The thundering Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli returned to its spiritual Monterey home, virtually, Sunday afternoon for the first installment of the Trans Am by Pirelli Esports Championship.
The dramatic nose-to-tail racing that Trans Am is known for carried through online in a spirited doubleheader feature that saw new faces emerge to the top of the standings. Josh Hurley (No. 31 Jetco Racing/McAleese & Assoc.) and Tyler Kicera (No. 1 Howe Racing Ent./Carbotech Brakes) took top honors in the back-to-back 20-minute races.
Kicera started on point for Race 1 after edging out Hurley by .249-seconds for pole position with Dylan Archer and Nick Rosseno (No. 10 Burrtec Waste Industries/AMSOIL) starting from Row 2. Six-time Trans Am champion Ernie Francis Jr., Hunter Pickett (No. 2 Pickett Racing/Altwell), 2019 WeatherTech Raceway TA2® winner Thomas Merrill (No 20. Diehl-Merrill Racing/HP Tuners), John Paul Southern Jr. (No. 16 Pittrace.com/Southern Motorsports) lined up behind for the first standing start.
Kicera perfectly timed the lights, jumping off the line to leave a bogged down Hurley on the front row to be passed by several drivers. Hurley stalled on the grid after prematurely shifting into fourth gear before the green flag dropped.
But, the shifting mishap may have been Hurley’s saving grace as a melee unfolded in front of him on the first lap that claimed several cars including pole-sitter Kicera and professional sim driver Archer (No. 9 Archer Brothers Racing). Hurley dodged the incident, chasing down leader Francis Jr. (No. 26 One South Florida Wealth Advisors) to take the on Lap 6 of 14.
Using lapped traffic to his advantage, Hurley defended his position from Francis Jr,, the 2019 TA Laguna Seca winner, to claim the first victory in the Trans Am Esports Championship. Pickett, grandson of long-time Trans Am driver Greg Pickett, completed the podium in third. Lawrence (No. 5 Peterson Racing/3 Dimensional Services Group) and Rosseno rounded out the top five.
“The race today was a lot of fun,” said Hurley. “I was glad to keep my all podium finish streak alive in Trans am with Jetco McAleese. I did make the race exciting by trying to be clever on the start and spamming the shift button so I left the grid in fourth gear. Fortunately, I was able to get through first lap wreck and run down Ernie (Francis Jr.), which was very reminiscent of our previous battles on real tracks.”
After drivers dialed in during Race 1, Race 2 delivered better racing, more intense action and more heated battles throughout the field. With the inverted lineup based on finishes in Race 1, Scott Lagasse (No. 23 M1 Race Cars / Team SLR) and Kicera started from the front row with Southern Jr and Carol Rydquist (No. 15 MyRaceShop.com Prototype Development Group) filing out Row 2.
In a heated battle with Southern Jr., Kicera went wide in Turn 2 on the opening lap, dropping back to third with Southern Jr. taking the lead.
Kicera patiently waited for his redemption and was ready to pounce when Southern Jr. had a stumble through Turn 6, setting up a daring pass for Kicera to take the lead through the legendary Corkscrew. From that point, Kicera maintained a gap from the rest of the field to claim the checkered uncontested by more than six seconds.
“I’d like to forget Race 1 and what could have been, starting from pole and getting wrecked on the first lap,” Kicera said. “The good news is that I was able to work from the back of the field to ninth and take advantage of the field inversion for Race 2. After taking first, my focus was on building a lead and trying to just maintain a gap. It was certainly a bit of redemption for what happened in Race 1. I have to thank Howe Racing and Carbotech Brakes for their continued support and especially The Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli for hosting the Esports Championship.”
Southern Jr. earned his first Trans Am podium finish, placing second in Race 2 with Ed Sevadjian (No. 12 Big Machine Vodka/Leadfoot Racing/Duntov Motors) in third. Hurley charged from a last-place start to challenge for podium position, but had to settle for fourth after the clock ran out on his attack for the top. Merrill completed the top five.
“Transitioning from real world cars to the virtual world was a daunting but welcome challenge,” said Southern Jr. “It took a while for me to get into the rhythm of things but once I did, I was golden. I was able to secure an 8th place and 2nd place finish respectively but still got a lot of work to do for the next race. Thank you to (everyone who set the series up) for keeping us drivers busy during these hard times!”
Just like in real life, some drivers experienced technical challenges that kept them from starting the race. West coast driver Beau Borders (No. 4 @BordersRacing) faced a comedy of errors prior to the race that forced him to withdraw after qualifying.
“I was really looking forward to joining my Trans Am family for the race today, but an ill-timed technical problem kept me out of the running,” said Borders. “Apparently turning off ‘auto update’ doesn’t really mean that your computer won’t do an auto update. It’s like if you told your crew chief not to swap out gear boxes before the race, and then all of a sudden you’re up on jack stands with a gear box swap as the other cars are rolling onto the track to start the race! Pair that with my internet crashing and problems with my rig lead to a very frustrating evening. I’m looking forward to the next event, and I’m thrilled that Trans Am is keeping the racing bug alive! If you’d like to follow, I’m everywhere @BordersRacing.”
TA2® West Coast Championship driver Michele Abbate (No. 8 Grr /Scosche/Pryde/Scrubblade) also experienced setbacks after qualifying.
“The Grr Racing team is beyond disappointed to miss the first rounds of the Trans Am by Pirelli Esports Championship Series,” Abbate said. “We have never experienced any kind of technical difficulties in the past and unexpectedly we were unable to join the server to race at Laguna Seca. With immediate support from the organizers it was ultimately an unknown issue that caused us to miss out. We hope to resolve this in time for the next event!”
Round 2 of the Trans Am by Pirelli Esports Championship continues Sunday, May 3 at 3:00 p.m. Eastern at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. Hurley leads in the standings by 12 points over Kicera heading into Round 2. The esports championship follows the same scoring as the regular Trans Am season with the top drivers fighting for more than $20,000 in cash and prizes.
Full Results: https://bit.ly/2W0U4K7
Watch Round 1 Replay: https://youtu.be/Ou6S7nQRkfU