Week 5 of the 2014 Season 3 iRacing.com IndyCar Oval Series sent the series to the virtual Inland Empire and Auto Club Speedway for only the third time in its history. A grand total of 227 sim-racers took part in races punctuated by cautions and where the draft, pit strategy and handling were just some of the storylines throughout the entire week of sim racing.
Mitch McCracken (Indiana) started on pole with Tim Holgate (Ohio) on his outside. Danno Brookins (Florida) started from the inside of Row Two ahead of Erick Davis (Canada) with Indiana’s own Cary Bettenhausen rounding-out the top five starting positions.
McCracken had an excellent start as Holgate quickly made his way to the inside line. Within a lap the top five had broken away from Joe Branch2 (Indiana) and the rest of the field behind him. In his attempt to catch the leaders Bud Weissert (Northwest) pushed-up and slapped the wall, killing him momentum — and his right sidepod — and dropped through the field. Further back, other drivers, including Brandon Trost (Pennsylvania) and Paul Jennings (Carolina) also attempted to make their way up through the field. Trost dove low off of Turn Four, making it three wide with Jennings in the middle, and Chuck Eisenbarth (Ohio) up high. Trost clipped Jennings, sending them spinning through the infield and bringing-out the first caution. The caution set up two different pit strategies as the top 12 stayed on track, while Connor Cross (Ohio) led the rest of the field down pit road.
McCracken had a good restart, only for the caution to fly immediately after the green. Ray Kingsbury (Connecticut) attempted to pass Michael Armstrong2 (Indiana) on the outside only to hesitate. Looking to follow Kingsbury through the gap, Rob Unglenieks (Michigan) instead nudged him, sending Kingsbury spinning down the front stretch. Amazingly no one slammed into Kingsbury as he rotated through the middle of the pack, and several in the back elected to pit during the resulting caution.
McCracken had another excellent start as the top three quickly went single file. The rest of the field soon spread-out into several groups of three to five Dallara DW12s. The constant battling between Davis and Brookins for fourth allowed the top three to take nearly a straightaway lead, and allowed much of the pack behind to close back up. Green flag pit stops started on Lap 48 as Crossno and Matt Pawelski (Pennsylvania) ducked onto pit road for service with McCracken, Davis, and Brookins following suit a lap later. As the green flagstops continued, several sim-racers obliviously pulled directly onto the track from pit lane forcing others to take evasive action.
Holgate pitted from the lead on Lap 52, handing the lead to Armstrong. As Holgate exited pit road, the caution waved before the leaders could put him a lap down. Eisenbarth attempted to pass Jon Hall (California) as Hall rejoined the race. Hall moved up the track, and clipped Eisenbarth, sending him spinning into the outside wall, and trapping many a lap or more down. Armstrong led Cross, Adam Dock (Texas), and those who hadn’t pitted on to pit road, giving Holgate the lead, and many their lap back.
Practice makes perect and Holgate had another excellent restart, easily gapping both Armstrong and Cross by Turn One. Meanwhile, further back in the pack, a hectic battle ensued between McCracken and Pawelski. Pawelski attempted to pass McCracken high, and McCracken slid-up to defend. This forced Pawelski to push up and into the wall, with McCracken dutifully following suit. The impact sent the two sliding toward the infield and left Crossno with nowhere to go. As he slammed into Pawelski, McCracken regained control and — amazingly — the caution did not fly.
Back up front, Cross and Armstrong used a ‘slingshot’ form of the draft in an attempt to catch Holgate. Working in tandem, they were slowly starting to reel-in the leader when the caution flew. Davis had attempted to pass Ellis Stephens on the low side but caught the apron and pushed-up, propelling his rival into the outside wall. Stephens held his Dallara DW12 against the virtual SAFER barrier in an attempt to keep from collecting other sim-racers, before his damaged car then climbed the wall and barrel-rolled down the backstretch. occasioning another caution period.
Holgate restarted well, but was unable to break away from Armstrong and Cross. Armstrong followed Holgate, waiting to make his move. The time came with six laps to go, and he went to the inside of the backstretch in a bid for the lead. Holgate easily re-passed Armstrong on the outside a lap later, only for Armstrong to try the same move on the backstretch to regain the lead. This time Holgate moved low in an attempt to defend his position, but Armstrong was already there. Cross, seeing his own opportunity, also dived underneath Holgate who stayed on the outside in an attempt to reclaim the lead. In Turn One, however, Cross and Holgate made slight contact, sending the latter spinning in front of the field. Dock had nowhere to go and hit Holgate head-on. The impact sent Holgate into the outside wall while Dock was somehow able to pull his car out of a four-wheel drift and reclaim the third position.
With yellow lights blazing and caution flags waving, Armstrong won the 3569 Strength of Field, the highest of the week, and earned 227 points for his win. Cross finished second, with Dock a miraculous third ahead of Trost and Terry Matthiensen (California). A total of 28 competitors took a trip to victory lane throughout the week of sim racing, with Jennings scoring a week-high eight victories.