Every week, iRacing, the world’s premier online racing simulation service, highlights its latest news for NESN Fuel. This week, iRacing recapped the seventh round of the World Championship Grand Prix Series. Read more about iRacing here.
VRS Coanda Simsport’s Martin Kronke was impervious for the second-consecutive year at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, scoring a seventh-consecutive win of the season, his eighth-straight iRacing World Championship Grand Prix Series win overall. With just one drop week remaining for the German driver, he is guaranteed to take maximum points into the final four rounds of the season.
Imola was always going to be a testing circuit and the signs had been built up for the past week with races in the iRacing World Championship GP Series, and the two RaceSpot RaceDay events. The narrow nature of a circuit built with just one real prime overtaking opportunity meant that patience was of the essence for many drivers who would be scrapping it out all race long. There were no changes in the team lineups heading into the major event but for the second-consecutive race, Greger Huttu for Team Redline would fail to make the starting grid, an unfortunate electrical outage the cause of his absence.
iRacing World Championship Grand Prix Series competitors witnessed a familiar sight at Imola: Martin Kronke disappearing into the distance for his seventh win of the season.
Qualifying was crucial and Kronke put his foot down in the most adamant of fashions, taking pole by almost four tenths of a second with a time of 1:17.069; for added emphasis, his first lap had also been good enough for pole position. Bono Huis, now effectively the head of the Team Redline’s title aspirations, would line up alongside the championship leader on the front row, looking for just his second podium of the season. Graham Carroll continued to impress for Team Redline as he put his vehicle third, joined by the young Scandinavian of Marcus Jensen, very impressive in fourth. Mack Bakkum earned a spot alongside Freek Schothorst, making it an all Dutch third row while CoRe Sim Racing locked-out Row 4, Isaac Price ahead of Cem Bolukbasi.
As the green lights flashed, Bakkum made the perfect getaway, scything past Jensen and almost Carroll into the Variante Tamburello, but a strong defense would hold off the Coanda car on the exit. Behind them, Orion Race Team’s Joao Vaz endured a crazy exit to Tamburello as his four-wheel drift carried him into the gravel, dropping almost 15 spots and leaving himself a lot of work to do in the 62-lap event.
Kronke sets sail as Huis, Carroll and the fast-starting Bakkum lead the rest.
At the sharp end of the field, Kronke cleared the DRS in the opening three laps, leaving no margin to be caught from the drop of the hat until the end of the event.
In his wake, trains started to develop and position changes would be few and far between, except for VRS Coanda Simsport’s Martti Pietila, who rocked up four positions in the opening exchanges. Big dramas began developing at the start of Lap 6 as Orion’s day went from bad to worse. A low-downforce setup pitched Ilkka Haapala into snap oversteer on the run to the Variante Tamburello, spiraling him into the walls on either side of the circuit and out of the race. Mogar Filho of the Radicals Online team found trouble on the exit of the same corner, and was subsequently punted by one of the Thrustmaster Mivano machines after the Brazilian’s McLaren MP4-30 was left spread-eagle across the track from his spin.
Lap 12 saw Bakkum, sensing the threat of Schothorst behind, make a bold move on Graham Carroll down the main straight heading towards the Variante Tamburello, promoting the second VRS Coanda Simsport car onto the podium. However, the fun didn’t stop there for Bakkum. Feeling like going one better, he would sling one down the inside of Bono Huis on Lap 19, leaving only racing room to Huis on the outside.
Huis is emerging as Team Redline’s best hope of derailing Kronke’s bid for a second straight title.
The pit stop window opened shortly after on Lap 24 with Bolukbasi making the early call from P13, hoping to use the advantage of fresh rubber to advance his position. Schothorst came in on the following lap, looking to make the undercut work in his favor. The undercut was too much compared to Bakkum, however, as encountering a lot of traffic on his out lap, the Redline driver would have to settle and wait to make the move. Nevertheless, to Schothorst’s benefit, both Huis and Carroll lost ground on their stops. Not so for Kronke, who was the last to stop and so retained the lead throughout the process.
A few laps later, Schothorst pulled off one of the great iRacing World Championship GP Series overtakes by going around the outside of Bakkum into the Variante Tamburello, securing second in the process. As the second stint progressed, Bakkum continued to head backwards as he would also lose the position to Bono Huis. More drama was in store as on Lap 36 Bakkum would get too aggressive on the Variante Tamburello curbing, bouncing off of the raised sleeping policeman and tagging the left rear of Carroll’s McLaren, sending him on a wild trip through the gravel. Not only did Carroll lose the position, he chose to end his day prematurely after receiving a 30-second stop-and-hold for using up too many incident points. Similarly, Radicals Online’s Yuta Saito would also have to serve a penalty in the final stages of the event.
Schothorst came home an excellent second, having executed the pass of the race on Bakkum.
The single-stop strategy meant fuel would be tight in the final few laps and drivers would be running on empty heading to the line. Bolukbasi, scrapping it out with Radicals Online’s Daniel Arent Wensing, fell well short of the mark with two laps to go, dropping a number of positions and finishing the event a lap down. Wensing too hit empty, losing-out in his eventual scrap with Apex Racing UK’s Kevin Ellis Jr.
Kronke suffered no such complications and completed a memorable grand slam, securing pole position, fastest lap and leading from start to finish. His victory margin of 12 seconds was a relief to Schothorst in second position after pipping Bono Huis to the line. With no communication between the two Redline drivers (a rarity due to a broken radio), observers wondered if there were going to be a switching of positions but, come the end of the event, the exchange never materialized. Behind them, Bakkum quietly scuttled home to fourth while Pietila advanced a massive 14 places from 19th on the grid to finish in fifth for the Coanda team and Marcus Jensen’s impressive drive carried him to a sixth-place finish.
DRS engaged, Pietila storms past Jensen into P5, and solidifies third in the series standings.
With seven wins in as many races, Kronke (273) will take maximum points heading into the final four rounds of the season even if he fails to finish the next round at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Huis (217) must find victories in the next few rounds if he is to have any hope of challenging for the title, even as Pietila’s (181) outstanding drive ensures his status inside of the top three while teammate Bakkum (178) remains fourth. Thanks to his second-place finish at Imola, Schothorst (156) moves past Huttu and Radicals Online driver Kazuki Oomishima (154) in the points with the five-time world champion psychologically (if not mathematically) out of the championship battle. Also worth noting is that another absentee at Imola – VRS Coanda Simsport driver Mitchell DeJong (71) – now lies outside of the top 30 and, as of now, is at risk of losing his spot in the 2018 iRacing World Championship GP Series due to the reduced season of just three starts so far.
Round 8 on the IMS road course will be crucial to many sim racers as many competitors will want to score vital points heading into the final four rounds, which cannot be used as drop weeks. RaceSpot TV will be handling coverage once again on Aug. 5, showcasing the series in all of its glory.
Martin Kronke is five races away from sim racing immortality, but first and foremost, he has to secure the title that Redline and others desperately want to wrestle from his grasp.
All photos courtesy of iRacing