The iRacing.com World Championship Grand Prix Series offseason saw some big moves up and down the field, but the most interesting were perhaps at the ‘Big Two’ teams, where Coanda Simsport and Team Redline added new talent to their ranks. Coanda’s big recruits included the 2014 Pro Series Champion Mitchell DeJong along with Rocco Barone, whereas Team Redline added the dynamic Finnish duo of Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola and Olli Pahkala to its roster. All eyes naturally focused on the new boys’ performance for the first round of the championship, to see if they were up to the challenge. Turned-out, they were, as a number outperformed their long-standing team mates.
Qualifying at Interlagos is always tough. It has the shortest lap of the season, and therefore the tightest fields, and when you add in a track which requires millimetre precision, only the determined (and brave) make it into the Top 10. Jaakkola showed why he was Team Redline material scoring pole position, with Hugo Luis just 0.014s behind on his home track. Greger Huttu’s bad run of qualifying from the back end of the 2014 campaign continued, securing only P8, and Christiaan Tanahatoe made the field by just 0.02s, with Dimitri Janis the fastest of five drivers to miss the cut.
As the lights went out on a new season, Jaakkola had an incredible start, gapping the firsld by almost two seconds by the end of the first lap. Drivers in the front half of the field made it through Turn 1 without incident; however Patrik Holzmann ran into the rear of Antoine Higelin, blocking the track for some drivers at the rear of the field, and creating a big gap between those inside and outside the top 15. This offered a degree of protection to the front half of the field in terms of position, but ruined the strategies – and the points opportunities – for others, making it a long day in the office for a number of drivers.
Despite holding onto P2 at the start, Luis was immediately under severe pressure from behind, and ended-up yielding to Pahkala, then Bonito, before letting his team mate past. Although he was heavier on fuel, Luis was struggling, perhaps ruing the half year retirement he took a year prior. The only other champion (Huttu) in the field fared little better, only improving by one position over the opening laps, but getting around DeJong. Past performance of course showed that it would be the latter part of the stint where Huttu would really shine.
Passing proved tough throughout the race, with Turn 4 being favoured over the Senna S. This meant strategy would be crucial for drivers to make-up places. One driver on the move through the field was ineX Racing’s Jake Stergios, and before too long the team were running best of the rest at the rear end of the Top 10. Jeremy Bouteloup started-off strong in the mid-pack, as did his Radicals Online team mate Mogar Filho, who commenced the race battling with Glacier Racing’s sole representative, Riku Alatalo. Due to a couple of slow starts, the question of strategy lingered in many people’s mind as to if drivers were on two or three stops.
As the lap count ticked over to 26, still no drivers had hit pit road. Whilst theoretically faster, a three stop strategy did rely on drivers having clear air throughout the day and on such a short track, with so few overtaking opportunities, it seemed that two would be the way to go. The top four drivers came in at the end of Lap 26, placing the field in the command of Luis and Huttu, who went five laps longer, but not within a one stop window. After misery on pit road in 2014, this is one area where Luis needed to improve upon for the 2015 campaign, though on his in lap,he was almost half a second slower than Huttu, who had an incredible run onto pit road itself. Whilst Luis was able to get out ahead, the two were separated by just a couple of car lengths, as they re-joined in P5 and 6 respectively.
In front of Luis was Bonito, who made it a three horse race for P4 – 6. Before too long, it became a four car battle, with DeJong joining the fray. No one could find a way past however, which allowed the top three to motor away. Behind, many of the battles had calmed down, allowing drivers to run to their own pace and strategy, though Stergios and Andre Boettcher continued to fight outside the Top 10. They would eventually catch Stergios’ ineX Racing teammates Issac Price and Robin Friskopps, who each spent time running in the Top 10.
The second round of stops saw Huttu and Luis come in on different laps, as the entire Coanda team pitted at the same time. Huttu was able to get past Luis; similarly, Krönke leap-frogged Pahkala when the Finn overshot his pit box, costing him a valuable two seconds. Most of the field remained in position, in a sim race which saw eight retirees, through a mixture of the start crash, single car incidents and technical gremlins. Out front, Jaakkola was simply untouchable, storming to victory, with Kronke second, and Pahkala rounding out the first podium of the season.
Top 10 Drivers from Interlagos
1 Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola (Team Redline)
2 Martin Krönke (Coanda SimSport)
3 Olli Pahkala (Team Redline)
4 Greger Huttu (Team Redline)
5 Enzo Bonito (Team Redline)
6 Mitchell deJong (Coanda SimSport)
7 Hugo Luis (Coanda SimSport)
8 Rocco Barone (Coanda SimSport)
9 Robin Friskopps (Inex Racing)
10 Isaac Price (Inex Racing)
This is the second win of Jaakkola’s career, making him only the eighth driver to win multiple races in series history. Naturally, he takes the championship lead, but more importantly, his impressive performance places him front and centre in terms of the Team Redline camp. Coanda were out performed on the day, but flashes of speed were seen, particularly with Krönke picking-up where he left in 2014 leading the team’s charge. What is perhaps most noticeable is the sheer pace overall, but the continued gap between the ‘Big Two’ teams and the rest of the pack. ineX Racing looked strong, as did Ronin Racing and Radicals Online, but some teams, most noticeably Apex Racing and Orion Race Team, are perhaps ruing the fact they lost their star drivers.
From the metropolis of Sao Paulo, the iRacing.com World Championship Grand Prix Series heads next to Australia, and the ultra fast Phillip Island. Coverage starts at 1:30PM GMT on RaceSpot TV and iRacing Live.