2016 was a year of major changes in the world of iRacing. There were brand new introductions to the circuits of the Nurburgring, Le Mans and Imola, the introduction to cars like the McLaren MP4-30, the Mercedes AMG GT3 and the 1989 Nissan GTP ZX-T. We saw the introduction to the Blancpain GT Series and what could come about from that, along with some brilliant races in all forms of driving from the lower classes of the Skip Barber and the MX-5, right up to the elite of the elite. To be concise with what I know, I don’t watch much of the NASCAR side, so it would be very unfair of me to include people into lists that I don’t really know about, so apologies on that front, however, I will be able to rank my best drivers of the year, and also the best teams of the year, as 2016 in review comes full circle.
Top 20 Drivers of 2016
20: Philippe Leybaert. Understated is what the former TNT Racing driver has been to the world of Sim Racing this year as he battled hard to a 2K World Cup crown after developing some brilliant racing over the season. It is a rare occasion to see a specialist in a Skip Barber on the list, but such has been the consistency and overall status raising that he has done to the car alongside others, has to be a reason why he deserves a slot on the list.
19: Kamil Franczak. The Global Mazda MX-5 oddly brought a lot of fast drivers together in 2016 as the overall winner would be invited to a Laguna Seca Invitational with other drivers around the world. Kamil would settle right in and coupled with sensational drives against the likes of Aday Coba Lopez, you have to feel that Kamil’s opportunities earned him the right to stand on this list.
18: Denis Grabovsky. Starting the year as a relative unknown, Grabovsky’s rise inside of a McLaren in GT3 circles brought prominence to the stage come the Blancpain GT Series. A crafty driver with an eclectic turn of pace, his run of form helped propel the Kerb Surfers up to new heights before making the big move to the Pure Racing Team. 2016 seems to be a warm up for this driver, and could become a pivotal part of success for Pure in 2017.
17: Kazuki Oomishima. Not the best of years for the Japanese native but still very respectable none the least. Despite reaching new highs with a front row start at his home race in the iRacing Grand Prix World Championship Series, his season petered out uneventfully to secure qualification for next season. However despite that, the marvels he created inside of the Formula Renault brought fresh hope to those looking to see a new winner in 2017, from a driver who has come oh so close on past occasions.
16: Freek Schothorst. Another driver with big hopes in 2017, Freek came to prominence for his Formula Renault performances, coming in the first three iRacing seasons, second, second and first. This managed to spark an elusive move to Team Redline and as such will be looking to support his team for 2017. I think Freek has a lot more to offer, especially with the pace we have seen in the Road Pro series. You also can’t forget his amazing win in the 6 Hours of The Glen alongside Will Tregurtha and Lando Norris, sparking critical attention to the world. There is a bright future for a man with racing throughout the family.
15: Klaus Kivekas. An all out talent sitting comfortably inside Coanda, Klaus had a quiet year but made two heavy accentuations, firstly in the FISRA races where he dominated the likes of Tommi Hahka and Joni Takanen, and secondly with his work in the Blancpain GT Series where he piloted the car on four occasions, collecting a win for his troubles. Kivekas, when he wants to could become a factor in any car he decides to drive. It is just a case of asking about what car Kivekas wants to drive.
14: Maximillian Benecke. Arguably one of the spearheads of a world class outlet like Pure, Benecke’s season has been a case of if’s and not when’s. Leading in multiple amounts of races including VLN, Petit Le Mans and the 24 Hours of the Nurburgring, Benecke has managed to bin the car somewhere along the line from leading positions. Despite this, Pure have still had decent results by winning some key races, and Benecke will be the first driver to be instrumental in any future success for the team.
13: Yuta Saito. Making the jump earlier in the year to Radicals Online was a major step for Yuta, who seemed to quietly flourish throughout 2016. Yuta’s ability to keep himself out of trouble has served him well, as he secured 9 top ten finishes to finish inside of the top ten. A good base for the Japanese star, he could really kick on next season with help from the likes of Wensing and Bolukbasi behind him.
12: Mitchell DeJong. The X-Games gold medalist is surprisingly down the order after a terrible F1 campaign in 2016. Despite scoring five podium finishes, it was a jumbled season that saw many retirements and questions about the ability of what was once the most promising talent in iRacing. He would prove those critics wrong though with flat out drives in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and also the Blancpain Endurance Series qualification which has shown just how brilliant the American truly is.
11: Martti Pietila. Just missing out on the top ten is a driver who completely showed just what sort of capability he had, scoring a magnificent second place around Imola. Pietilla now become one of the most wanted drivers on the market, finishing seventh overall in the iRacing Grand Prix World Championship Series, alongside a whole host of other accomplishments. Martti I think has a little more room to develop and could be a race winner in the years to come.
10: Kay Kaschube. Argued the greatest pure endurance racer on iRacing today, the Heusinkveld CORE Motorsports driver made statement after statement against the likes of Benecke. Eyed up as the most valuable asset to the meteoric rise of CORE, Kay has been instrumental in most of the victories this season for the team. With a seat waiting for him for Blancpain now, Kay could be the one factor that puts Heusinkveld top come 2017.
9: Graham Carroll. A season that seemed to be more about a Formula Renault at first, it would be safe to say that Graham was a little bit lost in the shuffle in 2016. This hasn’t deterred the Scot however as he motored in the second half of the season to a podium finish as well as a top ten in the iRacing Grand Prix World Championship Series. I think though that this could be the breakout year for Carroll as seen by the Vegas e-Race qualifications, beating the likes of Huttu, Pahkala and many many more names to be first overall. If Graham can bring that sort of form over to the World Championship, then we could see potentially a three way scrap for the title.
8: Ilkka Haapala. Orion have a quiet gem in what is the most Underrated sim racer in the world today. Nobody really views him as a star, nobody thinks he can set the world alight, but an amazingly consistent season was merited with eleven top ten finishes with two of which being top five finishes to finish sixth overall in the iRacing Grand Prix World Championship Series. I think Ilkka could get a podium next season if the work has been put in by the entire team, because there is something there just waiting to be discovered in the Fin.
7: Peter Berryman. Berryman and his purple rims were a quiet story before he found a turn of pace towards the end of the season. A podium and three top fives was coupled with success in the Formula Renault against the likes of Freek Schothorst and Jouni Silvasti. Berryman is known to be a little frustrated by the car, but could become even beter given two more years.
6: Alexander Vos. Vos was a very quick driver in 2016 coming into Blancpain, but coming out, he was the most sought after product ever. Helping to mastermind CORE from the back of the field to second at Imola was a joy to behold, even more so knowing that the two man team came just a point from Blancpain success. 2017 holds a lot for Vos who has also helped Heusinkveld CORE to wins in the likes of the 24 Hours of The Nurburgring. Expect even more from this talent.
5: Olli Pahkala. Another year of consistency from the Redline driver as for the third year in a row, he would come home third in the iRacing Grand Prix World Championship Series. With consistency being paramount for Olli, you do have to feel that his performances inside of the Blancpain GT Series were at best, disappointing and really undermined what was another good season for the fin.
4: Jorn Jens. Jorn wasn’t the quickest driver in the Blancpain winning car, but what Jorn was, was a rock. The team was built around the driver who attended every race, and come rain or shine, would drag the car home across the line. Twice they would make the tyre strategy that left everyone else scratching their heads, picking up two wins, and a very unlikely second at Brands Hatch which meant they would take the title by a solitary point. Jorn will try to lead Coanda through their golden generation right now, and the dynasty looks more and more likely to live on in 2017.
3: Greger Huttu. The five time champion for only the second time in history, would be beaten in the iRacing Grand Prix World Championship Series, as he would lose out at the final race to be second overall. Despite struggling to get to grips with the car, the Finnish driver would still collate five wins, and twelve podium finishes to still have a greatly successful year. However, age is against him now as he moves into his mid 30’s, and could find getting back to the top of the pile an even more difficult than before, but believe me, if anyone can, Huttu can.
2: Joni Tormala. A breakthrough year for Joni saw Sim Racing come alive the same way that it did with Aleksi Uusi-Jaakola last season, as Tormala took his first and second wins in very quick succession. There wouldn’t be another victory after that for him, however a great run of finishes saw Tormala come home fourth overall in the iRacing Grand Prix World Championship Series. His bigger achievement in my opinion was with the Blancpain side of racing as he carried his car to lead the championship with just two races to go, despite turmoil behind closed doors. Tormala needs to work incredibly hard next season if he is to stay with the elite, but if 2016 was anything to go by, hopefully 2017 will be more of the same.
1: Martin Kronke. Only the third ever winner of the iRacing Grand Prix World Championship Series, Martin has rewritten the book on how to be a successful champion. Finishing inside of the top five in every race, and missing the podium on only one occasion, Kronke didn’t just drive fast, but he also drove smoothly, picking up nine wins with the least amount of incident points for the season. Bring this form into play with a very good run in the NEO Endurance Series at the start of the year, Kronke is the poster boy for iRacing and will need to do more of the same if he is to become the second ever multiple time champion.
Top 20 Teams of 2016
20: Positive Sim Racing. A team that has severely struggles in an overall goal and cohesion, Positive Sim Racing feels like there is a rift between them. Stuck between a Grand Prix challenger and a Skip Barber developer, in terms of what Positive Sim Racing has done on the F1 stage, the answer is surprisingly little. Despite Diogo Oliviera managing to retain a seat, there is only Daniel Bida there to help as of current inside of the top twenty, but even then, he would have to fight every week for a seat. I feel that there needs to be more direction from the team right now, because what they are trying right now just doesn’t seem to be working.
19: Apex Racing Academy. An idea conjured up this year, already you can clearly see the benefits of the Apex Academy as they now look to have a couple members of their own securing qualification to the iRacing Grand Prix World Championship series ahead of some very well established names. With the likes of Pashalis Gergis making his name known, it is only a matter of time before half of the grid is an Apex-fest.
18: SimRC.DE. SimRC have been that nearly team all year, they get very close to victories but then they encounter an issue somewhere that drops them down the order. They have been quite successful in the leagues this year and that will only help to aid their development but they need to find something more if they are to break the upper echelons of the likes of say Blancpain and the World Tours.
17: Iberica Racing Team. A very quiet season from the all white Spaniards which saw a drastic cutback in their goals. Very early on, they pulled out of the iRacing Grand Prix World Championship Series and have been cropping up here and there looking for real world drives. I give credit to Pablo Lopez, who won the Shootout in October, along with Kristian Kwietiniewski for securing a Seat Leon drive, however in terms of impact in iRacing, a disappointing campaign in Blancpain has really dropped their stock over the year.
16: Glacier Racing. A team in transition right now as they look to bring their new generation to the forefront. There is a distinct lack of forward progression from this team at the moment which has been accentuated by the loss of Aleksi Elomaa to IneX over the winter, who is becoming a key utility belt in 2017. Still though, they have done well with a second place in the 6 hours of The Glen which has shown that they still are not a team of just smoke and mirrors. Needing to build for 2017, they have the likes of Joni Takanen who needs to spearhead the team if they are to make any form of impact next season.
15: MSP-Driver’s Home. MSP have the potential for major things in 2017, and arguably should have done more last season with the likes of Grunastel, Jestadt, Biela, Tanson and Gotsch inside their ranks. While on the surface they haven’t made too many inroads, you can see the effort they have put into their endurance side whilst Gotsch has currently lead his first laps of the iRacing Road Pro Series. I can see a lot happening for a team with lofty ambitions already.
14: Thrustmaster Mivano. Once a team of prancing horses, now starting to look like “My Little Pony.” Mivano weren’t all bad in 2016 by collating a few good endurance results in the World Tours. A lack of membership in the McLaren MP4-30 coupled by a somewhat average Blancpain campaign means that Enzo Canta in the Skip Barber becomes the most notable name. Mivano need an overhaul to stop this rot, because their folklore of legends seems to be heading rapidly to the past.
13: Vortex Simracing. Vortex have this overwhelming problem with relevancy and how to stay relevant. For a time, their biggest factor was Formula One and the dynamic duo of Janis and Dinkel, which this year crumbled with the latter moving to Apex Racing. From there you could then say that Justin Brunner was a top draw inside of a Star Mazda before he left for pastures new this year in the form of IneX. That only leaves Balazs Remenyik to pick up the pieces for this team, and I can’t say that i see clearer skies right now for them.
12: Fenix Motorsports. A good year for Fenix saw a breakthrough at the Petit Le Mans as they took the RUF trophy moving on forwards. A dynamic team that features the likes of Joris Theilen, Rachael Whiteford, Mike Theunissen and Roope Turkilla will need to band together for 2017 and really develop the talent that lies with their team, potentially looking to challenge well in the likes of maybe VLN and Blancpain.
11: CoRe SimRacing. A team in development and making all of the right moves towards it, CoRe have hit the jackpot with the addition of Isaac Price, giving a whole new F1 dimension to their team. With this in mind, they have greatly benefitted form the godsend talent in waiting in the form of Frederick Rasmussen who could very easily become the poster boy for endurance racing alongside Kaschube and Benecke. I think, adding on from their GT3 win at the Petit Le Mans, that there could be some great wins from this team, and mark my words, dark horses for the crown of Blancpain.
10: Evolution Racing Australia. The premier Australian team has one major problem to meet with the successes of this year, and staring them glum in the face is their timezone. It is very safe to say that their competition is quite limited, for both teams and for competitive racing, meaning that there are more stresses on their drivers to create results. It certainly hasn’t stopped them taking the Bathurst 1000 which was expected of them, but it has made an impact on Riley Preston who has not been near the front in any respect to the iRacing Grand Prix World Championship Series. ERA could become an error in 2017, but I think they will excel.
9: Friction Racing. Despite the horrible showing in the Blancpain GT Series, Friction picked up some major accolades in 2016 which included a GT1 win at Petit Le Mans, and an agonising second place at the inaugural 24 Hours of Le Mans. Still with class talent such as Marcus Hamilton, I would love to see a signing or two go their way as they need to find a small edge if they are to challenge for World Tour supremacy.
8: Radicals Online. 2016 can be classed as a misfire for the Radicals team, who lost two key members in Bakkum and Bouteloup, who went from the cusp of iRacing glory to the midpack, and went from hot prospects to grid fillers. There is a lot that can be done by this team and there are some really encouraging signs of kicking back into life for 2017 with their endurance side being lead by Ricardo Castro Ledo and Alexander Manea, while the likes of Cem Bolukbasi and Daniel Wensing will be looking to drive on the likes of Oomishima, Saito and Filho into the future.
7: Apex Racing UK. In reality, it has been a lacklustre season for Apex who seemed lost for the most part of the season until kicking into life for the final few races of 2017. Clearly not geared for endurance, they ghosted through Blancpain without so much of a hint of finding pace, while they need to look at key failings in the F1 department as there shold not have been any way that Sebastian Job should go through qualification, and even then, look as if he may miss an automatic spot. Despite this, their success with the academy and the influx of talent such as Dinkel and Holzmann should see them gain more fans as they look set to swarm the grid for next season. They need to use Graham Carroll well as he could potentially have a breakout year in 2017.
6: Pure Racing Team. Pure have all the tools at their disposal to completely blanket endurance and win the lot. The reality is that they haven’t, and that is worrying. Still though, there was major success with wins at Daytona, and at the Nurburgring. But how many times have they been dependent on Maximillian Benecke before he would wipe out of many races across the season? They have the potential, bringing in Peter Koch and Patrick Pichler to secure an overwhelming pool of talent. For 2017 however, they absolutely must use that talent to the best of their abilities.
5: Orion Race Team. Orion are now starting to really pick up the ball after losing Mitchell DeJong to Coanda in the last few years. Bringing star studded power like Colak and Decorps to the party, there has been no more underrated star than Ilkka Haapala this season, which has seen Orion jump everyone else to become the best of the midfield. I like the addition of Jeffrey Reitveld who could, on his day, turn up and beat legitimately anyone, including Mclaren driver for 2017, Stoffel Vandoorne, and also the developments they have made moving forward with their testing. 2017 is looking up for Orion.
4: IneX Racing. IneX have come up and said that they could be the best all around team ever in terms of iRacing. You look at the NASCAR gains with the Stergios brothers, you look at how they put three cars inside of the top seven in the Blancpain and won races in the F1. My biggest concern is on the McLaren MP4-30 side as Joni Tormala made immediate impact with the new car. Besides him, who is there to cover if Tormala was to ever leave? Robin Friskopps right now would be the closest thing to success and even then he would be top ten at best, and it doesn’t help that they lost Isaac Price either. IneX aren’t in crisis yet, but both of their teams just cannot rely on Joni in the future for their success.
3: Team Redline. The all powerful F1 dynasty was toppled for only the second time in the long career of the team. Huttu despite getting five wins would struggle towards the end of the season with qualifying, Pahkala would drop out of the top five and Uusi-Jaakola would near enough be non existent for a number of races. Their Blancpain escapade would not fare much better as they would only be able to muster one title worthy machine, that ultimately could never break into a winning position no matter how hard they tried. But while still having some great success, there is some outstanding talent in the forms of Bono Huis and Freek Schothorst, who both offer themselves as the new generation to what was an already ageing team.
2: Heusinkveld CORE Motorsport. Coming completely out of left field, the talent on offet that CORE have pulled together has been simply astonishing. Kay Kaschube, Alexander Vos, Nils Koch, Angelo Michel and so many more have revolutionised the German based team and taken them to the heights of winning the 24 hours of The Nurburgring, the 24 hours of Spa and the VLN series. They came agonisingly close to winning the first ever Blancpain GT Series and arguably only lost due to a ddos attack during the Silverstone race, which lost them the lap from what was potentially the lead. There is no reason why CORE couldn’t win the whole lot this season, and it should be half expected that they can as well.
1: VRS Coanda Simsport. Coanda have to be the best team of Sim Racing today, and there has to be a lot of credit towards them. Wins have come in the 12 hours of Sebring, the inaugural 24 Hours of Le Mans and stealing the Blancpain GT Series crown by just a point. To also show how well they have done, they took the NEO Endurance crown in the early months, alongside the greatest feat of them all by Martin Kronke, who won the overall title over Greger Huttu. 2017 could be more of the same, and they have signed to deliver, and I think it will take a monumental effort to overthrow the kings of Sim Racing.
Top Five Drivers of December
5: Phillip Diaz. A normally quiet month ended with the 2016 All-Star Race, pitting the best from road, oval and endurance in two races around New Hampshire. And to say Diaz did brilliantly would be an understatement, as he would drive the car home to two consecutive second place finishes, winning the prize money for charity in the process. Safe to say that the best all-rounder currently is Diaz at the moment.
4: Boris Spoelstra. Formula Renault is the gateway to a drive in the iRacing Grand Prix World Championship Series, and no driver has done better than Spoelstra at the start of the season. Although fortunate in the opening race at Watkins Glen, it was the turn of pace at Donington Park that really set the world ablaze for the dutchman as he now sits heads and shoulders above the rest of the field. I think there is a lot of potential in the Scuderia Leone driver, mixed with a very experienced team alongside with the likes of Cornelis and De Laat. Watch out for this guy come 2018.
3: Nestor Garcia Jr. The Blancpain Endurance Series took to the BMW favouring circuit of Brands Hatch for the latest round of the series, as the stranglehold by Coanda came to a close. Instrumental though around the circuit was Nestor Garcia Jr., who made sure that Iberica would be firmly cementing themselves inside the series next season. Two wins instrumented by the team, with both opening stints coming as of him, you simply have to stand up and applaud.
2: Marcus Jensen. Jensen has always stayed quiet in the iRacing Road Pro Series, but this time, he has taken centre stage with just three rounds to go. His first win of the season at a jam packed Monza which saw Huis not start along with dramas for Bakkum, Schothorst, Bolukbasi and Gotsch meant that Jensen lies an astonishing 240+ points clear of the field with just three races to go. A respectable finish next time out would secure automatic qualification for him, and would be regarded as a fantastic achievement for a driver not many picked to win the Road Pro. Second in the rankings for the second straight week, there is a lot of potential for this man if he can find the top step more than he has done so far.
1: Ryan Luza. Twice in a row at the top, and there is only one reason why. The man has been absolutely faultless and can simply do no wrong, five wins from five starts, twice coming back from penalties. It is very safe to say that “Flying” Ryan Luza suits the man perfectly, and has to be strongly considered now, favourite to take the NASCAR Peak Antifreeze Series title.
Top Five Teams of December
5: Thrustmaster Mivano. Mivano over the last year or so have had a major cooling from what was once an incredible flair rivalled only in the real world by Ferrari. It is a nice return to form for the Italian based team, with a commendable victory in the Gathering of Tweakers at Motegi. Mivano need to focus directly on what they want to do for 2017 because overall, they need that little bit extra.
4: CoRe SimRacing. CoRe have done very well this month as they look more and more like the dark horses for a number of competitions in 2017. A resounding NEO Endurance Series win at Motegi seems to highlight the great strength that the outfit has, as they look to challenge on two fronts for next season. Looking at also some of their drivers taking to the Formula Renault, maybe 2018 will be even more important to them than 2017 could be.
3: VRS Coanda Simsport. A mixed bag for the cornerstone team of Sim Racing. While they still hold a lead in the Blancpain Endurance Series, they still made a great effort of things through a difficult track for the car. They didn’t have the best of Road Pro Series months with Mack Bakkum who lies fifth, coupled with only third in the NEO Endurance Series. There was also a bit of disappointment in the All Star Race also as mixed with nothing there to set the world alight.
2: Iberica Racing Team. Two much needed wins around Brands Hatch propels the Spanish based team up into the Sim Racing Rankings. Breaking what was an unbeaten run stretching back from the opening rounds, it is a very commendable achievement from Iberica and one that hopefully continues an upward trend for them.
1: Apex Racing UK. A fantastic month for the team after placing three cars inside the top five in Grand Prix qualifying at Monza. Continuing work like this will see them looking to break the glass ceiling of Coanda and Redline. A continuation of this in January will surely also mean potentially that 10 Apex cars or more could make the grid in 2017.
Sparey’s Eye: January
Lukas Gotsch: MSP-Drivers-Home
Frederick Rasmussen: CoRe SimRacing
Graham Carroll: Apex Racing UK
Greger Huttu: Team Redline