A Turn 1, lap 1 crash paved the way for Mitchell deJong to secure his first win in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series at Circuit of the Americas. deJong’s stiffest competition, Bobby Zalenski, found himself facing on-coming traffic just seconds into the race, allowing deJong to cruise to a dominate victory.
deJong and Zalenski started the race on the front row, and it seemed we would be in for a titanic battle between the two as Coca-Cola Series rookie deJong looked to give Zalenski his stiffest competition on a road course in recent years. That battle was all but over after Turn 1 though after Nick Ottinger tagged the left rear of Zalenski, sending both of them spinning.
“Obviously, it was a little bit messy in the beginning and it was quite stressful. It was a really tough couple of weeks of practice, but man, I can’t believe it,” deJong told the iRacing broadcast after the race.
“This feels so good. Obviously, it’s so stressful and it’s such a competitive series, especially [with] how dominant Bobby [Zalenski] has been – really unlucky for him today. I think we would have had a pretty good battle, but it feels so good.”
deJong becomes the eighth different winner in eight races and secures a spot in the playoffs. Things may not be that simple, though. If there are more than 10 winners (which seems increasingly likely) the 10 playoff drivers will be determined by the highest-10 winners in the point standings.
That means the pressure is still on for drivers, even ones with wins, to stay at the sharp end of the standings. Drivers who win must also stay in the top 20 in points standings to be eligible for an automatic spot into the playoffs.
“We’ve had quite a difficult season so far,” deJong said. “We’ve had some positive showings of potential, but we’ve also had some big failures. It feels good, hopefully, this is kind of the momentum we needed to get back on track.
“Obviously it would be fantastic to get a win on an oval, and that’s what we’re going to try. We’ve got to get our heads in the game and get ready for the end of the season, but we have a lot of season to go to stay in the top 20 [in standings].”
With two more road courses left on the schedule, there is still a chance to see a true battle between Zalenski and deJong.
“[I] Guess the magic had to end at some point,” Zalenski tweeted after the race.“Felt very, very, good about my race pace and it was going to be a race-long battle with [Mitchell deJong], but sadly we got taken out at turn 1.”
Ottinger apologized to Zalenski after the race in a Twitter post.
“So gutted. A mistake like that shouldn’t happen from me. Took a promising night and threw it away for our team. Knew to be patient into turn one and just simply locked up the LF. Sorry to [Bobby Zalenski] and the rest of the competitors for the start of the race,” Ottinger said.
With deJong’s win, 23XI Racing becomes the first team to win two races after Keegan Leahy won at Homestead-Miami earlier in the season. 23XI also moves to the top of the teams’ championship.