If there’s one word to describe all of the 2018 iRacing World Championship series, it’s closeness. The iRacing VRS GT World Championship is no exception. 5 teams entered the race at Spa-Francorchamps yesterday with hopes and dreams alive that they would be the ones lifting the trophy at the end of the season. Some are still on track, but others need to do a little bit of soul searching before Suzuka to figure out how to mount a challenge.
Qualifying times were tight, and after a session of positions chopping and changing, the FA Racing G2 Logitech G car piloted by Frederik Rasmussen managed to grab pole position with a time of 2:14.037. Mitchell deJong lined up alongside him in the VRS Coanda Simsport #8 car with a time only 0.004 slower. That close theme only continued down the field with the top 35 cars of 39 all being within one second of pole.
Championship contender Team #33 were poor only managing to scrape out 21st on the grid, but that set them up for what we all thought would be a good run through the field. More on that later.
The opening lap of the race was a respectful affair, with almost everyone immediately getting themselves single file for the treacherous run up through Eau Rouge and Radillon for the first time. One driver that got caught out however was Joshua Rogers for TTL Esports, managing to lose 3 positions on the start after an attempt of a two wide move through Eau Rouge with the Odox Motorsports ISRAP #15 machine, dropping him from 3rd to 6th.
Pure Racing Team Red driver Maximilian Benecke had a very easy pass on the brakes into les combes over his team’s closest rival in the championship VRS Coanda Simsport #8 15 minutes into the event, setting themselves up to go chasing for the race win throughout the rest of the race. However it was FA Racing G2 that set the early pace at the front of the field, with Rasmussen pulling out a 5.5 second gap over Benecke before the first set of stops came into effect.
Immediately the strategy cards were being played. The vast majority of teams decided to opt for fresh tires for their first stops, however Odox Motorsports ISRAP #15 and a couple of others bucked that trend by being the first teams in the race to attempt a double tire stint. They quickly regretted the decision as they started to lose 2-3 seconds a lap to their rivals for the entirety of their next stint, forcing Odox to come down onto the lane a little bit early for their second stop due to excessive tire wear.
The race had no shortage of action however with a couple of incidents out on track after the first pit stop cycle was completed, the most spectacular of which resulted in SimuCube Inex Racing Yellow coming in hot to the bus stop, hitting a kerb and getting some air directly over the front of Zenith HI-SPEED, an incident that started with Alexander Thiebe (MSP Phoenix Racing 2) spinning out of Blanchimont, coming back across the track causing the Inex car to take avoiding action. The results were not pretty.
In the second round of stops, race leaders FA Racing G2 decided to swap Rasmussen out for Isaac Price while PRT Red kept their star driver of Benecke behind the wheel.
The pace difference was telling, with Benecke catching Price at a rate of knots after the stops were completed and the eventual pass was inevitable. Price stated after the race that he found this race difficult to practice for, due to being a part of the F1 Esports pro draft, as well as having a bereavement earlier on in the week. Either way, PRT Red were now in a very good position to pull away through the rest of the stint.
The mid pack however was getting a little spicy. Perhaps a little too spicy for Simon Fiegl’s (Altus Esports) liking as he got himself turned around by JJ Nylander (Glacier North) on lap 70, 2 hours and 45 minutes into the 6 hour event.
A lull in the race arrived halfway through as drivers started to set themselves up for the final couple of stints. Frederik Rasmussen got back behind the wheel of the FA Racing G2 car and immediately started to attempt to chase down Benecke. There were more attempts made at double stinting the tires by teams in and around the mid pack with some mixed results. The BMWs were having the most success, with Euphoria Racing only dropping a 1-1.5 seconds a lap as opposed to Odox #15’s 2-2.5 second drop in the Audi earlier on in the race. A combination of track rubber-in and the BMW’s tendency to be a bit kinder on the tires than the 40kg ballast stricken Audi made this happen.
One team noticeably missing from the front of the field was Team #33. For the team of ex-Heusinkveld Core Motorsports drivers, scrapping for positions just inside of the top 20 is a far cry from the highs of winning the 3 hours of Monza with an absolutely stunning last lap, last corner pass. Alexander Voß, Andre Boettcher and Nils Koch struggled to get any pace out of their Mercedes AMG GT3. A shame for drivers of their calibre.
The race took a new life in the final stints with PRT Red deciding to put Ivo Howeller behind the wheel for the second to last stint. This resulted in a mirror situation to what happened earlier on in the race, with this time FA Racing G2 having the pace advantage on track. Rasmussen passed Howeller late on into the 4th hour and pulled out a sizeable gap immediately.
Having seen this, PRT Red made a statement of pitting Howeller as soon as the strategy allowed, and putting Benecke back in on a no tire call. A hail Mary attempt. The race was now FA Racing G2’s to win or lose chasing from behind.
G2 took tires on their final stop and Rasmussen gave chase, pushing the blue and orange Fernando Alonso sponsored Audi hard. It was that pushing that sent him over the edge, spinning the car fully once and adding a half spin into the mix to seal the team’s fate. Rasmussen had the pace to comfortably catch up to Benecke and pass him with the time remaining, but FA Racing G2 arguably threw the race away. PRT Red masterfully put them into a situation where if they wanted the race win, they would have to work under pressure for it.
This result means that Pure Racing Team Red extends their points margin at the top of the championship standings. FA Racing G2 jump Team #33 to 3rd place in the points and gain vital points in the battle with p2 sitters VRS Coanda Simsport #8, who had a fairly comfortable race finishing in position 4. TTL Esports will also add a healthy amount of points to their tally by finishing on the final step of the podium, solidifying their top 5 standing.
Further down the field things have been shaken up one could argue. Euphoria Racing with another stand out performance by Agustin Canapino and Salva Talens getting their BMW well inside the top 10, starting to become a force to be reckoned with for teams in and around that area.
Williams JIM Junior get two of their cars up into 10th and 11th with a great run from the Williams Racing supported team, the black car getting their first top 10 of the season equalling that of their sister car.
In terms of losers, the already aforementioned Team #33 will definitely be looking for more heading into the race at Suzuka. Odox Motorsport Samsung PRO’s season keeps going from bad to worse with another retirement, having only scored 13 points across the entire season so far. Inex Racing Yellow will also have to try to recover from their spectacular retirement, dropping outside of the top 10 in the standings after this race.
Overall, this race sets things up nicely for a multiple-way championship fight coming into the final rounds of the season. Pure Racing Team Red are in a very good position with a bit of a points buffer at the top of the standings, but never count out the likes of VRS Coanda Simsport #8 and FA Racing G2 since they have been close all season long.