A virtual rendition of the tight 0.686-mile Lucas Oil Raceway oval in Brownsburg, Ind., provided a pair of thrilling races Wednesday evening for the TireRack.com Road to Indy iRacing eSeries Presented by Cooper Tires. Andre Castro (Legacy Autosport) overcame polesitter Peter Dempsey (Turn 3 Motorsport) to claim victory in the opening 20-minute race, while Max Kaeser (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports) held off a race-long challenge from Flinn Lazier (Lazier Racing) to claim the nightcap by a scant 0.232s. For both young men it was their first trip to the top step of the podium.
Perennial front-runners Braden Eves (Exclusive Autosport) and Phillippe Denes (RP Motorsport USA) completed the top three in Race 1 after Dempsey was eliminated by an errant backmarker. Denes and Eves also starred by finishing third and fourth in Race 2, which began with the top 10 finishers from Race 1 inverted on the starting grid.
Qualifying took on additional importance this evening on such a small track with the entire field separated by mere fractions of a second. USF2000 racer and last year’s Lucas Oil Formula Car Race Series champion Prescott Campbell (Exclusive Autosport) had been fastest in the pre-race practice session but would start a lowly 16th on the grid for Race 1.
Instead it was veteran Dempsey, nowadays the team principal at Turn 3 Motorsport, who posted the fastest time and secured his second SimMetric Driver Performance Labs Pole Award of the year. The Irishman was joined at the head of the field by Castro, with Kaeser and New Zealander Hunter McElrea (Pabst Racing) starting on the second row of the grid.
Dempsey took off into the lead but was never able to eke out anything like a comfortable margin. Instead, Castro remained seemingly glued to his virtual Pro Mazda car’s gearbox. Behind, McElrea had managed to sneak past Kaeser into third at the start, with Legacy Autosport team owner Louis “Mike” Meyer jumping into fifth place ahead of Eves.
The leading positions remained unchanged until the only virtual full-course caution of the day came with 22 laps in the books following a huge accident in the midfield.
There was more drama shortly after the restart as a variety of incidents broke up the middle order of the top 10. Meyer was among the casualties, spinning out at the halfway mark. At almost the same time, Castro took advantage of some lapped traffic to pull off an audacious move for the lead on Dempsey.
The two leaders circulated almost side by side for several laps before Castro was able to cement his authority. But on Lap 42, Dempsey’s misfortunes continued as he was taken out by a spinning slower car, ending his hopes of at least a podium finish.
The incident enabled Castro, who also has endured his share of misfortune this virtual season, to surge clear and secure a well-deserved victory.
“It feels really, really good to finally win,” said Castro. “I knew I had a good chance coming into the oval, which is why I was so disappointed to lose out on pole – and by such a small margin. I knew it would be hard to pass, so I just stayed behind Peter until we got into traffic. I had worked on that move in practice, throwing it onto the bottom of the track and sliding up to the top, and it worked. The lower line has always been fast for me here. The key was to keep it clean and avoid the flipping cars, and I was able to do that in Race 1.”
McElrea inherited second before spinning out after 47 laps. A close-following Kaeser also was taken out of contention, allowing the closely matched Eves and Denes, who had worked his way patiently from 13th on the grid, to move into their eventual podium positions.
Yuven Sundaramoorthy (Pabst Racing) was left as the only unlapped finisher in fourth, with McElrea, Campbell, Lazier and Jacob Loomis (BNRacing) all finishing one lap off the ultimate pace.
Keawn Tandon (Jay Howard Driver Development) started on pole for Race 2 by virtue of finishing 10th in the first race. Behind him on the grid were Kaeser and Lazier, who had finished ninth and eighth respectively.
A bold start by Kaeser, who had twice finished on the podium in the opening pair of virtual oval races at World Wide Technology Raceway two weeks ago, allowed him to ride the high line and emerge in the lead at the end of the opening lap, with Lazier tucking in behind.
That maneuver proved to be decisive, as 17-year-old Kaeser narrowly held off third-generation racer Lazier throughout the breathless 66-lap race.
“It feels absolutely incredible to put it all together and get this first win,” said Kaeser. “I’ve made little mistakes and haven’t been able to make the move at the right time but here, I raced well to the end. It’s hard to pass here, especially since if you’re driving the bottom line on the track, the car on the top can make it hard for the car on the inside to get by. The car felt strong, and my strategy was to carry enough speed coming out of Turn 2 on the first lap to make a move for the lead and it worked pretty well. After that, it was just push as hard as I could to the end. But racing with Flinn was great: I didn’t have to worry about anything unexpected happening.”
Tandon maintained third place for the first 50 laps, which were run at a frantic pace, before Castro, who had worked his way impressively from 10th on the grid, executed another of his trademark “slide job” passes to wrest away the position.
Sadly, Castro’s misfortune struck again with less than 15 laps remaining when he was unable to avoid a spinning lapped car on the back straightaway.
Denes and Eves took advantage by sneaking through into third and fourth, followed by Loomis, who enjoyed a strong evening despite getting shuffled back at the start.
With Denes and Eves claiming an equal number of points this evening, the pair will remain separated by just six points at the head of the championship as the competitors prepare for another road course race, this time at scenic Watkins Glen International in Upstate New York for another two races next Wednesday, May 27.