It started last summer with more than 7,500 of the world’s top driving game enthusiasts and sim racers competing for starting spots in a sprint race that pits the very best of drivers in online racing against one another for bragging rights and substantial prize money.  The shoot-out comes this Friday, March 4, when ten finalists from North America, Europe and Australasia will converge on the CeBIT technology exposition in Hannover, Germany for the iRacing.com Intel® GP Series World Final.

Part of the Intel Extreme Masters Tournament, the 30-lap race will be contested on iRacing.com’s millimeter-accurate digital duplicate of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.  Each driver will be seated in a Playseat simulator with Logitech G27 wheel-and-pedal set, at the controls of iRacing.com’s virtual version of the single-seat, open-wheel Star Mazda, competing for his share of the nearly $30,000 in total prize money for the series.

“This is an exciting moment not just for the ten drivers in Hannover, but for all of the more than 25,000 active iRacing.com members,” said Tony Gardner, iRacing.com’s president.  “All ten of these drivers are terrific racers, but only one can win.  This is for more than just money – no single race can determine who is the best in the world, but the winner in Hannover will know that on that day he’s taken the measure of pretty much every other driver who can lay claim to being the best.  Undoubtedly it will be a terrific race.”

“No single race can determine who is the best in the world, but the winner in Hannover will know that on that day he’s taken the measure of pretty much every other driver who can lay claim to being the best.”  – Tony Gardner

Gardner noted that the race will be broadcast live on the Web at https://www.iracing.com//multimedia/live-broadcasts/ .  The broadcast begins with a pre-race show from Inside Sim Racing.  The green flag falls at 10:15 a.m. CET (9:15 GMT or 4:15am ET.)  For those who find the live broadcast falls at an inconvenient time, replays of the race will be available at the same address.  Replays of the three regional finals that determined the starting field for Hannover are available now.

Quality over quantity: Friday's iRacing.com Intel GP Finals will feature only ten starters, but they're ten of the world's best sim racers.

All ten of the starters are potential winners of the race, so it’s hard to pick a favorite.  But certainly one of them is Finland’s Greger Huttu, dubbed “The Alien” in recognition of his other-worldly skills, won the 2010 iRacing World Championship – Road, taking 15 wins in 16 starts in sim racing’s top road-racing series.  But Huttu, whose successful introduction to real-world motorsport was recently chronicled in Top Gear magazine, doesn’t expect to dominate in Hannover as he did last year with the Dallara IndyCar.  He believes the combination of car and venue will provide a unique challenge.

“The racing will be really close and competitive, especially with the car being the Star Mazda,” Huttu said.  “It’s very difficult to overtake at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca due to the lack of long straights.  So a good qualifying lap will be essential to achieve a good finish.”

Huttu also pointed out another difference at Hannover that may upset the expected form – instead of competing through the internet from their own homes on their own equipment, the ten drivers will all be racing in the same room and in equipment that while of excellent quality, will be unfamiliar.  “Personally, I think it will be tough to get used to a different rig than what I have at home, especially the pedals,” he said.  “We don’t get a lot of practice time, so I have no expectations for the race.   But I hope we can put on a good show and have an exciting and fun race.”

“I hope we can put on a good show and have an exciting and fun race.” – Greger Huttu

Other early favorites include England’s Richard Towler, who won the 2010 NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship – and finished second to Huttu in last year’s iRacing World Championship – Road; plus real-world racer Wyatt Gooden, a world-class karting champion who was top rookie and third place overall in the 2010 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup.  Gooden, from Gates Mills, Ohio, demonstrated his sim-racing credentials by earning his way into the 2010 real-world Jetta series by winning the 2009 iRacing.com Volkswagen Jetta TDI® Cup online racing series.

With a victory earlier this month in the Daytona season-opening event for the 2011 NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship, Ray Alfalla (Cape Coral, Florida) established himself as another likely factor in Friday’s race.  Alfalla pointed out the significance of sim-racing’s inclusion in one of the major gaming events.

“Sim racing is long overdue in being considered a serious form of gaming, if not a sport,” the 21-year-old college student said.  In Alfalla’s opinion “First person shooters are very popular, and are often present in video game conventions, offering up money and prizes for winners.  I believe sim racing should be right there with those games, as what we do is just as difficult, if not more so.”

“Sim racing is long overdue in being considered a serious form of gaming, if not a sport.” – Ray Alfalla.

In celebration of Friday’s running of the iRacing.com Intel GP Series World Final, iRacing.com is now offering to new members a special one-month trial subscription.  In addition to the standard track and vehicle content – Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is one of the eight tracks and six cars included – this offer adds the Star Mazda car:  https://www.iracing.com/intel-gp-series/

The starting field for the iRacing.com Intel GP Series World Final (Star Mazda, 30 laps of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca):

1.    Ray Alfalla, 21, Cape Coral, Florida, USA.  (Student, Florida Gulf Coast University)

2.    Bastien Bartsch, 25, Valence, France.  (Computer specialist)

3.    Wyatt Gooden, 21, Gates Mills, Ohio, USA.  (Real-world racing driver)

4.    Greger Huttu, 30, Vaasa, Finland.  (Computer mechanic)

5.    Ian Lake, 32, Wollongbar, Australia.  (Car Courier)

6.    Jason Lisner, 19, Chesapeake, Virginia, USA.  (Race track official)

7.    Mitchell McLeod, 23, Tongala, Australia. (Web site designer)

8.    Jake Stergios, 19, Candia, New Hampshire, USA (Real estate)

9.    Richard Towler, 27, Hull, England.  (Software designer)

10.      David Williams, 21, Loughborough, England.  (Student, Loughborough University – Automotive Engineering)

Cash awards to drivers are:  1st – $4,000; 2nd – $2,500; 3rd – $2,000; 4th – $1,500; 5th – $1,400; 6th through 10th – $1,300 each.

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