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Amith Kutti dominates round one, snatching victory not once but twice from an equally determined Sai Prithvi
Last week, we witnessed season two of the Indian Sim Racing League conclude amidst some spectacular action. And now, season three is here, vowing to turn it up a notch. The first race of this season, sponsored by the X1 racing team Mumbai Falcons and in association with Volkswagen Motorsport, was at the virtual rendition of the Okayama circuit in Japan.
The Okayama International Circuit (formerly known as TI Circuit Aida before 2005) is a 3.724km long circuit in Mimasaka, Okayama prefecture, Japan. Consisting of 11 turns (6 right and 5 left) is a technical circuit, with everything from fast corners to sudden changes in elevation.
Built in 1990, it one of the first and best country club tracks on the globe, and even hosted the F1 in 1994 and 95, both won by Michael Schumacher. Interestingly, many corners of the circuit are named after British drivers, who participated in opening ceremony and inaugural race. Additionally, it was one of the first road courses on iRacing
As before, the race consists of sixteen laps, with the champion driver getting a chance of testing with a Volkswagen Motorsport racecar. Meanwhile, the runner up gets a two-day training in 4-stroke karting from Rayomand Banajee and his team, as well as sponsored race in the upcoming season of the Indikarting Clash of Karts. The second runner-up, too, gets sponsored race, as well as VW motorsport merchandise.
However, the third season does bring about one small change, which is the introduction of a new race formats. Though there will still be a 10-minute qualifying session followed by a 20-minute race, the race will be followed by another race, but with a reversed grid.
Season 2 winner Sai Prithvi set the fastest time of 1:23.182 minutes and led the grid, followed by Amith Kutti with a time of 1:23.301 minutes and Abdul Hadi 1:23.649 minutes.
As soon as the lights went green, Sai Prithvi was seven-tenths quicker off the jump, and immediately snatched lead, with Amith Kutti closely following him. Now, considering the technical nature of the track, Corner 1 sent seven drivers right into the grass.
As the air cleared and the racers had covered some ground, the battle for third emerged between Justin Singh and Abdul Azim, before Azim lost control in final sector of lap 1. By the end of Lap 1, everybody except top 11 had to use ‘tow trucks’, or depend on the ‘quick repair’ option, that instantaneously negates damage for up to 15 minutes, enough time to maintain your position in the race and get to the pits to rectify any critical issue. This is done as this version of the iRacing platform, with the most recent damage model physics, designs the racecars to take a fair amount of damage, so crashes can break off parts, sometimes completely writing off the cars.
By the middle section of Lap 2, Sai Prithvi had already solidified his lead to seven car lengths ahead of Kutti, which he was able to maintain going into Lap 3 as well.
By Lap 5, the top 2 drivers were already 6 seconds ahead of the rest. However, coming up on a sharp left hander, Amith Kutti made some contact with Sai Prithvi, sustaining damage to his front right tyre and suspension, while Prithvi was flung off the track. This pushed Kutti into the first place, and heating up the competition for the second spot between Prathamesh Yedre and Abdul Qadir.
The stretch from Piper corner (7) to Hobbs corner (9) had become a bona fide trouble spot, and after a time in the pits, Sai Prithvi was back on track, at the eleventh position and trying his best to get ahead. With 7 laps to go, Kutti was maintaining his lead, getting eight-tenths a lap ahead of second placed Prathamesh Yedre, who himself had a significant three-second lead over Abdul Qadir, with Swaraj Yadav struggling in fourth place with a determined duo of Kothadiya and Azim snapping at his heels.
However, with 5 laps to go, Kothadiya lost control in Willaims (Corner 2) resulting in snap oversteer, and getting T-boned by Azim. Though the ensuing crash led to damage to Azim’s front wing, it also pushed him to the fifth place, albeit with a ten-second gap between him and fourth-placed Yadav. Meanwhile, front-runner Kutti was a significant 3 seconds ahead of Yedre.
With three laps remaining, Kutti was still ahead of Yedre, both executing perfect laps and making sure neither was running wide and going off into the sand. That said, Yedre was still lifting off the throttle earlier in some of the tighter turns, like Atwood (4) and Piper (7), which, combined with the intermittent long straight between Corners 4 and 5, ended up with Kutti pulling further and further ahead.
Meanwhile, Prithvi was a man on a mission, inching closer to the top ten, and a points-scoring position, despite running four-tenths a lap slower than Kutti’s times. The penultimate lap saw Prithvi on the hunt for ninth place, which he achieved with some deft cornering, besting Sunil Kukde.
By the final lap, Amith Kutti was a startling 10 seconds ahead of Prathmesh Yedre. In retrospect, this was a combination of his quick pace on the race start, consistently catching the slipstream off Sai Prithvi in the initial laps, taking advantage of traffic management, and diving to the inside of Redman (Corner 8) in the opening stages of the race. Lastly, the wheel-to-wheel contact with Prithvi, which ended with the front runner being almost taken out and Kutti nearly breaking his own suspension, cannot be disregarded.
At the end, Amith Kutti won race one of the third season, with Prathamesh Yedre in second place, and Abdul Qadir rounding off the podium
However, that was not all the action for the day, as the next race was soon to start, also at the Okayama circuit, with the only difference being the reversal of the grid
Lots of discussion occurred regarding the contact between Sai Prithvi (who finished ninth) and eventual winner Amith Kutti. The main question was whether they will be able to repeat (or reverse) the feat, considering the new grid positions. This eventuality could shake things up, as the season progressed.
Now, though Prithvi had to suffer both position and points losses due to the crash, a reversed grid position would theoretically give him a better chance in this next race. Also, the reverse grid meant Rohit Raut and Abdul Fatah made up the front row of the grid, with Sai Prithvi in fifth place and Amith Kutti in eleventh.
Race 2 commenced with a rolling start behind the pace car, despite which Abdul Qadir spun out, shuffling up the spots in the grid. So when the green flag finally dropped, Najeeb Ahamed made his move, taking the lead spot.
Soon, the grid arrangement was thinning out further, with many drivers going into the run-offs. This was chiefly because not only had the racers’ tyres not heated up enough (as it was still Lap 1), but also because track temperature for race 2, at 27 deg Celsius, were less than it was in Race 1. Taking advantage of this chaos, Sai Prithvi made his way up to the third spot, with Mudit Grover doing his best to fend him off, but to no avail. And, in a freak coincidence, the top two placed drivers collided and slid off into the grass just past the Hairpin (Corner 5), handing the lead over to Prithvi.
The field was now patently more competitive, with Kutti, too, within the top five. With Grover momentarily losing grip, Kutti was able to avoid him and sneak up into the second spot, past Abdul Azim and Swaraj Yadav, with Rohit Raut now in fifth place. By now it was already apparent that positions will surely be shifting around, with a couple of drivers having to take ‘tow-trucks.’
Leading into Lap 3, and Prithvi was already 1.6 seconds ahead of Kutti, with Azim, Yadav and Raut spaced about a second or so apart. Grover, in sixth place, had fallen back to the spot he started the race in, with Divyang Dodia doing his best to get ahead. In eight place, newcomer Chewang Lama was having trouble, especially in the technical second sector of the racetrack, which allowed Sunil Kukde to overtake him as he went off track just past Revolver (Corner 6).
Now in Lap 5, the difference in the top 11 racers was 55 seconds, with the top three fairly close, at just four seconds apart. Kutti, for his part, was 1.3 seconds behind Prithvi, striking distance considering he was running three- to four-tenths faster than Prithvi in some cases in race 1.
Soon, a lapped car re-entering the track at Redman (Corner 8) hit Prithvi, and pushed him off the track, once again handing Kutti the lead. Now, though Prithvi recovered quickly and was still able to stay in the top three, he suffered a crucial loss of time and pace, not to mention his car showed some damage on the left side pod, a small wonder considering the car he had contact with ended up with its bodywork scattered.
By Lap 8, Kutti was 3 seconds ahead of Abdul Azim, with Prithvi hanging on to third place, losing time to Yadav, who was rapidly closing in with the intention of taking away the podium from the season 2 champion. In fact, Yadav came very close to overtaking Prithvi at Redman, before the latter dove to the inside and closed the door on him.
Despite all that, Prithvi was going two seconds a lap slower, so Yadav was just biding his time. Meanwhile, Azim, who had slid off a few corners ago, was trying to regain lost ground when the duo of Prithvi and Yadav sneaked up on him, momentarily turning it into a three-car battle for the second place.
With eight laps to go, though Azim was doing his best, it all boiled down to Prithvi, and his ability to stay in the slipstream and bide his time, for when (or if) Azim makes another mistake. In the middle of the back, Divyang Dodia, climbing to sixth place from his starting position of 18th, was making steady progress on Rohit Raut.
All the while, Prithvi was still holding on to the third spot, while Kutti was, at an average, gaining a second every lap. So while the top three were somewhere in the 1:23 minute range, the next three were in the 1:24 minute range.
In Lap 11, Dodia was still in sixth place and staying focussed, closing in the gap between himself and Raut from six car lengths to three. For his part, Raut was a hefty 8 seconds behind Swaraj Yadav, who was hounding Prithvi for the third place. Coming out of the short straight before Revolver (Corner 6), Yadav was briefly able to pass Prithvi, before falling prey to the infamous snap oversteer, going into the grass, and losing close to three valuable seconds in one fell sweep.
With four laps to go, Kutti was uncontestedly setting the fastest lap times (between 1:22.9 minutes to early 1:23) and was about 12 seconds ahead of the competition. Meanwhile in the battle for sixth place, Abdul Qadir was shadowing Divyang Dodia, hoping for an opening for which to charge through. In third place, Prithvi was still losing time, dealing with loose left side bodywork, and yet doing a terrific job holding onto his spot and a two-second lead over Yadav.
Down the line, Kukde went off the spot, letting Qadir, who had fallen to ninth, get back to the eighth place. From here, Qadir held on to his momentum, getting to seventh after pushing Lama off the racing line.
Now in the final lap, Prithvi was still losing ground, with a patient Yadav watching his every move. Twice Yadav tried to take the inside line, and was rebuffed each time.
Ultimately, Amith Kutti took the victory, starting his season three innings winning both races in a dominating fashion. Closely following Kutti was Abdul Azim, with Sai Prithvi taking the final step of the podium.
After an exciting first round at Okayama, the series now moves to the Daytona International Speedway for Round 2, scheduled on May 10. So watch this space!