The TireRack.com Road to Indy iRacing eSeries Presented by Cooper Tires began in spectacular style this evening at an impressively realistic virtual rendition of the World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill. Two sensational races each provided 20 minutes of non-stop action, with last year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship winner Braden Eves (Exclusive Autosport) and the inaugural Ricmotech Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires iRacing eSeries champion Phillippe Denes (RP Motorsport USA) sharing the victory spoils.
Eves, from New Albany, Ohio, who celebrated his 21st birthday earlier in the week, edged impressive USF2000 debutant Max Kaeser (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports), 16, from Keystone, Colo., by just 0.156 seconds in the opening race, while Singaporean Indy Lights racer Danial Frost (Andretti Autosport) finished hot on their heels in third place.
Race Two, which saw the top 10 finishers from Race One inverted for the start, was even closer. Despite starting way back in 23rd following an incident in the opening round, Denes fought his way to the front before taking the checkered flag a scant 0.002 seconds in front of Eves. Kaeser continued his impressive form by rounding out the top three.
The evening began with Legacy Autosport’s Andre Castro, from New York, N.Y., on pole position following a brief qualifying session. Castro thereby secured the SimMetric Driver Performance Labs Pole Award and the first championship point for the new 10-round virtual series.
Yuven Sundaramoorthy (Pabst Racing), from Guilderland, N.Y., qualified a magnificent second and ran within the leading pack until making a mistake and spinning in Turn One. Castro, though, had continued to hold the lead, albeit with a pack of hungry young chargers snapping at his heels.
Nine cars comprised the leading group after the opening dozen laps around the 1.25-mile egg-shaped oval. Castro held onto his lead tenaciously but was unable to shake off Eves, Denes and Kaeser, with Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing), from Homer Glen, Ill., Reece Gold, from Miami, Fla., Cape Motorsports USF2000 teammate Josh Green, from Mount Kisco, N.Y., USF2000 newcomer Michael Myers (Legacy Autosport), from Lizton, Ind., and impressive iRacing eSeries debutant Santi Urrutia (HMD Motorsports) all very much in contention.
Unfortunately, their battle was interrupted after 17 laps when Castro, who had slipped to second behind Eves, tangled with Denes in Turn One. Both were out of contention, although, crucially, Castro resumed to finish in 10th. Denes wasn’t so fortunate, placing 23rd once the 35-lap race had concluded. The ensuing full-course caution brought a welcome respite.
But the action continued at the restart, with five youngsters battling it out for the win. Finally it was Eves who took the spoils, narrowly ahead of Kaeser, Frost, Gold and Myers. Green also wasn’t far behind in sixth, with USF2000 racer Mathias Ramirez (DEForce Racing), from Bradenton, Fla., the only other unlapped runner in seventh.
Kaminsky, who was involved in a fracas shortly after the restart, recovered to finish eighth ahead of Cameron Shields (Legacy Autosport), from Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia, and Castro, who thereby secured the pole position – his second of the evening – for Race Two.
A second action-packed race also was briefly interrupted by one brief caution period, which came after seven laps following a collision among several contenders toward the lower end of the top 10.
As many as 14 drivers remained in the lead draft for most of the 35-lap race, with nine of them remaining within striking distance of the lead as the end drew near.
Sadly, after doggedly holding onto the lead for several laps, Shields, who scored his maiden Road to Indy victory in the USF2000 series’ only appearance on an oval last year at Lucas Oil Raceway, was not among them after suffering an apparent technical problem after 19 laps.
Instead it was Eves, who had worked his way steadily from 10th on the grid, Denes, up from 24th, Castro and Kaeser who exchanged positions regularly during a thrilling battle for supremacy.
Despite being out of contention following an earlier incident, Michael d’Orlando (Cape Motorsports), from Hartsdale, N.Y., provided an extra dimension to the climax of the race as he tried desperately to avoid going another lap down.
The leaders had to thread the needle as they fanned out in the final sprint off Turn Four to the checkered flag, with Denes, in the middle of the track, narrowly sneaking ahead of Eves to claim the victory. Kaeser was right there behind in third, capping an excellent day, with Castro, Kaminsky, Green, Timmy Pagliuso (HMD Motorsports), from Fishers, Ind., Myers and Keawn Tandon (Jay Howard Driver Development), from Calabasas, Calif., all in close contention.
Eves, who earned another championship point after snagging the TSOLadder.com Fastest Lap Award in Race 2, holds a handy lead in the point standings as the competitors will head next to the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca road course for another double-header event next Wednesday.
“I’m really glad we’re doing ovals in this second season; they’re so much fun,” said Eves. “It’s a totally different game on the ovals in iRacing than the road courses, but I will say that after racing on the oval at Lucas Oil Raceway last year (in USF2000), a lot of things in iRacing made more sense!
“The first race was so fun, though it made it much easier for me up front when Phil and Andre got into a little bit of contact. I think I had it better up top than the guys did down low. It gets a little loose on the bottom. But I had confidence in the guys around me – Andre is an extremely good oval driver, especially in iRacing, so I knew he would hold his line and race me clean. Then I started 10th in the second race with the inverted grid, and there were definitely some dicey moments, with guys running three and four-wide. It’s disappointing to lose out for the win but I can’t complain about a one-two finish and the championship lead.”