The Formula Regional Americas iRacing Invitational Championship drivers respected the bumps but not always each other in an action-filled Esports event at a virtual Sebring International Raceway.
In a race which opened with chaos as several top drivers collected each other through the first two turns, Benjamin Pedersen displayed his mastery of the fabled rough Sebring terrain, emerging unscathed and charging on to claim his first win in the Esports series.
The victory catapulted the Global Racing Group driver into title contention, closing the gap on GRG teammates Blake Upton, Dario Cangialosi and Dakota Dickerson who hold the first spots in the season-long championship.
Pedersen swept the three-race FR event during the regular season last year, and the virtual win kept him undefeated at Sebring.
“That was a pretty exciting race and a hairy first lap,” Pedersen said. “I am happy to finally get my first iRacing FR Americas win. I love Sebring; it has such a nice flow. Once I get into the rhythm, it’s such an amazing track. It was nice to be able to compete. It’s a lot of fun, but very serious. We get very competitive between each other, but always get a nice laugh at the end.”
Pedersen’s winning Global Racing Group F4 machine at the “real” Sebring last September event. Image by Gavin BakerPedersen qualified fifth behind pole-sitter Simon Sikes, Round 5 winner Darius Trinka, F4 U.S. driver David Porchelli and FR Americas driver Quinlan Lall.
Off the F1-style standing start, Sikes got the jump off the line but Porcelli quickly took the lead with an inside pass entering Turn 1. But, with a combination of a 125-degree track and cold tires, Porcelli lost control, spinning at the exit of Turn 1. In a tight corner with more than 30 cars behind him, Porcelli’s incident triggered a domino effect of drivers trying to dodge sideways cars and debris, collecting seven drivers.
Lall inherited the lead briefly before Round 1 winner Ben Waddell passed at the chicane. But, while Waddell was focused on Lall, Pedersen drafted off the pair to make a two-car pass for first.
After exchanging positions multiple times with Waddell for second in the first half of the race, Nelson Mason finally fended off Waddell. On his way to closing the gap on Pedersen, Mason set the fastest lap of the race with a time of 1m53.987s.
With Pedersen in his sights, though, the clock ran out on Mason’s charge for victory and he was forced to settle for second.
“Benjamin Pedersen ran a tremendous race, and I had to be pretty perfect to make the gains,” said Mason. “Ben Waddell and I were trying to work together but we both wanted to be in front, so I think that cost us a bit. It was a great race and I can’t wait until the finale.”
Waddell finished third, with F1600 Championship Series racer Zachary Rivard and Flinn Lazier finishing in fourth and fifth.
“It was a hard fought race and I got lucky there at the start as the sea parted,” said Waddell. “Overall I like the track combo with these cars. It was a wonderful battle with Nelson — we both had the pace to catch Benjamin but neither of us wanted to give up position. Which is OK because we had so much fun battling each other.”
Ellis Spiezia dodged several incidents on his charge from a near last place start to finish 10th, making up 20 positions along the way, but FR Americas rookie Jordan Missig still leads the Sabelt Hard Charger season battle with a total of 57 advances.
The FR Americas iRacing Invitational champion will win a set of Hankook Tires while the runnerup will be presented with a 90-day virtual training package from PitFit Training. Third overall in points will receive an Omologato watch.
The top-three competitors in each event will be awarded with official Druck FR Americas merchandise to sport during the 2020 season.
The FR Americas iRacing Invitational Championship returns to action on Tuesday, May 5. Fans will set the stage by voting where the finale will be held. Streaming starts at 7:10pm Eastern.
The event schedule will include one 10-minute practice, one 10-minute qualifying and one 30-minute race with points following the FIA FR system. The championship will be calculated based on the top six results (allowing one race to be dropped).