Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps provides one of the most historic and entertaining racing venues in the world for fans of all road racing disciplines, whether it be endurance sports car racing, sprint GT races or in the case of the Star Mazda series to begin the 2014 season, open wheel formula cars. And the start of the 2014 iRacing.com Star Mazda Season 1 didn’t disappoint, with Friction Racing teammates Michael Wollenschein (DE-AT-CH) and Marcus Hamilton (UK & I) taking away top points from an entertaining week of racing.
Before the drivers hit the track to race, they took to establishing their qualifying position throughout the week. Defending series champion Hamilton took the pole at a 2:14.157, only 18 thousandths over Niki Kresse. Hamilton’s pole set a new track record for the car on iRacing, surpassing the previous mark he set in 2013 at a 2:14.421. Only four tenths separated the top 10 drivers in qualifying, unusually close for a Spa circuit that measures nearly four and a half miles. The first page of qualifying results included many names familiar to the series such as Rinse Jacobs, Mark Ursel, Nenad Matijevic and Rafal Mroz, sim-racers who have populated the series for seasons on end.
Come race time, drivers were prepped for what would be considered balmy weather in Belgium. Ambient weather for the race week on iRacing was 69 degrees Fahrenheit, winds from the west at six MPH, relative humidity at 26% and mostly cloudy skies. Drivers would have to fight the colder than average temperatures to bring their tires up to running temperature and not lose too much time in the process. Also a new damage model provided a new challenge by making certain areas of the track “no-go” zones that drivers couldn’t venture into without risking damaging their cars. Curbs which were previously used running at the edge of control became a game of Russian roulette: gain time immediately and lose it later from damage or stay conservative and slower? However, the damage didn’t dissuade drivers from running as a total of 345 people took to the track throughout the week to race.
The week’s second highest SOF (strength-of-field) online race arguably provided the most exciting finish of all the races run. Hamilton started from pole position for Sunday’s 15:45 GMT race with Thomas O’Leary (UK & I) and Luca Favaccio (Italy) occupying the grid directly behind the reigning champion. Although Hamilton led the first lap, he was immediately overtaken on Lap Two by his teammate O’Leary for a lap before regaining the lead once again. From there Favaccio began his charge towards the lead with fast lap of the race on Lap Four with O’Leary in his sights. The two ran in line for several laps before Favaccio made a move into Les Combes grab the second position.
From then it became a mano-a-mano duel between Hamilton and Favaccio with the Italian on the charge. Ultimately the race was decided in the final turn of the final lap when Favaccio attempted a pass in the Bus Stop chicane but fell just short of overtaking the defending champion at the line, losing by just 0.142 seconds. O’Leary, Jacobs (Benelux) and Hugo Preto (Iberia) rounded out the top five and scored their top points of the week in addition to the top two.
But it was the highest SOF of the week that would go to now points leader Wollenschein. Hamilton wasn’t present for Sunday’s 17:45 GMT race so Wollenschein garnered the pole position with series regulars Julien Flouret (France) and Joao Rodrigues (Iberia) rounding-out the top three grid positions. Rodrigues wasted no time making his presence known with a pass into Les Combes on Wollenschein for the early race lead, while Flouret was involved in a large incident at the Eau Rouge – Raidillon complex that also ended the races of Daniel Behrensen (DE-AT-CH) and Mark Ursel (New York).
Wollenschein reclaimed the lead from Rodrigues with a pass in Les Combes again as the Portuguese Star Mazda veteran began to fade to third position behind O’Leary. Then it became a Friction Racing showdown between Wollenschein and O’Leary with the lead swapping hands between the two on several occasions before Wollenschein sealed the lead with a move down the Kemmel straight with three laps to go. He held on to that lead for the final three laps before taking the victory over O’Leary by 0.423 seconds and the series points lead with it as well. The 3210 SOF race paid 198 points to win, 28 more than Hamilton’s win in the previous 2726 SOF race.
With the first week of competition out of the way and the field closer than ever, 11 weeks remain in the 2014 iRacing Star Mazda Season 1 schedule. Next week takes the series to Road Atlanta, where drivers will have to compete with not only their fellow racers but one of the most challenging tracks on the schedule this season. Blind turns, tall curbs, a long backstraightaway and some of the most difficult esses on iRacing will provide a test for drivers of all calibers at a Georgia classic. And with a championship battle that’s currently anyone’s to grab, it’s sure to be another great week for the iRacing Star Mazda championship.
Current iRacing Star Mazda Championship Top Five
Michael Wollenschein – 198 Points
Marcus Hamilton – 170 Points
Joao Rodrigues – 167 Points
Thomas O’Leary – 164 Points
Anton Sabrekov – 158 Points