Finland's Greger Huttu survived a first-lap challenge to claim the inaugural victory of the 2012 iRacing.com Grand Prix Series World Championship at Watkins Glen on Saturday. The flag-to-flag win not only maintains Huttu's 100-percent winning record at the Glen in World Championship competition, it stakes the 2010 World Champion to an early lead in the iGPWCS standings in his efforts to regain the online racing crown commandeered by Hugo Luis last season.
After a slow getaway, Huttu sweeps around Luis en route to a dominant win.
The only driver to post a sub one-minute, 15-second lap in the solo qualifying session, Huttu held the advantage over second-fastest qualifier Luis when the green flag dropped on the Watkins Glen boot configuration. However, by the time the pair negotiated Turn 1, My3id's Luis had taken the lead with an unnerving pass around the outside of Huttu. But Luis' lead proved to be short-lived, as Huttu, with equal guile, took advantage of the slipstream to sweep past the My3id Williams-Toyota FW31 into the Carousel. The unfettered Huttu proceeded to break away, leaving the Brazilian to deal with his own problems, establishing a margin that would stretch to 12 seconds by the time he headed to the pits on lap 22.
With the leader heading off into the distance, Luis found himself under close scrutiny from Luke McLean, who had moved up to third position at the start. On the fourth circuit of the virtual Glen, the heavily fueled My3id car had to yield another spot at Turn 5. It wasn't to last though, as 15 laps later, McLean's unforced error sent his Team Redline entry into the barriers after clipping the grass on the exit of Turn 7.
This returned the "catch-the-Huttu" baton to Luis who has his teammate Jesse Nieminen in his mirrors. Undeterred, Luis took advantage of the extra fuel on board to cut a 12-second deficit in half by the time he'd completed his first scheduled stop on lap 26. Then, just when it seemed the Brazilian's pit strategy might enable him to make substantial inroads on Huttu's lead, fate was to deal a cruel blow. On lap 30, technical gremlins paid a most unwelcome visit to Luis, costing him three-laps.
“I just had to keep the focus going as it's easy to put the car in the wall in a couple of spots here," said Huttu.
With Luis out of the picture and Nieminen an additional 16 seconds back, Huttu could relax, see out his final pit stop, and cruise to the checkered flag, with a large margin in his pocket.
“We had a good preparation with the team during the last two weeks and the Team Redline Fanatec F1 was definitely the best it has ever been,” explained Huttu who, in addition to 50 championship points, pocketed $500 in cash for winning the opening round of the series.
“My start wasn't great as I bogged down a bit. The pole and the inside line isn't a great place to be considering the long straight after Turn 1 but due to my bad start I dropped a little behind Hugo even before the turn. We were side by side and got pretty close but got through cleanly. Hugo slotted in just in front of me but I got a good run for the straight and managed to sneak back by into the Carousel with some help from Luke. The rest of the race was smooth sailing and I just had to keep the focus going as it's easy to put the car in the wall in a couple of spots here.”
After seeing his teammate drop from second position, Nieminen had a relatively simple run to the finish line, although the My3id online-racer did have to fight-off a challenge from Samuel Libeert during his first of three stints.
“My start was quite good, Emil (Spindel) didn't get such a good one so I managed to move up one place into Turn 1, and on the run to the Loop (aka Carousel) I slipstreamed past my teammate André Boettcher to fourth,” offered Nieminen, whose runner-up finish was worth 40 points and $250. “For some reason, I wasn't able to get even close to my practice pace in the race and kept making small mistakes here and there. Luckily for me Hugo had a problem with his PC and Luke had a crash so I was able to finish in second with a drive that perhaps didn't quite merit such a result.”
Unable to match his practice pace, Nieminen finished 16 seconds adrift of the winner.
From his 11th position on the starting grid, Radicals Racing's Libeert gained three spots within as many laps before advancing to sixth position courtesy of Andre Boettcher, who bounced off the Turn 1 fencing into the paths of iGPManager's Martin Kronke and Pro Series Champion, Atze Kerkhof. By lap 21, Libeert was up to fourth position, when a three-way battle between the Frenchman, Emile Spindel, and Roland Ehnstrom, ended in tears for the CST Ajira and Orion Racing sim-drivers on the exit of the first corner. With Luis' demise, fourth became second for Libeert, who went on to collect the podium more than 20 seconds ahead of Simon Crochart.
“After all those crashes , I was in P4, behind Jesse Nieminen.” Libeert told inRacingNews. “Then I pitted on lap 23, around six seconds behind Jesse and I thought it was possible to finish on the podium so I pushed a bit harder than I was. During the second stint Hugo Luis had a disconnection which was lucky for me.”
A fearless opening lap from Twister Racing's Crochart saw him jump from 24th on the grid, to 12th position. Then as the likes of Kerkhof, Boettcher and Kronke fell off the map, the Frenchman engaged in a battle for top-five honors with Aleksi Elomaa. With 40 laps on the board, and with the iGPManager entry continuing to fill his mirrors, Crochart's fourth-place finish was sealed when Elomaa's race came to an abrupt halt approaching Turn 6.
McLean rushes past as Stergios, Kerkhof, Libeert, Krönke and Ehnström lineup well astern.
It was a white-knuckle race for the final top-five spot at iRacing's rendition of the Watkins Glen Boot. Ultimately, Petteri Kotovaara edged out CST Ajira teammate Alex Arana, when the pair traded positions at the end of the second scheduled pit stops. While Arana left pit lane ahead of Kotovaara, the Spaniard was unable to hold off the Finn, who'd stopped a couple of laps earlier, and used the momentum to make a pass approaching the Carousel.
In an equally intensive battle for seventh, Daniel Lopez brought his wounded virtual Williams-Toyota FW31 to the line a mere three tenths ahead of Jaroslav Honzik and Matthias Egger. Sporting a damaged rear wing, Lopez could only watch the clock, as Orion Racing teammates Honzik and Egger sliced a three-second margin to mere tenths in the space of the final 10 laps – fortunately for Lopez, the checkered flag came to his rescue.
Slocombe's bold last-lap pass of Duhan and Gelink netted the Radicals racer 10th place.
In a dramatic fight for the final top-10 finishing positions, Andrew Slocombe pulled off a daring last lap pass, to pip Dave Gelink and Dom Duhan to 10th spot. Negotiating the final few corners of the penultimate lap, Twister Racing's Alberto Baraldi looked set to finish the race in 10th position, but as the four FW31s exited the last turn, the Italian darted into the pits, with a suspected fuel shortage. This handed the advantage to Redline's Duhan as the white flag flew. As the trio approached Turn 5 in a closely knit pack, Slocombe seized his chance and swept around the outside to poach 10th place. Compounding Duhan's woes, Western Wolves Racing's Gelink then snatched 11th spot, around the outside of Turn 6.
With the first round of the 2012 iRacing.com Grand Prix World Championship Series now complete, Huttu tops the table, following a dominant and near-flawless performance. Hoping to put 2011's technical issues behind him, Nieminen's second spot in the standing ahead of Libeert should prove to be a confidence booster for the season ahead. Round Two of the championship visits iRacing's virtual Zandvoort. Will Huttu be at the top of the pile again, or do the likes of Luis, Nieminen, and Libeert have the power to stop his resurgence?