This one was considerably tougher, but Bruno Spengler and BMW remain undefeated in IMSA iRacing Pro Series competition.
Driving the No. 7 BMW IMSA Team Red M8 GTE at the virtual WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on Thursday night, Spengler claimed a 1.772-second victory over New Zealand’s Shane Van Gisbergen in the 90-minute race presented by Motul. Spengler’s triumph followed a season-opening win last month in the IMSA Sebring SuperSaturday event.
At Sebring, Spengler claimed the race lead early and stayed out front the rest of the way to take the win. Tonight, though, was a different story. Polesitter Rodrigo Pflucker jumped into the lead and remained atop the leaderboard until pitting near the halfway point, but a lengthy repair during that pit stop dropped the 2019 IMSA Prototype Challenge champion from contention for the victory.
Once all cars completed their pit stops and the competition full-course caution period just past halfway ended, Spengler found himself in a familiar position. He was at the head of the field with two factory-backed BMW drivers – Nicky Catsburg and Philipp Eng – behind him.
But it was still far from over, as Eng passed Catsburg for second place with 34 minutes to go in the race and set sail after Spengler. Eng took the lead 17 minutes later, as Spengler had to slam on the brakes in avoidance of Paul Holton pulling his No. 76 BMW back on course in front of him after spinning off heading into Turn 6.
But the Austrian’s lead only lasted for three minutes. In the uphill run toward The Corkscrew, Eng was involved in a massive crash with Corey Fergus in the No. 0 BMW, and just like that, Spengler was back out front again.
The Canadian was not challenged for the victory the rest of the way, although Van Gisbergen made it interesting with a late charge that came up just a couple seconds short. Spengler has a perfect 70 points in the IMSA iRacing Pro Series championship standings, giving him an eight-point lead, 70-62, over Catsburg.
“It was never boring,” Spengler said. “It was a very interesting race. There was quite a lot of preparation on the team’s side. We’d just see how close the lap times were and qualifying was amazing. The lap times were so close. People were driving on the edge. There was so much traffic out there, which almost cost me the victory because I was leading the race, and I think in Turn 5, a car came back on the track out of nowhere pretty much, and I had to brake massively to avoid him and then I lost the lead.
“A lap later, it happened to my teammate Phillipp Eng with a big crash and then I got the lead back. A lot of traffic, a lot of things going on, a lot of people going back across the track and going the wrong way and things happening. You had to be very careful out there. You had to take risks, but at some point you had to be super careful and be on your toes because a lot of things were happening and going on, but yeah, the ending was fun.”
Flying the AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus colors on his No. 97 BMW, the man known as “The Giz” benefited from a different tire strategy to work his way onto the podium. While he did get close at the checkered flag, Van Gisbergen doubted he had enough to challenge Spengler.
“We were sort of in no man’s land,” Van Gisbergen said. “There were five or six cars ahead of us with similar speed but we were more than 10 seconds behind and then it was quite straight behind us. We saw that the guys in front didn’t take tires, so we sacrificed early four or five spots to have a lot more grip. Two or three laps after the safety car, I was back up where I was before the pit stop and then the work started.
“I’m not too stressed about lapped traffic. I think I wasn’t going to catch Bruno anyway, but it certainly would’ve been nice to try and put a bit more pressure on him and get closer. The car ahead was blue-flagged and they were doing their own race. It was a little bit frustrating, but it is what it is.”
Catsburg held on for third place in the No. 10 BMW IMSA Team Black M8 GTE to give the German manufacturer its second straight podium sweep in IMSA iRacing Pro Series competition. He agreed that tonight’s race was a much tougher challenge than the Sebring event, owing to the traffic caused by nearly 50 cars on a 2.238-mile circuit.
“For me, the traffic was very, very intense,” Catsburg said. “It’s quite hard to judge on what kind of tires someone is driving or if they have damage or not, so it’s really hard to judge what they are going to do. You had to really, really take care because I think both me and Bruno are obviously now trying to score well for the championship.”
Mirko Bortolotti came home fourth in the No. 888 WRT Speedstar Audi Sport Ford GT, with Turkey’s Ayhancan Guven completing the top five in the No. 913 Porsche Junior 911 RSR.
The next round of the IMSA iRacing Pro Series is set for Thursday, April 30 at the virtual Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. It also was announced earlier Thursday that Round 4 of the series will be held at Road America on Thursday, May 14, and the fifth round will be on the VIRginia International Raceway iRacing circuit on Thursday, May 28.
The season ends Thursday, June 11 at Watkins Glen International.