A classic staple of USAC sprint car racing, Irwindale Speedway is one of the most favored tracks on the iRacing.com Sprint Car Series schedule. With racing grooves contrasting with those seen at most other tracks, Irwindale provides a challenge for all racers looking to tame the 12 degree banking of the half-mile oval. Time was running out for drivers looking for their first win of the season moving into Week 11, and was especially in small supply for Vinnie Sansone, still trailed defending iSCS champion Alan Binder by 59 points. Needless to say, everyone was looking for a trip to victory lane at Irwindale.
Qualifying took place on Tuesday, with Binder topping the charts with an impressive time of 16.004s. Entering the track with another fast ride, Fred Lampela took the second fastest time of the week with a best lap of 16.024s. Week 11 was packed with sprints as 75 entries were placed for the five races of the week, showcasing two splits.
The field roared to the first green flag of the week Tuesday night with 12 sprints fielding the top split. Binder led the field into Turn One and maintained the point in the early going, but iSCS veteran PJ Stergios stole the top spot from Binder three laps into the race. Three yellows flew thanks to incidents involving iSCS veteran Brandon Buchberger, Jacob Fredriksson, and Scott Kelly, but on the restarts, Binder couldn’t close the distance to Stergios. When the checkered flag waved, it was Stergios taking the win with Binder close behind in second place. Steve Linder scored an impressive third-place finish, and Steven Hunter brought his sprint home in fourth ahead of iSCS Rookie Matthew Pilus.
Tuesday’s second split saw Michael Linder showcase a dominating performance over the 11-car field, leading all but one lap of the event en route to victory lane. Last week’s winner — Eddie Walczyk — scored yet another podium finish with his runner-up spot, four seconds behind Linder. Ronald Williams completed the podium by finishing third, and Chet Wheeler wheeled his sprint to a respectable fourth place. Kyle Odaynik proved his competence at Irwindale by completing the top five, even while driving a damaged vehicle.
The thunder returned to Irwindale on Thursday with an intense field of 16 sim-racers in the top split, sporting the highest SOF rating of the week (3457). Binder once again led the field to the green flag, intent on capturing a win for the week. He was well on the way to doing just that when, Fred Lampela, who started on the outside pole, made contact with Buchberger on Lap 25. Both went for a wild spin in Turn Three, bringing out the caution and ending both of their chances for a solid performance. On the restart, it was Binder pulling away from the field, to eventually take the checkered flag .734s ahead of the Pro-licensed Sansone. PJ Stergios rounded-out the podium with a third place finish, while Steve Linder collected his second top five of the week with his fourth-place run ahead of Michael Clement.
Sansone recollected Thursday’s race with high praise for Binder.
“[G]ot up behind Alan on the start,” he said, “but never could do anything with him. We were all pretty equal and that made starting position [all] the difference. All those poles… Alan took it to everyone again this season despite my best efforts.”
“All those poles… Alan took it to everyone again this season despite my best efforts.” — Vinnie Sansone
Michael Linder was clearly the man to beat in the second split after witnessing his domination on Tuesday. With four cautions putting 19 pace laps on the board, there were chances to place a bid on the top position, but Linder once again had the better hand. Linder held-off Williams’ challenge by just .3s to complete his sweep of the second split events for the week. Michael Willard came home safely to complete the podium with Douglas Berryman and Edwin Jones completing the top five respectively.
Sunday brought Fred Lampela a chance to erase the bad memories of Thursday’s event as he led the 20-car field to the start of the last official race of the week. With the likes of Sansone, Aleksi Elomaa, and Petteri Kotovaara shadowing him, Lampela would be hard-pressed to keep the lead. Sure enough, Lap 14 saw more bad luck strike Lampela in the form of Kotovaara, who struck the rear-end of Lampela’s machine after Lampela checked-up, spinning him around, collecting Joni Hagner and Chad Coleman. With a good portion of the lead pack now coping with damage, Sansone picked-up the lead. With Elomaa hot on his heels, Sansone brought his sprint to the checkers in first place. Only .4s behind came Elomaa, capturing more championship points for a very successful season. Jacob Fredriksson finished in third, while Michael Willard and Pro-licenced driver Jake Stergios completed the top five respectively.
Beaten but apologetic, Fred Lampela summarized his week. “I had the best car I have ever had here this week; worst results ever. [Sunday’s] race was full of mistakes by me, which set me back a couple of positions. My head wasn’t in it I guess; sorry to any who might have been affected.”
By taking the win on Thursday, Alan Binder secured his top spot in the iRacing.com Sprint Car Series championship standings to win his fifth consecutive iSCS title. However, there is still one week left in the season, as the sprints roll into Lanier National Speedway for the second time this season. Tune in next week to iRN to see how the Season 3 concludes!