Season Kicks-off Tonight at Homestead
The much-anticipated return of the popular iRacing 16th Street Racing League will kick off tonight at Homestead-Miami Speedway, with the 130-lap online race broadcast live on GlacierTV. The 16th Street Racing League burst onto the IndyCar sim racing scene in 2009 and featured participation from real-world IndyCar Series stars like Will Power, Justin Wilson and former Panther Racing driver Tomas Scheckter, amongst many others.
Click here to watch tonight’s GlacierTV broadcast from Homestead at 9 pm (ET).
After a year-long hiatus 16th Street has returned with much fanfare this year, with over 70 drivers applying for the league’s 35 reserved spots. Interest in the league was so great that officials created a “Transfer Race” that will be held each Tuesday at 8 pm, allowing any interested driver to run a short sprint race with the Top Five from each Transfer Race being allowed to advance to the 9 pm broadcasted Feature Race. The league’s 35 reserved spots will hold until the third race of the season, and then the locked-in positions will be allocated to the Top 35 drivers in overall points, allowing many drivers on the outside to race their way into a solid position in the league.
The first league of its kind to mix both ovals and road courses into a designated championship, the competition level for the 19-race season is certain to be one of the most intense in all of sim racing. The Championship purse includes cash payouts, iRacing credits and collectable merchandise donated by the National Guard. With eight of the series’ races being broadcast by GlacierTV, IndyCar fans will be able to fill the void of a long offseason from the real-world series with some of the most competitive sim-racing on the planet.
16th Street Racing League Pre-Season Notes:
While competition is stout up and down the lineup entering tonight’s race at Homestead, the championship crown in March is destined to go to a driver from a small collection of IndyCar’s elite: Yang Ou, the Fall. 2010 16th Street champion, is the first name that you’ll hear in almost any championship discussion. Inexplicably fast on both oval and road courses, Yang – the reining iRacing Indy 500 champion – has become the ‘Silent Assassin’ of the IndyCar sim racing world. Yang’s biggest competition for the crown could come from a short-list of drivers. Shaun Stroud; the self-assure Englishman is lightning quick on oval tracks and can carry his weight on the road courses as well. He’s always a factor. It’s Yang’s teammate, Tim Doyle, who may be the best pure racer lining up in the league this year, and many know Doyle will be in contention throughout the winter. Arguably one of the toughest oval racers in IndyCar, Doyle will have to stay consistent on the road courses to stay near the top of the standings for the duration of the season. And don’t dismiss longtime sim legend Niles Anders, as the feisty racer has flirted with retirement for the last year, but makes his return to 16th Street as the leader of Panther Racing Online, the official sim team of the real-world two-time IndyCar champions
Championship Dark Horses
Take a long look through the 16th Street lineup and there are several drivers that could make a surprise run into the championship chase. A trio of 16th Street alumni are the first that pop to mind: Tim Holgate, Pat Dotson and Vincent Sciuto have the speed and diversity of skill set to make themselves a factor by the time payday rolls around. All three will have to quickly shake off the rust of a long layoff, but Holgate’s recent technical alliance with an established team should prove hugely beneficial for the Ohio native. Dotson’s commitment through UltraForce Sim – a presenting sponsor of the league – will keep him devoted throughout the year and a potential factor for race victories. But keep an eye on Sciuto, known best for his stewardship of the popular BRR Fixed IndyCar league, as those that know him well have watched in-person as the popular iRacer has gone toe-to-toe with some of IndyCar’s best … and won.
Considering the task of having to be quick and consistent on both oval and road courses, you have to consider four more names for the championship battle: Brian Simpson (16th Street Winter 2009 Champion), Courtney Terrell, Jonathan Goke and Joe Branch – all four combine the speed you need on both disciplines to stay consistently in the Top Five at any track. Terrell is particularly adept at road courses and has the speed on ovals. Branch is one of the more underrated drivers in the field, with both Premiere Series and Strength of Field oval victories on his resume, the Indiana racer has spent enough time turning laps on road courses to stay consistent when the schedule requires left-hand turns. Simpson, a 16th Street Racing League co-founder, already has a title. Like many, he’s coming off an extended iRacing layoff, but few doubt he’ll take long to regain his trademark speed. Banshee Autosport’s Goke is capable of winning races at any track on the schedule. They will all be factors at different points in the year.
Competition on ovals in iRacing has always been intense, and while the influx of road courses to the 16th Street schedule will ultimately marginalize some of the better-known drivers in the long run, you can’t discount how entertaining the oval races will be this season. There is no shortage of drivers throughout the field who can win any given oval race on the schedule. Many have claimed Chris Cahoe, one of the best pure qualifiers in the field, is on the verge of a breakout. Mitch McCracken, whose late entry into the league nearly left him out of the Top 35 before Randy Freeman dropped out late last week, was the iRacing Indy 500 polesitter and has proven to be a top-level race winner in the iRacing Official Series. Slowpoke Racing’s Michael DuTemple is another name you’ll often find at the front of the IndyCar field on many of the ovals in the official series. Dave Judson has emerged in the last season as a driver who’s grown from a mid-pack contender to a front-running capable driver when he avoids what seems to be an inevitable string of bad luck. 16th Street veteran Mike Peters is a quick and aggressive driver who’s already proven he can win oval races with the field is packed with talent. The list continues with names like Randy Crossno, Al Nagy, Chris Manifold, Eric Vanek and James McClure, but one thing is assured: Oval racing in the 16th Racing League is going to be a passionate affair.
Many league insiders are anticipating an influx of road course specialists to steal Feature Race wins by way of entering via the Transfer Race. And with a total of eight road courses on the schedule amongst an oval-heavy group of drivers, the overall championship could ultimately be decided on difficult road tracks like Laguna Seca, Watkins Glen, Sebring, Road America and others. Certainly, longtime road course ace David Sockrider will be a factor for the top step of the podium, and has the oval ability to elevate himself quickly in the standings. Keep names like Giorgio Ponti and Carlos Bolanos Jr. in mind on the twisty circuits, as both have the experience it takes to threaten for podium finishes throughout the year.
Transfer Race Heroes – Contenders Outside the Top 35
With over 70 entries for just 35 positions, the sideline is filled with talented potential 16th Street race-winning drivers. Many in the league were surprised when young upstart Brandon Traino, arguably the fastest driver in Season 3 of the Official Series, did not apply for entry into 16th Street. But the Broken Aero team’s ace submitted an entry today, on raceday morning, and if he enters tonight’s Transfer Race, many expect him to not only make the Homestead Feature, but to be a contender. The list of additional Transfer Race challengers is a long one, and may of these drivers could quickly find themselves solidly inside the Top 35 in less than a month: Terry Matthiensen, Chuck Eisenbarth, Mike Campanian, and another road-course ace, Carlos Passos. One of iRacing’s most popular duos, Bud Weissert and Michael Chinn, are expected to work their way into the fold as well, especially once the Indianapolis race rolls around.
The Old Guard
If you don’t remember the names Dean Moll, Kevin Cress, Mark Shutte and Gary Borkenhagen – do some homework. Some or all of them are going to shake off the rust of an extended layoff and run at the front. Matt Lambertson is as quick on any track as any driver in the field, but finishing races has proven a challenge. Insiders feel if Lambertson would occasionally exercise some patience, he would quickly escalate to the thick of the “Championship Frontrunners” conversation. Brothers Todd and Cary Bettenhausen come from a racing-royalty pedigree and have been stalwarts on the IndyCar sim-racing scene for years, and while consistency is an issue with the Bettenhausen brothers – speed is not. You’ll see them both qualify at or near the front of the grid on most nearly every oval track. With a break or influx of luck, either could live up to the family name as respected race winners.
The New Kids
The iRacing Official Series has seen a flood of new young talent that has shown enough speed to unseat many of the long-time contenders in the league. Banshee Autosport teammates Jon Prozuc and Brad Sanford are fast and could potentially make a name for themselves over the course of the next 19 races. Another speedy newcomer, Slowpoke Racing’s Jeremy Poole expressed frustration over not being included in the Top 35; his pace was not an issue, his penchant for blocking … was. But many feel like Poole will quickly rise to the top of the Transfer Race field and become a front-running competitor in the Feature field. The same can be said for Poole’s teammate Erick Davis, whose poor decision-making on ovals left him on the outside looking in, but Davis is consistently fast on road courses and equally quick on ovals. Call them the Wild Cards, but they all could surprise some people before the season comes to a conclusion.
Where is P1?
While the 16th Street Racing League claims be the premiere iRacing sim league amongst IndyCar racers, there is one notable omission: P1 Racing. The undisputed Team Penske of sim-racing decided not to enter to kick off the season, otherwise nearly the entire lineup of sim legend John Paquin, Rhawn Black, Marty Sponsler and Danno Brookins would have immediately been penciled into the championship conversation alongside Yang Ou, Stroud and Doyle. Many insiders wonder – hope, even – that once the league gets rolling that many of the P1 elite will have a change of heart and come join the party. If that happens, the championship dynamic will take a dramatic turn.