Avoiding a huge opening-lap accident involving a dozen entries in the iRacing.com World Championship Series Road Racing field, Australia’s Luke McLean secured his first victory in the globe’s most prestigious sim-racing series at Phillip Island.
Before the 35-car field even took to the grid for the 69-lap race, a strange air hung over the paddock following the announcement that Team Redline drivers Bastien Bartsch,
Luca Masier and defending iWCSRR champion Greger Huttu would not be making the grid due to “injuries.”
Maybe it was foresight, or maybe it was just luck, but the trio’s absence from round two of the championship meant they missed one of the most explosive race starts of this
Once the dust and virtual carbon fiber settled, McLean led Klaus Kivekäs home to a popular victory on his home turf.
Within seconds of the green flag the fate of several online-racers was sealed, as the majority of the field became embroiled in a scene akin to Apocalypse Now. Starting from the fifth row of the grid, Italy’s Matthias Egger flew out of the blocks and immediately passed positions nine and eight before coming up to the rear wing of Ben Cornett.
With so much momentum in his pocket, Egger kissed the back of the Australian’s Williams-Toyota FW31, setting off a chain reaction of epic proportions. Assuming the role of passenger as a result of the contact, Cornett speared across the track into oncoming traffic, dealing a side blow to Ilkka Haapala, before bouncing off Aleksi Elomaa and back into the pack.
Spotting Cornett’s unorthodox re-entry onto the circuit, Blake Townend headed right in avoidance, only to find fellow Englishman Richard Towler moving into the same space. The ensuing collision flipped Towler onto his roll-bar and sent the NASCAR iRacing series champion skewing along the front straight in a blaze of sparks.
Meanwhile, Cornett continued his roller-coaster ride into the remaining pack. Following contact with Martin Macjon, he went airborne as Marc Payne passed directly beneath his battered and bruised car. Despite the carnage unfolding ahead of him, Matteo Calestani ploughed into Dom Duhan and Daniel Almedia as they were gingerly working their ways
through the smoke and dust. Calestani flipped into the air, sailed across the grass and then came to rest at the entrance to turn one.
Brad Davies had tip-toed his way through the carnage and looked set to come out of the mêlée unscathed before a stray Ryan Murray clipped the American as he reacted to Towler’s now upright car ahead of him. This sent Davies spinning into Calestani’s disabled car.
Whilst all hell had broken loose behind him, Hugo Luis was setting a pace worthy of his front-row qualifying position and dragging polesitter Jesse Nieminen, McLean, Kivekäs and Shawn Purdy in his wake.
But by the time the first round of scheduled stops were due, Nieminen had reclaimed the lead from his My3id teammate after Luis lost momentum behind lapped traffic. Nieminen’s advantage grew when Luis dropped down the field due to contact and Purdy carved himself a niche in the tire wall when trying a pass for third. However, just when it looked like Nieminen would breeze to his second victory of the championship, the Finn’s Internet connection failed and he immediately dropped from the race.
“Well what can I say, had the win pretty much in the bag and then as I saw the Quality-bar starting to get red I just couldn’t believe it,” said Nieminen.
When Nieminen dropped from the race with 26 laps to go, his lead over McLean was six seconds, with the Aussie holding a small margin over Kivekäs and Haapala. After completing his final scheduled pit stop without any issues, McLean continued to maintain a lead of just under three seconds en route to a relatively unchallenged victory, the first this season for Team Redline.
For iWCSRR rookie Kivekäs, his second-place finish was an achievement in itself. What’s more, coupled with his fourth place finish at Spa, the podium finish puts the My3id driver into the championship lead.
“Going into this race I wasn’t hopeful of a good result. I have struggled at this track with every car I’ve driven and testing times indicated that this would be the case once again as I was not up to pace with Hugo and Jesse,” explained the Finnish sim-racer. “I’m really happy to get my first podium finish in the series, especially considering that this track was supposed to be my weakest link in the schedule. It’s quite a shock to be leading the championship after two rounds. It won’t last that way for long but I’ll enjoy it while I can.”