It is May and only appropriate that competitors in the TireRack.com Road to Indy iRacing eSeries Presented by Cooper Tires should be headed to an oval track for their next challenge. Tomorrow, Wednesday, May 20, a full field of drivers (plus a few team owners) representing all three levels of the acclaimed open-wheel racing development ladder – Indy Lights, Indy Pro 2000 and USF2000 – will take on a virtual rendition of Lucas Oil Raceway. Located just a few miles from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the banked, 0.686-mile oval track in Brownsburg, Ind., will host a pair of 20-minute simulated races.
A massively competitive field will be whittled down to just 24 starters during an intense and crucial qualifying session, starting tomorrow at 6:45 p.m. EDT. The pressure will be on as drivers count only the best single lap from their two-lap qualifying attempts.
The first of two races will start at 7:00 p.m. The grid for Race 2 will be determined by a reverse of the top-10 finishing positions in Race 1.
At stake are not only bragging rights, but a real-world prize from SimMetric Driver Performance Labs, which will provide the champion of the Tire Rack eSeries with a complementary 30-minute simulator session at each event on the 2020 schedule. The “real world” series all are slated to launch at Road America on June 19-21.
RP Motorsport USA’s Indy Pro 2000 racer Phillippe Denes has the championship lead following a pair of impressive victories last time out on the virtual WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca road course. Denes currently holds a six-point advantage over reigning USF2000 champion Braden Eves (Exclusive Autosport). Denes and Eves shared the victories during the opening oval track doubleheader two weeks ago at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.
Denes also secured both the SimMetric Driver Performance Labs Pole Award and both TSOLadder.com Fastest Race Lap Awards during a dominant performance on his California home track.
While Denes and Eves have been the drivers to beat, five others have earned podium finishes from six races held to date: Max Kaeser (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports), Singaporean Danial Frost (Andretti Autosport), New Zealander Hunter McElrea (Pabst Racing), Christian Brooks (Exclusive Autosport), and Kory Enders (DEForce Racing).
All will be in action this week, with Australian Cameron Shields (Legacy Autosport) also expected to be a contender after winning the USF2000 race at LOR in 2019.
Similarly, Indy Lights racer Frost will seek to repeat his real-life Indy Pro 2000 victory at Lucas Oil Raceway last year.
Curiously, Frost is the only Indy Lights racer to have challenged for the lead in any of the eSeries races held to date. But Belardi Auto Racing’s Toby Sowery has aspirations of matching that feat. A race winner last year at Portland International Raceway, Sowery will be making his eSeries debut after watching from the sidelines while awaiting delivery of his simulator equipment.
“I’m excited to get involved,” said Sowery. “I’m not sure what to expect: I don’t really go on any racing games anymore – not like I did when I was a kid. I’ve not been on a simulator in five or six years, but it will be good fun to finally take part. Watching from the sidelines, it looks very entertaining, because drivers take more risks than they would in real life since there are no consequences. I’ve got no expectations of what it will be like, never having raced (at LOR) in real life; (but) I’m hoping I can do well and help out the reputation of the Indy Lights guys! We definitely need to be in the front.”
After earning four top-10 finishes in the preceding five-race Ricmotech eSeries, Prescott Campbell has missed the opening four rounds of the TireRack.com eSeries due to his college exam commitments. He studies motorsport engineering at Oxford Brookes University in the UK. The reigning Lucas Oil Formula Car Series champion is excited to make his iRacing return and gain more knowledge before embarking on his rookie USF2000 campaign with Exclusive Autosport.
“Missing any racing is really hard,” said Campbell. “I’m jealous that my competitors have had more online virtual seat time, but I can put in the hours now to catch up. It was really cool to watch, though — especially the Round 1 oval — but I was especially sorry to miss last week’s race, since I consider WeatherTech Raceway my home track. That said, I think it’s more important to use the virtual series to gain experience on the tracks I haven’t been to – especially a track like Lucas Oil Raceway. I’ve never raced on an oval before so to do it in a competitive environment, with the drivers I’ll be racing against in August, will make a huge difference. We won’t get the chance to do this in real life until we’re at the race weekend.”
One more competitor to keep an eye on this week will be Indianapolis native Louis “Mike” Meyer (No. 14 in iRacing image above). A great-grandson of the first three-time Indianapolis 500 winner of the same name, Meyer is now a co-owner of the Legacy Autosport USF2000 team, in concert with his father, famed engine builder Butch Meyer.
A successful kart racer in his youth, Meyer posted a surprise over the weekend by recording the fastest time during an official practice session. He will be joined in tomorrow’s races by four other Legacy Autosport USF2000 representatives.
“We’ve had a blast, working on sim setup and figuring out what works best,” said Meyer. “We have Legacy test sessions with me, Cameron (Shields), Andre (Castro), Michael (Myers), Ayrton (Ori), my brother, and a few other drivers. It’s been so much fun, and useful: we only met Cameron at the Homestead test in March, so it’s been good to build a relationship and get everyone working as a team through iRacing.
“It’s been especially good for someone like Ayrton, who’s never been on an oval before. There are no real consequences – no crash damage, no injuries – but you still want to take care of your equipment and be there at the end. I was P1 in Sunday’s final test at LOR and I think it will be an exciting race. The key will be to qualify well and stay out of trouble, and not have any computer issues!
“It would be awesome to put the Meyer name back in victory lane, either working on a car or in an eSeries. I remember when I was 15 years old and I ran in an event at the Velodrome that was on ESPN2’s Thursday Night Lightning – I won a mini cup race and got to be on TV, and my great grandfather got to see me win my first big race. That was really cool.”
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 Facebook page; the TireRack.com website; the Road to Indy TV website and app; ApexRacingTV’s YouTube, Twitter and Facebook pages; 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.