There were two deserving winners when the inaugural Ricmotech Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires iRacing eSeries wrapped up this afternoon at a virtual Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Braden Eves, last year’s USF2000 champion who lives less than an hour from the track in New Albany, Ohio, scored a dominant first eSeries victory for Exclusive Autosport, leading throughout the 45-minute, 36-lap race, while second place for fellow Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires contender Phillippe Denes (RP Motorsport USA) was enough for the Californian to secure the first Road to Indy virtual championship.
Brazilian Eduardo Barrichello maintained his 100 percent record of podium finishes in the five-race series by taking third for Pabst Racing.
By virtue of his championship title, Denes elected the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund as the recipient of the $2,600 raised through driver entry fees and a $500 donation by TSOLadder.com.
Denes began the final event with a healthy 19-point championship lead, needing only a solid finish to put the title beyond the reach of his rivals. The 21-year-old from Carmel duly posted the fastest time in the usual, hectic 15-minute qualifying session to secure his third SimMetric Driver Performance Labs Pole Award, worth an additional bonus point.
But, after enduring a disappointing weekend at his home track last year, Eves, 20, got the jump on Denes at the start and never looked back.
Eves extended his advantage to over four seconds before making his mandatory pit stop for a virtual fuel top-up after 22 laps, then maintained a remarkably consistent pace at the front of the field to secure the victory.
“This is a track that I’ve always wanted to do well at,” said Eves. We always have a lot of fans come out in real life, and there’s always a lot of pressure to perform at (my) home event. I didn’t have the results last year so this is nice.
“It was a great race,” Eves continued. I probably felt the least pressure today than any of the other races. Phil (Denes) had some technical issues that helped us in the beginning, but I think I had the pace to win either way. I didn’t do a ton of practice but I felt as though I was prepped and ready to go. I made a mistake on my fastest lap in qualifying but it was a fun race and a really fun series. Awesome job by everyone at Ricmotech, the Road to Indy for putting this on.”
Eves also became the only driver during the entire iRacing eSeries to claim an extra bonus point for posting an entirely incident-free-race. He finally took the checkered flag 2.958s clear of Denes, who had to contend with some technical connectivity issues but was content to follow him home in second, secure in the knowledge that the championship crown was his.
“I’m so relieved to get this, and so happy – it’s my first championship,” Denes exclaimed. “I had technical difficulties with my computer through the whole race which meant that I couldn’t keep up with Braden and was getting run down by the pack behind me. I was just doing everything I could to stay consistent with the low frame rates. Luckily, I held onto it. (The system) came back in the last moments of the race, which was too late by then for the race win, but I was able to hang onto the championship. Thank you to RP Motorsport, to my family, Fire Flighters, my girlfriend who supported me, and especially to Road to Indy and Ricmotech for putting on such a great event.”
After qualifying a slightly disappointing sixth in the closely matched field of 28 cars – whittled down from a total of 35 entrants – Barrichello took advantage of several cars tangling at Turn 12 on the second lap to move into third place. He then proceeded to enjoy a lengthy tussle with fellow Brazilian Kiko Porto (DEForce Racing) which continued all the way until lap 27 – long after the pit stops – when Porto lost control and spun off at Turn One. Porto’s only consolation was an additional bonus point for posting what was to stand as the TSOLadder.com Fastest Lap of the Race.
Christian Brooks (Exclusive Autosport), Andre Castro, and Legacy Autosport teammate Cameron Shields were embroiled in the third-place battle for much of the race, but Brooks and Castro came together immediately after their pit stops. Both dropped from contention, although Castro recovered to finish eighth.
Shields, making a strong comeback to the series after missing the last three weekends, survived to finish fourth ahead of Singaporean Indy Lights competitor Danial Frost (Andretti Autosport), who worked his way up from 13th on the grid.
Jacob Loomis (BNRacing) rose from 18th on the grid to sixth, finishing narrowly ahead of Canadian former Radical series champion Antoine Comeau, who enjoyed a strong run for Turn 3 Motorsport.
Behind Castro, Yuven Sundaramoorthy (Pabst Racing) and 2019 Lucas Oil Formula Car Race Series champion Prescott Campbell (Exclusive Autosport) rounded out the top 10.