkhof’s turn to head to the pits for his only scheduled visit to equip his virtual F1 car with fresh rubber and gasoline, dropping back to fourth position in the process behind Schmalenbach, Boettcher and Krönke. Then, with two-thirds of the race complete, the path to the chequered flag was all but decided for Kerkhof when the lead trio made a second visit to pit-lane for fuel, handing him a fourteen second advantage, which he carried to the finish line.
“I was some sort of celebrating my victory with 20 laps to go.” — Atze Kerkhof
“The Fanatec sponsored Team Redline car had a great baseline set, but learning the track and pushing the lap times was a big struggle,” Kerkhof told inRacingNews. “The first stint didn’t go as much as planned but no major mistakes got me in front of them all after they pitted for the second time. The Fanatec car felt awesome throughout the stint. Even though I practised way too much on Saturday last minute, the Obutto cockpit offered me a super comfortable ride back to P1 and I was some sort of celebrating my victory with 20 laps to go. The strategy turned out to be successful and I’m happy I won this race with some good battles.”
For Schmalenbach, the second position was his first podium finish of the season, and a valuable boost to his championship hopes following the European’s absence from the opening race of the season.
“Because I missed the Spa race I wasn’t good in the point standings. That was the reason why I did a safe two-stop strategy,” Schmalenbach conceded post race. “It was all about not having to defend myself during the race and maybe get crashed out. I wanted a clean start and pull away at least for the first 30 laps. This has worked perfectly and I managed to finish the race. Of course the one-stop strategy of Atze has been faster and he cruised to a easy win. If you check out the average lap times, he would have beaten Greger Huttu in the last Indianapolis World Championship race.”
“If you check out the average lap times, (Kerkhof) would have beaten Greger Huttu in the last Indianapolis World Championship race.” — Sebastian Schmalenbach
Flying in ‘under the radar’ to equal his best finish in the iPSRR, Simon Crochart mirrored Kerkhof’s one-stop strategy, and leap-frogged his way onto the podium. Although the Frenchman had a nervous few closing laps, with Boettcher gaining on his position as the chequered flag approached, he held on to take third spot by a second. Finishing eight-seconds behind, Krönke continued his run of a top-ten finish in every race so far by securing fifth ahead of Roland Ehnström. It was a yo-yo ride for Ehnström, who dropped to eleventh position at one point during the race, before working his way back up through the ranks as a result of a one-stop strategy.
Following his Orion Racing team-mate to the flag, Roy Kolbe bested Rudy Van Buren to seventh position, who had to claw his way back from twenty-fourth following a spin and then fend off Nolan Scott for the final 15 laps of the race – the pair crossing the line split by a mere two-tenths of a second. Ending the race a lap down, Dave Gelink posted his first ever finish in the top-ten to earn 20 valuable points.
With three races of the iRacing.com Pro Series Road Racing now complete, Kerkhof continues to dominate the standings on 150 points after completing his hat-trick at the Brickyard. A distant 66 points off the lead, Ehnström heads the chase to catch Kerkhof, with Krönke and Crochart sharing third position on 71.
Round Four of the series heads to the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit this coming weekend. Will anybody be able to stop the ‘Flying Dutchman?’ Or will Kerkhof make it four-for-four?