The hotly contested TireRack.com Road to Indy iRacing eSeries Presented by Cooper Tires heads to familiar territory for most of the drivers tomorrow, May 13, for a pair of 20-minute races on a virtual version of the popular and challenging WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. Coverage begins at 6:45 p.m. EDT with the green flag at 7:00 p.m.
Braden Eves leads the point standings after claiming a victory and a second-place finish last week when the five-week simulated racing series made its first visit to an oval at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.
Representing the Exclusive Autosport team, Eves, 21, will attempt to extend his 10-point advantage at the same track where he clinched last year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship with a breathtaking victory in the final round. Eves’ come-from-behind performance enabled him to clinch a scholarship valued at over $300,000 to move up one rung on the highly acclaimed Road to Indy ladder, into the Indy Pro 2000 series for 2020.
A full field of 36 is once again expected to take part in an initial 10-minute qualifying session from which only the fastest 28 drivers will be allowed to start the first race. The grid for Race 2, which will follow just a few minutes later, will be determined by finishing positions from the opening race, albeit with the top 10 inverted.
Among the major contenders will be Indy Pro 2000 racer Phillippe Denes (RP Motorsport USA, iRacing photo above) and rookie USF2000 competitor Max Kaeser (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports). Denes lives just a few miles from WeatherTech Raceway in Carmel, Calif., and won the inaugural Ricmotech Road to Indy iRacing eSeries title in addition to rising from 23rd on the grid to win Race 2 last Wednesday. Coloradoan Kaeser, meanwhile, burst onto the virtual scene last week with a pair of podium finishes.
Kaeser trails Eves by 10 points, 57-47, following the first two races.
“The key to last week’s race for me was getting a good starting spot, since that kept me out of the trouble behind me,” noted Kaeser, who will celebrate his 17th birthday on Friday, May 15. “To be up front, and to win out here, you have to play it smart. Most of the other drivers have a great deal of experience at this so you have to know when to make a move in order to hold the spot until the end.
“Even if it’s not real cars, we’re all still racing and trying as hard as we possibly can to beat each other,” Kaeser added, “and you’re not just racing the best guys in USF2000, you’re racing the best guys in the entire Road to Indy. Most of the other drivers have established themselves as front runners in the real world, so it would mean a lot to win out here, and then hopefully do the same when we get back to real racing in June.”
Few drivers in the field have as much real-life experience as Turn 3 Motorsport Team Principal Peter Dempsey. The Irishman twice finished among the top three in the Indy Pro 2000 Championship in the late 2000s, qualifying on pole position at WeatherTech Raceway on both occasions. Dempsey also was involved in one of the closest finishes ever at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when he edged Gabby Chaves and two others in an unforgettable 2013 Freedom 100 Indy Lights race.
“I have many memories from WeatherTech Raceway back in 2008 and 2009, though both years had their disappointments for different reasons,” Dempsey recalled. “Although I had a podium finish in 2008, I went into the weekend knowing I couldn’t win the championship. In 2009, I went in leading the championship and, unfortunately, I got taken out of the race, at the Corkscrew, which meant I didn’t get it.”
Dempsey, who now lives with his young family in suburban Chicago, Ill., has been one of the fastest drivers in the eSeries, despite so far only having one podium finish to his credit. He snagged the SimMetric Driver Performance Labs Pole Award for the opening round of the Ricmotech eSeries at Barber Motorsports Park in March, but failed to qualify last week at Gateway.
“I spun starting my second lap in qualifying last week and didn’t end up making the race,” he explained. “With everything slowly going back to normal, I haven’t been able to practice much since we’ve been back at work. I’m just hoping to get through Wednesday night with two clean races this time.
“At Laguna, it’s important to stay out front,” Dempsey continued. “Be careful with the sand as it can catch you out easily. This is one of those courses where it’s important to use all of the track. And of course, the Corkscrew is a fun corner.”
Fellow former racer David Martinez, who hails originally from Monterrey, Mexico and is now the principal of DEForce Racing, also has shown good pace, claiming the TSOLadder.com Fastest Race Lap Award in one of the two oval races last week.
All competitors once again will be racing for a cause as all registration fees to enter will be donated into a fund to support COVID-19 relief efforts.
Fans can follow the weekly action on a series of outlets including the Cooper Tire and Tire Rack Facebook pages, the Road to Indy TV website and App, ApexRacingTV’s YouTube and Facebook, the iRacing eSports Network and the series’ respective Facebook platforms.
In addition, live coverage will be carried by MAVTV Canada, which will be airing all Indy Lights races live in 2020 when the series returns to action as well as Indy Pro 2000 and USF2000 championship highlight shows.