For the second round of the iRacing.com World Championship Grand Prix Series, teams headed from South America to Australasia, and to the ultra fast Phillip Island. The first round of the championship saw Team Redline’s new recruit Aleksi Uusi- Jaakkola claim a dominant victory, placing himself firmly in the pool of drivers considered to be championship contenders. The race was really one that highlighted the new drivers to the series, as the two previous champions struggled, with neither finishing on the podium. How would the new boys fare “Down Under?” Would the old guard stage a resurgence?
Phillip Island is fast, arguably the fastest track in the entire series. Turn 1 is akin to an oval when considering speeds: flat-out in top gear before the eternally tricky 180 degree left hand Turn 2. This corner, like Turns 4 and 5 a little bit up the road, proved problematic in qualifying, as drivers struggled with the track conditions. The most notable victim here was Jaakkola, who destroyed his first run through a spin, but was still able to storm to his second pole position in succession. The run out of Lukey Heights into Turn 10 is again a powerful corner combination, a critical factor in determining who qualified for the race, and who watched it on iRacing Live. The two most notable shocks in failing to progress from qualifying were Riku Alatalo (Glacier Racing) and Sam Clark (TNT Racing), the latter of whom maintained the unfortunate the tradition of Australasia drivers struggling at their home track, similar to Redline’s Luke McLean a year earlier.
Another important note from qualifying was the return to qualifying from for the four time champion Greger Huttu, who had struggled since about Round 13 of the 2014 season. One of the subsequent issues of this was the ability for Huttu to head to victory lane, and whilst he was again outmatched by his new team mate, the overall picture looked far more promising. Hugo Luis again scored himself a front line start, though, the Coanda Simsport driver fell back through the field from the same position a week ago, and would not want to repeat that feat. Other notable performances came from the continually impressive Mitchell deJong (Coanda), who slotted-in just behind Enzo Bonito (Team Redline) in P5, and Patrik Holzmann who backed-up his strong practice form by qualifying ninth ahead of Andre Boettcher (Coanda).
As the lights went out for the second round of the championship, Jaakkola once again secured a near perfect start from pole position. Whilst Luis was able to drop the clutch better than he had at Interlagos, he still found himself under intense pressure as the cars stormed through the first lap. Whilst Lap 1 was clean, an incident on Lap 2 claimed three drivers, including Alex Simpson (Apex Racing UK), Davy Decorps (Orion Race Team), and Robin Friscopps (ineX Racing). Whilst Simpson and Friscopps were able to continue, it was day over for Decorps, who would wind up down in 33rd position.
The early stage of the race again saw Jaakkola flex his muscles and pull away from the field. After getting past Luis on Lap 1, Huttu was able to stay ahead of his Coanda Simsport rival; however was not able to pull-out any manageable gap.
The track conditions, combined with the high speed and the drivers’ unwillingness to go off strategy meant the first part of the race saw little overtaking but, as always, there were exceptions to the rule. Orion Race Team’s Ilkka Haapala and ineX Racing’s Jake Stergios were each able to make steady ground, but nothing on the scale of the memorable 2013 event, where Max Dell’Orco on an alternate strategy passed over 20 cars.
Team strategy was so similar that Redline and Coanda pitted each of their drivers simultaneously, with generally equal stops. The exception was Huttu, who spent an extra second in the pits, which would prove to be significant later in the race. The order out front remained the same, though Luis started to put on more pressure to regain second place, trying (in vain) to force Huttu into a mistake. All the while behind, deJong was again showing he can go toe-to-toe with the best of them just two rounds into his first full season of world championship competition, as he led the second echelon of Coanda cars. Two drivers struggling were Redline’s Bonito and Olli Pahkala, unable to crack into the top five all race long.
Further back, one driver returning to form was Radicals Online’s Mogar Filho, who again was able to crack into the Top 10. In his third season of WCS competition, Filho was showing just how consistently he could run throughout the course of the season, and provided some positive news for the team, which was unfortunately tempered by Jeremy Bouteloup’s retirement from the race due to technical issues. Impressing also was Sebastian Job (Apex Racing), after narrowly avoided disaster at the start of the race, and who moved-up the field into a top 15 scoring position.
Second pitstops saw a switch, with Coanda’s cars coming in before those of Redline’s. Importantly, the extra second of fuel for Huttu on his first stop — combined with his uncanny ability to put together laps when it matters most — meant he was able to snag the second spot of the podium from Luis and claim his first podium of the season. Once again however, Jaakkola was untouchable, cruising to victory from Huttu, Luis, deJong, and Martin Krönke. Attrition was low overall, with only two real incidents; surprisingly positive, considering the nature of the racetrack. 32 drivers completed the race, with a total of 20 finishing on the lead lap. Huttu could claim a little solace, with a fastest lap (1:06.363) for the second time in as many races.
The third round of the championship takes competitors to the fast and ever bumpy Sebring International Raceway, with 49 drivers wondering what it will take to outrun Jaakkola.
As always, coverage starts Saturday, March 28 at 10 am eastern on iRacing Live, as part of a double header which also sees the second round of the iRacing Endurance Championship.