August 6th, 2013 by JaimeB
The last time we checked in with the iRacing.com Sprint Car Series, four weeks remained in the second season of 2013. Sprint car veterans Vinnie Sansone and Fred Lampela were almost in a dead heat at the top of the championship standings, and quite a rivalry had developed between the two during their battles. Defending champion Alan Binder was still mathematically in the hunt if his performance stayed the course as the last few seasons, but he still had a lot of ground to cover in order to catch up to Sansone and Lampela. Without a doubt, the championship would be handed out to one of these three drivers, and none of them would go down without a hard fight – such is the display of any champion material.
New Smyrna was the battleground during Week 9 of the iSCS, with four official races seen during the week. One of the trickiest ovals to master in the sprints, many drivers either opted out of the week entirely to focus on the next races, or were forced to lick their wounds from races earlier in the week. The two drivers at the top of the scoreboard were none other than Sansone and Lampela, with the latter scoring the fastest qualifying time of the week. The first two races of the week were won by “Front Row Fred” Lampela, who had his work cut out for him to earn his place in victory lane after battling Sansone for the top spot. However, the last half of the week had Sansone’s name written all over it, after he won the last two official races. There were quite a few incidents seen around Smyrna, and a good chunk of the field retired to the garage area to piece together their rides after getting tangled up with the wall and other drivers. Those that escaped most incidents included a handful of popular names; Steve Linder scored a top five in each of the four events held, Scott Green earned himself three top fives, and Leila Wilson had a notable week as well, earning two top five finishes.
With the excitement of Smyrna behind them, the iSCS traveled to Richmond International Raceway, their last “big” track of the season. There were five official races that took place during Week 10, with all of the big names participating. Alan Binder made his return to the series on Tuesday after taking a break during Week 9, but jaws dropped after drivers and spectators both witnessed Binder breaking an incident-free streak after he spun out by himself on Lap 2 exiting Turn 2. Restarting in the rear, Binder would have to make a grand push up to the front of the pack to contend for the win, and with a little over 40 laps remaining, his time was short. However, time would prove to be even shorter than originally thought for the King of iRacing sprints after Binder’s Beast couldn’t avoid the spinning sprint of Eddie Walczyk. Walczyk snapped loose on the exit of Turn 4 and careened into the wall, bouncing across the track and collecting Binder in the process. Both cars suffered severe damage, and Binder retired to the garage area, ending a night he would hope to erase from recent memory soon.
Sansone was Richmond’s big winner, earning two wins and two second place runs. Binder returned later in the week to capture two wins as well, and saw a great battle between Sansone and himself, going wheel to wheel for multiple laps. Fred Lampela won the last race of the week on Sunday, earning himself a chunk of points, but not enough to overcome Sansone just yet. Steve Linder completed Week 10 downing another four-pack of top fives. iRacing Pro Series driver PJ Stergios was also at the front, earning two top fives to boot.
A favorite of the iSCS roster, Week 11 saw the sprints at Irwindale Speedway, a track famous in non-sim racing for their past sprint car events. The week saw six races go official, with Tuesday’s event splitting. The SOF race was on Monday, with Binder back on point, leading all 50 laps to the checkered flag. The race wasn’t without problems, however, as Lampela seemed to experience braking issues on Lap 2, putting Steve Linder into a spin after rear-ending his ride. This put his brother, Michael Linder, into contention for a top spot, and he finished in second place, with Dustin Herner behind him in third.
Tuesday featured the split, with Sansone taking the win in the “A-Main” event. The Linder Brothers finished second and third respectively, with Steve edging out Michael for the better position. Having fun at her hometrack where she has the most practice, Leila Wilson finished in fourth behind the top runners, earning herself a credible points night. In the bottom split, Scott Kelly scored the pole position, but was instantly challenged by multiple drivers for the top spot, including Walczyk, Craig Mintz, and Jon Watson. There were a few incidents seen with the tight racing, with Walczyk and Kelly touching wheels briefly and Mintz getting together with Walczyk afterwards, but Watson was able to get around Kelly for the top spot after Kelly’s car began to tighten up considerably. Kelly finished in second, with Daniel Muse in third place.
On Wednesday, a large field took to the banks of Irwindale for another spectacular event. Right after the green flag, Sansone spun out after making contact with Lampela in Turn 4, ending his night early after completing only one lap. There were a few more smoke-filled incidents during the event, but the last restart happened with just two laps left on the scoreboard. After the green waved for the final time, Lampela shot away from the field as Ryan Steele, Larry “Coon” Landry, Scott Green, and Leila Wilson all fought hard for second place, going four-wide in Turns 1 & 2 with Michael Willard close behind waiting to capitalize on a mistake. When the checkers flew, it was Lampela that headed to victory lane, with Steele winning the battle for second. Landry, Green, and Wilson completed the top five respectively.
Sansone was seen back in victory lane on Thursday, beating Lampela by .s to the line. David Cumbo Jr. completed the podium. On Friday, the monochromatic flames of Lampela were seen taking the checkers yet again, with Wilson and Cumbo Jr. getting second and third respectively. During the week, Cap Henry also scored two top fives in the top split features, earning himself a credible points night.
Oxford Plains was the last stop on the tour on Week 12. With only one more week remaining, Alan Binder had just one last chance to defend his title. Voicing concern in the garage in previous weeks regarding his chances defending the championship, he took the pole position on Monday regardless. In a race with only one caution being shown, Binder was able to hold off Sansone for the victory by just .123s. Binder led all 50 laps, and lapped up to the fourth place machine of Nicholas Howard, showcasing yet another true-to-form display of domination by the defending champion. Binder took the win, and most importantly, he was able to eke out his eighth-straight championship over Sansone.
The celebration had begun for Binder, but the week wasn’t over yet. On Tuesday, iSCS regulars came out to play on Oxford’s minimal 9 degree banking once more. Sansone and Steve Linder battled hard for the lead in the opening laps, with the tension picking up even more after the first restart. At one point, Sansone bounced off of the infamous curbs and made contact with Linder’s car, eventually leading to Linder going off into T1 after losing control, suffering heavy damage as the car bounced across the dirt and careened into the grandstand. After his brother’s incident, Michael Linder chased down Sansone but didn’t have enough to catch him. Sansone would win the event with Michael in second, but the race ended under the yellow flag conditions. Behind the leaders, an incredibly intense battle waged for third place between five drivers; Walczyk, Watson, Kelly, Eric Nordhoff, and Randall Faulks. Faulks, after receiving damage from an earlier incident, raced his way back up to the main pack of drivers and tried to make a pass on the outside of Watson with around 2 laps remaining. He lost control in Turn 4, and the yellow came out, ending the event. Walczyk finished third, with Watson and Kelly rounding out the top five respectively.
Steve Linder returned to victory lane on Wednesday for the last time this season after a couple of races filled with bad luck earlier in the week. He beat PJ Stergios to the line by .212s, but with a victory in hand, it wasn’t enough to pass his brother in the championship standings for fourth place. Matthew Pilus made his return to the iSCS with a third place finish at Oxford, just .413s behind Linder. Along with Linder, the last race of the week saw Lampela score another win for the season after beating Landry to the line by another small margin; just .335s.
As the curtains fall on a memorable second season of 2013, what lies in store for the sprints? Will the unstoppable Binder be able to get his ninth championship, or will a new face take the crown? Lampela and the Linder brothers appear to be championship material, but it’s hard to count out Sansone, who has the first two iRacing.com Sprint Car Series championships under his belt. Will black striper PJ Stergios return to run a full season? What about the chances of returning faces such as Matthew Pilus, or will last season’s promising rookies like Nicholas Howard be looking realistically at a shot at the top ten in the final standings? Things are sure to heat up soon as the sprints begin their third outing of the year at South Boston Speedway for Week 1, where the boys and girls will fire up their favorite 800 HP machines and kickstart the excitement all over again.