A brilliant tactical drive by Phillippe Denes enabled him to extend his unbeaten streak in the Ricmotech Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires iRacing eSeries at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but only just. The iRacing veteran, who, when the “real” on-track season begins, will contest the Indy Pro 2000 Championship for the defending champion RP Motorsport USA team, enjoyed an intense wheel-to-wheel battle with reigning USF2000 Champion Braden Eves (Exclusive Autosport) throughout the 45-minute contest.
The pair were separated in the end by just the virtual yard of bricks — 0.098s.
Eduardo Barrichello (Pabst Racing) and Christian Brooks (Exclusive Autosport) also were embroiled in a tense battle for the final podium position. Brooks crossed the line in third but Barrichello later took the position when the Californian was issued a post-race penalty for blocking as the pair sprinted toward the finish line.
Championship leader Denes, 21, maintained his dominance of virtual racing by posting the fastest lap in qualifying and securing his second SimMetric Driver Performance Labs Pole Award in succession.
But he was unable to shake off Eves as the pair quickly distanced themselves from the pack.
Denes and Eves exchanged positions almost constantly on the 2.534-mile Indianapolis F1 Grand Prix road course — slightly different to the track which will be used when the Road to Indy series arrives in Indianapolis later this year. Denes appeared to gain what might have been a decisive advantage when his mandatory virtual pit stop, after 19 laps, was slightly quicker; but Eves lost no time in drafting back onto the Californian’s tail.
Their battle continued unabated until, on the 33rd and final lap, Denes allowed Eves to make a pass under braking for Turn Eight at the end of the Hulman Drive Straightaway. He then tucked into Eves’ slipstream as they entered the final corner – running in the reverse direction to the famed oval – drafting past as they headed onto the long drag to the finish line and just managed to keep Eves at bay.
Eves did gain some consolation – and an additional championship point – for posting the TSOLadder.com Fastest Lap of the Race.
“That was intense!” exclaimed Denes. “Braden and I were on a (radio) channel together and we talked about working with each other early in the race to try to build a gap. We helped each other throughout the race then started battling toward the end.
“It all came down to that last lap,” Denes added. “Literally everything I was calculating in my head was geared toward what I needed to do near the end, and how to get the perfect draft down the straight. I let him by me at the end of the back straight; got by in the draft for the lead; and he didn’t have enough to get by me at the end. I’m really happy with that one!”
A similarly thrilling battle in their wake ended with Brooks and Barrichello fighting it out for the final podium position following a quick spin by Indy Pro 2000 Turn 3 Motorsport team owner – and former Freedom 100 Indy Lights race winner – Peter Dempsey at Turn 2 with just three laps remaining.
Barrichello looked set to draft past Brooks in the final sprint to the finish, only for his Californian USF2000 rival to make a reactionary move in defense, which, in accordance with the regular RTI regulations, resulted in a post-race 30s penalty which demoted him to seventh in the final results.
Brooks’ penalty elevated DEForce Racing team principal – and former IndyCar series driver — David Martinez to fourth, narrowly fending off a rapidly recovering Dempsey at the finish line.
Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing) maintained his streak of top-10 finishes with a solid run to sixth ahead of the penalized Brooks, who remained clear of earlier spinner Prescott Campbell (Exclusive Autosport) and Flinn Lazier (Lazier Racing). Danial Frost (Andretti Autosport) completed the unlapped finishers in 10th, fighting back strongly after being nudged into a spin by Campbell in the early stages.
The five-event Ricmotech Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires iRacing eSeries will continue at the classic Road America circuit in Elkhart Lake, Wis., next Saturday, April 18, beginning at 1:00 p.m. EDT.