Despite finishing a disappointing third after narrowly missing out on his third win of the season, Mitchell DeJong still enjoyed his eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series race from Watkins Glen.
After struggling with the balance of the car and failing to preserve his tires sufficiently through the first stint, DeJong needed a mighty second stint to reel in Graham Bowlin and Bobby Zalenski, who were battling for the lead of the race. DeJong did just that with a stunning performance that saw him laying down lap times some 0.3s faster than the rest of the field in the race’s final laps.
“That was probably one of the most fun runs I’ve had in iRacing. That second run, knowing you’re at a tire disadvantage and having to save a little bit to try to make a run at the end was crazy,” 23XI Racing’s DeJong said after the race.
DeJong reached the back bumper of Stewart-Haas eSports’ Bowlin on the final lap and was able to nudge the race leader twice through the carousel. Bowlin held his ground and the two exchanged blows again coming out of the final corner (pictured above), with DeJong sent careening into the wall. It was Bowlin’s first win of the year and secured a playoff spot for the man who leads the points standings.
“The battle we had, it was really down to the wire and obviously, it didn’t really work out. We made a really good attempt at getting him at the end but Graham [Bowlin] did a great job, held strong. Honestly, even though it was third and we were kind of close to getting a win there, I still had so much fun,” DeJong explained.
Bowlin’s win was a surprise given the previous two road course races at Circuit of The Americas and Road America have been dominated by DeJong and Zalenski. A strong qualifying from Bowlin netted him pole position and critical track position that he was able to hang on to, despite the efforts of Zalenski and DeJong.
“It feels awesome — all the hard work that goes into this, I’m like sweating out here,” Bowlin said. “It was a really hard race. I couldn’t really slow my pace because I didn’t want someone to get a run on me and try to dive it up the inside. The first lap was crazy — I didn’t expect it to be that low grip into Turn 1. I was just defensive driving after that.
“Bobby [Zalenski] was putting the pressure on so I had to push more and I kind of killed my tires a little bit. It was crazy, it was like [DeJong] flipped a switch the last run — I can’t believe I held him off. It was a little dirty out of the last corner but I’m not going to take a chance and get side-drafted on the straightaway,” Bowlin said about the last-turn contact.
Part of the reason DeJong was able to reach Bowlin was the cooperation of Zalenski, who let his good friend pass him with five laps to go. If DeJong could reel in and pass Bowlin for the win, Zalenski’s teammate, Chris Shearburn, would retain his playoff spot. But with Bowlin taking the win, he gets a playoff spot based on full-season points standings, tentatively knocking Shearburn out of the post-season.
“I used my stuff up trying to get to him and I was still maintaining [pace] but Mitchell saved his tires pretty good, and I gave him a shot at it. I was like, ‘Hey man, you go get him,’ and they almost wrecked each other,” Zalenski said.
“Graham hit him with the left rear of his car — which I mean, I don’t blame him, you’ve got to wall a guy for a playoff spot — but he could’ve hooked himself as well… After I let Mitchell go, I was kind of just chilling and waiting for a potential opening. Obviously, I wanted Mitchell to win that because that would help my teammate Chris [Shearburn] out for a playoff spot.”
The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series heads to Michigan on August 17, for the final race before the post-season begins.