Week Six of the 2015 Season 1 iRacing.com IndyCar Oval sent the series Phoenix International Raceway, where a mere 78 sim-racers competed throughout the week. Aero-push, cautions, cones, handling, lapped traffic, pit strategy and tire wear were just some of the storylines to play-out during a week of sim racing in the virtual Valley of the Sun.
Vick Caudill (Michigan) started on pole flanked by Niles Anders (Plains). Adding an international touch to the sharp end of the grid, Nigel Marneef (Benelux) started third with Matt A Kingsbury (New England) fourth, and Joe Hassert (Midwest) rounding out the top five starting positions.
Caudill had an excellent start as he immediately gapped Anders several car lengths by Turn One. Behind them, Hassert caught the apron and spun off the racing surface, sending the field behind him scattering. Tim Doyle (Atlantic) used the confusion to his advantage and jumped from twelfth to eighth in one lap with Joe Branch2 (Indiana) followed Doyle through the rear of the field after starting thirteenth.
The field quickly began to spread out after the first lap drama, as it quickly became apparent the cones lining the apron of the dogleg could become an issue as they were repeatedly sent flying by some of the sim-racers. In particular, Austin Espitee (New England) scattered a cluster of cones into the paths of Doyle, Branch, Seth Eggert (Carolina) and others who collected the cones in their Dallara DW12s and even suffered various levels of damage.
Caudill quickly caught the tail-end of the field, putting Marco Aurelio Brasil (Brazil), Hassert and Eggert a lap down only 25 miles into the 120 lap race. As the field weaved their way around, Eggert and Hassert battled for position with Hassert attempting to recover from his Lap One spin, and Eggert struggling to control his ill-handling car. Eggert eventually spun off Turn Four after catching the apron and barely missed the end of the pit wall. All of the leaders elected to pit, while Hassert and Brasil remained on track to get back on the lead lap.
Caudill had an excellent restart as Anders dove under Marneef entering Turn One. Anders made quick work of Marneef, but not before Caudill had opened a five car length lead. Further back, Doyle continued marching through the field as he passed fifth place Christopher Demeritt (New Jersey) on the outside of Turns Three and Four. Branch followed Doyle once again, before passing Doyle himself and setting his sights on Kingsbury as the field began spreading-out.
The green flag racing ended abruptly, just past halfway, as Kingsbury and Eggert made contact off of Turn Two. Eggert had gone wide in an effort to let Marneef and Kingsbury past, but he slid back down the track as Kingsbury moved-up off the corner. The contact sent Eggert sliding up into the wall, while it appeared Kingsbury would avoid any major damage. Not. The contact damaged Kingsbury’s right front suspension, sending him darting into the wall in the Dogleg. Everyone elected to pit on the ensuing yellow, as Doyle jumped from third to second on pit road.
The top three made excellent restarts as Branch dove under Marneef, clearing the sim-racer on the backstretch to take P4 even as Doyle searched for a way around Anders. Doyle got alongside of Anders on the outside of Turn Three, only to fall back in line on the front stretch. The top five quickly began to spread out once more; their positions would remain unchanged for the remainder of the race, leaving the only battle left on track between Demeritt and Espitee for sixth.
Demeritt restarted in sixth and quickly gapped Espitee who, in turn, slowly tried to run Demeritt back down. About 25 laps into the run, Espitee finally caught Demeritt and, after following Demeritt for several laps, dove low in turn three as they caught the lapped Dallara DW12 of Brasil. However, Espitee dropped his left side tires on to the apron, got loose, lost his momentum and dropped several car lengths behind Demeritt. Although he repeatedly closed on Demeritt’s gearbox, Espitee was unable to find a way around and fell back. With only five laps to go, Espitee aero-pushed behind Demeritt, tagged the outside wall and dropped several car lengths further behind. Just as the battle seemed over, however, Demeritt developed handling issues of his own, giving Espitee hope. Espitee, however, was unable to capitalize and finished in seventh, about a tenth behind Demeritt.
Caudill won the 4071 Strength of Field (a new record) by 0.478s over Anders and earned 252 points for his win. Doyle finished third ahead of Branch with Marneef rounding-out the top five finishing positions. The “hard chargers” of the race were Doyle and Branch, who both finished nine positions ahead of where they started. The “tough break” of the race went to Kingsbury who finished twelfth after starting fourth.
All told, just eight sim-racers took a trip to victory lane during the week at PIR, with Caudill winning a week high three times before the series packed up for a virtual trip east to the “Bluegrass State” and Kentucky Speedway in Week 7.