Round Two of the South African iRacing league moved its way to the banks and twists of Charlotte Road Course on Sunday evening. Despite a U2 concert in Jo’burg that same evening, some 19 sim racers made it to the grid for the second round of the 10 round championship, for what was sure to be, two closely-contested races. The high banks of the oval would sure lend themselves to some serious three wide, side-by-side online racing.
As was the case at Laguna Seca the week before, Zaahir Essa continued his dominance with a well deserved pole position for the 19 lap Heat One. It was a qualifying session dominated by drafting down the long straight and banks of the Charlotte oval, with any driver standing to gain at least 0.5secs a lap from a draft. Darryn Lobb lined up alongside Essa on the front row, while Invitational driver Jay Odom, edged out Jaco Roux by 0.034s on the second row.
Lobb managed to barge his way past Essa half way round the first lap, only to lose the lead two laps later after running wide at the exit of Turn Four. The pair started working together in the hope of creating a gap to the rest of the field. A huge dice between Roux, Brink and Odom allowed the two leaders to gradually break to draft and edge away from the chasing pack. As the fighting continued, it was then Roux who managed to put some distance between himself and the other two.
Brink, who entered the round third in the championship, lamented a missed opportunity after the race: “In the race itself I was behind Jay and we were losing time to Jaco trying to fight each other, so I fell in behind him and hoped he’d do better lap times if I didn’t try and pass him every lap. But that didn’t really work as he still took defensive lines at times so after some laps I had to try and get past which made it worse because of the massive time loss when the guy in front defends.”
There was near disaster for the two leaders with five laps to go, as Lobb ran into the back of Essa in Turn Six, which would prove to be a costly mistake. Both drivers managed to keep straight and, thanks to the eight second lead they had built up, still held firmly onto the top two positions. At the flag, it was Essa who edged out Lobb by 0.058s.
“I had spent most of the race behind Zaahir working out the perfect move,” commented Lobb. “The easiest bet was the drag to the line. I had pulled up pretty quickly on each lap, and I knew I’d have the legs to out run him on the last lap.”
“Unfortunately, the damage from the contact ruined my top speed by about four kph, and in the end I lost out. But that’s racing.” – Darryn Lobb
In the end, Roux rounded-out the podium with Odom edging-out Brink by 0.052s as the top Invitational driver. Further back, Justin Allison took fifth ahead of Ian Laing who made his debut in the league in Round Two.
The start grid for Heat Two was determined by a two lap qualifying shootout, where once again, Essa took pole ahead of Lobb by just over one tenth of a second. This time round, Roux edged-out Brink and Odom to head up the second row. As was the case in Heat One, Lobb led the field at the end of Lap One as a result of a mistake by Essa going into Turn One.
“There is a slip road just before Turn One, and I managed to mistake it for Turn One. I proceeded to travel down that thing, and realized at the last second that it wasn’t the track. Was lucky to only lose one place,” Essa joked after the race.
Lobb once again made a mistake a few laps later clipping the dirt on the entry to Turn Three putting his Roadster into a wild slide. With help from Essa through a nudge to the front of his car, Lobb managed to carry on, although down in fifth place courtesy of a “slow down penalty.” When the dust and smoke cleared, Essa led the field followed by Roux, Odom, Lobb and Duncan Marais with the top two having pulled clear by two seconds. Odom and Lobb worked together until the stops. Lobb seemed to be the big gainer in the pits, closing the gap to the leaders to under one second when they rejoined the circuit.
On Lap 8, Roux saw a gap and moved to the inside entering Turn One. The move caught Essa off guard, resulting in a missed downshift. This caused Essa’s nfinity eSports Mazda MX-5 Roadster to understeer off and straight into the wall on the exit of the corner and effectively, out of the race. This mistake, left things wide open for others to capitalize on the points advantage with the championship leader being out. This advantage soon turned to naught for Lobb as he made heavy contact with a lapped car stopped broadside in the middle of Turn One on Lap 10, effectively ending his race.
As the laps wound down, it was Roux who continued ahead, sifting his way through the lapped traffic, while at the same time maintaining his gap to the chasing pack through a series of fast, consistent laps. In the end, the ex-two-wheel BMW Boxster Cup rider won Heat Two by some eight seconds over Brink, who only just held on ahead of the hard charging Odom, who elected to pit for new tyres during his mandatory pit stop. Rounding out the top five were Englishman Simon Hill and Shelby Can-Am competitor Justin Allison.
The win for Roux, and second place for Brink, brought both drivers right up into the championship hunt as they were able to capitalize on the bad fortunes of Essa and Lobb who limped home to seventh and 12th places respectively.
As the series moves away from the banks of Charlotte towards the fast sweeping curves of Watkins Glen, Essa still leads the championship on 95 points. Roux and Lobb find themselves tied on 65 points, with Brink one point adrift on 64 points. Allison lies fifth, 15 points back. Simon Hill continues to head-up the Invitational driver championship thanks to a strong result in Heat Two.