Rookies make statement in eNASCAR debut

Rookies make statement in eNASCAR debut


Rookies make statement in eNASCAR debut


A nine-car breakaway in Tuesday night’s eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series race was emblematic of what figures in store for the 2023 season.

The pack included former champions Casey Kirwan and Nick Ottinger, a pair of rookies from one of the top teams in the eNASCAR Road to Pro ladder, and a driver apiece from new teams Front Row Motorsports, the Kansas City Pioneers, the Pittsburgh Knights, and Kanaan eSports.

It was the rookies in that pack, however, that represent the most interesting story to emerge from the season opener at the virtual Daytona International Speedway. While Tucker Minter and Michael Cosey Jr. signed with different teams in the free-agency period before the season started, their journey to the highest level of sim racing was completed in lockstep.

Together with Jordy Lopez Jr. and Ryan Doucette, Minter and Cosey Jr. carry the banner for Altus ESports in the Coca-Cola iRacing Series. Altus Esports is one of the many teams that drivers are members of beneath the veil of the official series’ teams. These teams, commonly referred to as backend teams, allow drivers to share setup knowledge and practice with more than just their single official teammate in the series.

At the various rungs of the ladder to reach the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, Altus Esports was present and dominated. The team fielded seven cars in the eNASCAR Contender Series, the level directly below the Coca-Cola iRacing Series. Of those seven drivers, four managed to finish in the top twenty in points and qualify for the Coca-Cola iRacing Series.

When it came time to compete, Altus Esports drivers delivered with Tucker Minter claiming the victory ahead of Malik Ray, one of the series’ best plate racers, and reigning champion Kirwan.

It wasn’t just the final run to the checkered where Altus drivers showed their prowess. Throughout the middle portion of the race, a three-car tandem of Minter, Cosey Jr., and Lopez Jr. on the bottom line was strong enough to fend off any run the top line managed to form.

Minter, Cosey Jr. and Lopez Jr. lead the way.

“I gained a bunch of spots right as we were coming in to pit so I didn’t really pay attention to who was leading,” Kirwan said. “But I understood why it singled out to the bottom because those three Altus Esports guys were all together. I don’t know what it was, if it was their setup or maybe what gear they had, they could run cooler and push longer.

“They could stay together a whole lot better than anyone could form on the top. It really took a lot of work to get there on the top. It really took a lot of aggressive side drafting trying to get just the few cars behind them separated, and then we could try and attack them, but they were super strong on the bottom,” Kirwan added.

The reigning champion believes the performance of the group on the plate track could be indicative of their full-season strength.

“They seem like a strong group of drivers and obviously they brought a really fast car here so I’m sure there’ll be competitive all year and I’m sure we’ll see him up front a lot,” Kirwan explained.

Along with Minter’s win, Cosey Jr. added a fifth-place finish for himself and Front Row Motorsports, making it two Altus Esports drivers in the top five.

“I think it just kind of proves that we’re a legitimate team in the series,” Minter said of Altus Esports’ showing in the race.

“There are a lot of teams that get to Coke and then they kind of fall apart and I think this is really going to help us carry that momentum through the season. I think we had the expectation that we were going to be strong in Daytona.

“We had an incredible setup, and we could push whenever we wanted to, we didn’t have the handling problems that a lot of other people I think did. That proves to us that we can do it and now we’ve just got to back it up on other tracks,” Minter said.

Perhaps wisely, Minter tried to lower his expectations for his rookie year in the ultra-competitive series. Winning this race shifts his expectations and goals for the season, however. Before the season a top-20 finish in points meant he would not have to re-earn his spot in the series. Now with a win, a top-20 finish means a spot in the playoffs.

“Winning this race definitely makes making the top 20 not as much of a goal to have at the end of the season, but more of something to really drive towards. It’s almost a necessity because if I make it into the top 20, then I make the playoffs and there are huge implications to do that.

“It’s definitely motivating to make sure that every week I perform at the best level I can, and that means putting in as much practice as I can and figuring everything out that to perform at my best level,” Minter explained.

By winning the Daytona race, Minter became the third driver to win their debut race, joining Darik Bourdeau and Dale Earnhardt Jr, the latter who won the first race of the NASCAR iRacing Drivers World Championship in 2010 — the series that evolved into the present day eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series.

The 21-year-old Minter remembers watching Earnhardt Jr. win that race some 13 years ago. He recalled the days he would use his mother’s phone, and data limits, to watch YouTube videos about iRacing before he became old enough to join the service.

“I remember watching Dale Jr. win the Daytona race. I always wanted to be on iRacing for years before I could even join the service because that’s where Dale Jr. races and I can race with Dale Jr,” he related. “It’s like coming full circle almost to join him as somebody who won on their debut in the Coke Series at Daytona.”

An expletive-ridden dialogue, with a hint of relief, from Cosey Jr. likely provided the best summary of Altus Esports’ debut night. The only portion safe enough to quote: “That’s how we start off Altus in Coke!”