The second season of the Autobahn Motorcar Group Sportscar Challenge kicked-off on Monday night at Daytona International Speedway. With a packed grid of 43 drivers, the race was always going to be a thriller. However, few could have predicted just how hard and how close the sim racing would be.
Reigning Prototype champion John Ulmer put his HPD on pole position for the 90-minute event and set the early pace ahead of Jason DeVriese and Danny Kane. Despite Ulmer’s convincing qualifying time, the long straightaways allowed DeVriese and Kane to get a tow from and keep pace with the leader. When Ulmer made an error exiting Turn 1 on the fourth lap, DeVriese and Kane pounced.
The trio continued to battle hard as they began catching traffic from the slower classes, but on Lap 12 the pole-sitter’s luck ran out. Ulmer and Kane tried to flank one of the Corvettes, going three wide through Turn 1. As the two prototypes exited the corner, Ulmer’s tires clipped the curbing and sent him spinning into the grass.
Kane continued to hound DeVriese through the first set of pit stops while Ulmer quickly changed strategies and began saving fuel, attempting to make the race on just two stops. He would later be involved in an incident with another car, ending his chances for a podium. Though the action in the class temporarily abated, the Prototypes of Kane and DeVriese captured everyone’s attention during the second half of the race.
In the middle of the pack, the GTD class of Cadillac CTS-VRs got off to a rather strange start. When class pole-sitter and reigning GTD champion Billy Smith II and second place starter Ross Booth both reacted slowly to the drop of the green, Kurt Gross and Daniel Johnson were able to pass well before the start line. Gross took a cautious line into Turn 1 and allowed Smith to pass, and Johnson would lose the lead back to Smith later in the lap. While Johnson was never really in contention for the win after that, he kept Smith honest throughout the race. Smith would take the class win with Johnson second and AJ Clark third.
The new GT2 class of Corvettes, having replaced the P2 class of Daytona Prototypes, had their own thrilling race behind the prototypes. Troy Schuster, Kevin Binkley, and Brian Herring were all within two seconds of each other throughout the first stint, with Schuster and Binkley exchanging the lead multiple times. In a tense moment on Lap 10, the three were forced to take evasive action in Turn 1 to avoid the spinning Cadillac of Dale Green. This cost Schuster the lead and two laps later, while battling to stay in second, Schuster spun through Turn 3. With nowhere to go, Herring ran into Schuster, badly damaging Schuster’s car. This was the beginning of the end for Schuster, who was unable to recover from the damage and would finish 10th in class, the last of the GT2s. Meanwhile, Binkley opened up a gap to Herring, eventually taking a comfortable class win. Herring finished second and Dave Hill, representing the reigning team champions TMC iRacing Team, finished third.
The GT3 class had a rather quiet night, with the only major action coming on first lap when Sam Boren and Mark Jubinski collided in Turn 1. Jim McInnis quickly took the lead from pole-sitter and fellow BMW driver Robby Morrison, followed closely by the McLaren of Leif Peterson. That is how they would finish as the three drivers only exchanged positions during their two rounds of pit-stops. The drive of the race, however, came from John Paquin in his McLaren. Having failed to set a qualifying lap, Paquin started dead last of the 43 drivers, but slowly and meticulously picked-off position after position, eventually finishing fourth in class, one of only two drivers in the field to run the entire 90-minute event incident free.
Back in the Prototypes, DeVriese held a four second lead over Kane after the first round of stops. Unsure of his pit strategy, DeVriese began trying to save fuel in an attempt to make it on just two stops. This allowed Kane catch and pass DeVriese before he, too, began saving fuel. However, as it became apparent that neither of them could make the fuel last, they began racing hard again. As the pair made their second set of stops Kane held a narrow lead.
Kane was unable to open up a gap to DeVriese. Having set his top gear too short, Kane couldn’t match DeVriese’s top speed and was losing time on the straightaways, eventually relinquishing the lead on Lap 39. Kane hounded DeVriese lap after lap through the infield section of the track and through the Bus Stop chicane. Nearly every lap Kane was able to get alongside DeVriese through NASCAR Turns 3 and 4, only to hit his top speed too early and watch helplessly as DeVriese pulled-away heading into Turn 1. On Lap 50, Kane was able to make a move to the outside heading into the Bus Stop. As DeVriese entered from a narrow angle, he lost traction and hit Kane, causing aerodynamic damage to both cars. Kane immediately pitted for his one fast repair and a splash of fuel, with DeVriese following suit a lap later.
After the last stops, Kane was five seconds adrift of the lead, but DeVriese was struggling to manage traffic. On Lap 55 and with time running out, Kane had closed the gap to just 1.5 seconds when DeVriese came upon traffic in the Bus Stop. As they exited the chicane, Kane blew past to retake the lead. With the white flag flying just seconds later, Kane held-off DeVriese through the infield section. DeVriese then made possibly his best run of the entire night through the Bus Stop chicane and was able to hang onto Kane, getting a massive tow as the two approached the stripe. Kane did everything he could to weave and block the closing HPD, but DeVriese got alongside entering the tri-oval. In the closest possible finish and with the two cars banging wheels as they crossed the line, DeVriese nicked the win from Kane in a dead heat. The margin of victory was an incalculable 0.000 seconds, with the iRacing official scoring system putting DeVriese ahead. Matt Quinn rounded out the podium, 1:34.798 behind DeVriese.
From Daytona the field now moves on to round two at Circuit of the Americas on Monday, April 27. If the first race is any indication, the second season of the AMGSC should be very thrilling indeed.