If there’s a track on the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series schedule where you need friends, it’s Talladega. There was no better example of that then the performance put on by Team Conti eSports, which partnered with the Drill Aisle to sweep the top six spots in the race that decided the final four.
Nick Ottinger, Logan Clampitt, Bob Bryant, Matt Bussa, Michael Conti, Brad Davies, and John Gorlinsky combined to make a formidable seven and made a strategic call that boxed in the rest of the field.
As soon as it was possible to make it to the end of the race on just one more pitstop, the seven drivers came down pit road separately from the rest of the field. They rejoined the track and were immediately quicker than everyone else.
“I think once everybody saw what we did, they knew they were in trouble when they saw the lap time difference,” Conti said after the race. “But by the time they got everybody to pit, they had just lost too much time.
“We came down on, I think it was lap 22, and got out there, out of the pack and just started making lap time, and I think for five or six laps after the pitstops we were half a second to second faster than the pack.”
A few laps after the Team Conti/Drill Aisle pack came in, half of the drivers from Deadzone Racing pitted while the other half stayed out. Their effort was much less organized and frantic as Deadzone looked to respond to the pace of the seven drivers who had pitted earlier.
Others, including Coanda Simsport, did not feel the need to pit and believed the pace of the pack would be able to match the pace of the seven-car Team Conti/Drill Aisle train.
“We just didn’t really see this coming; we didn’t think it was that big of an advantage to pit so early,” championship contender Keegan Leahy said. “We thought that the pack would be just as fast. As long as the pack is lined up, we thought there wouldn’t be any significant advantage to pitting early, so that’s just on us. It’s not a small team thing, we just didn’t figure it out, so kudos to them.”
Finding the strength of a seven-car train was a late discovery for Team Conti and Drill Aisle, Conti explained.
“I got home from work and Logan and the guys were like, ‘get on, get on,’ we need you; we need four cars to see what we can do. Right then and there we were like, ‘this is way faster than what we were running in A-Open last night’,” he said.
“Going in, we knew we were going to work with the Drill Aisle guys as much as possible, and I think that gave us seven cars in total which was a good number.”
With the rest of the race running caution-free, the Team Conti and Drill Aisle pack continued to pull away from the rest. It made for an eventful race as the main pack stayed single file and tried – without success – to match the pace of the lead seven.
John Gorlinsky dropped off the pack of seven later in the race after a speeding penalty on pit road.
The drivers were speaking with each other over a voice channel, and with two laps to go, keyed up their microphones to simply say good luck to one another.
“The truth of the matter is, we were all keying up on our internal chat channel with two to go wishing each other good luck, we had no idea what was ultimately going to happen, everyone was going to do what they had to do to try to make it in,” Clampitt said.
The race for the win finished without carnage as Clampitt stayed tucked under Ottinger’s back bumper to cap off a William Byron eSports 1-2 and punch his ticket to the championship race in Texas. Bob Bryant, who was also looking to find a spot in the finale, peaked to the outside multiple times on the final lap, but didn’t have a good enough run. Neither did Matt Bussa or Conti, who also fell short of the final four.
Ottinger, Clampitt, Bryant, Bussa, Conti, and Davies went on to finish 1-6 in that order.
Looking ahead to the final race of the season in two weeks, 23XI Racing is best positioned to take the title with both Keegan Leahy and Mitchel DeJong in the final four. Their Coanda Simsport technical partner Bobby Zalenski of Letarte eSports will also join them. Finally, William Byron eSports will look to make it back-to-back titles as Clampitt carries the flag for the Hendrick Motorsports driver.
The finale from the virtual Texas Motor Speedway is set for October 12.