What a weekend for iRacing! The RACC runoffs, the Rolex 2.4 and our involvement in the Rolex 24. Sean Siff and I were in Daytona this past weekend supporting our teams and many drivers who were competing for the coveted Rolex watch.
Our weekend in Daytona started-off a bit ominously as it appeared the iRacing curse had struck again. The curse is not really a curse but more of a string of bad racing luck. The two cars we sponsored last year both were wrecked on track – Marcos Ambrose’s Camry at Pocono and the Daytona Prototype shared by Ambrose and Carl Edwards didn’t even make the green flag at Montreal. I had hoped we were starting with a clean slate this year but just as we arrived at the track on Thursday I received an e-mail from the office informing me that Jimmie Johnson had just wrecked the GAINSCO car. Yes, the very car we had partnered with for the Rolex 24! At first I thought the e-mail was a joke but I quickly realized it was not.
As soon as we got to the infield of the track we headed straight to the 99 car’s garage to survey the damage. Initial reports were not good as the team was planning to go back to Texas to get the backup car. They were hopeful they would be ready with a new car in time for the race-no guarantees though. This was not good but there was nothing we could do at this point so we moved on to meet with our other driver, Andrew Caddell. Andrew was driving for Rehegan Racing in a Mustang, competing in the Fresh From Florida 200 in the Continental Challenge Series. This is the support race that will be aired on SPEED on February 13 at 7 p.m. eastern time.
Andrew is an iRacer and an accomplished racer in the real-world having won the Mustang Challenge series for the past two year. iRacing was sponsoring Andrew for this race in his orange Mustang. Our logos were featured on the doors and the roof. Andrew and his co-driver Kenny Wilden were struggling in practice, only managing to post a top 15 time. Eventually the team sorted out the setup and Andrew was able to qualify third. After Andrew provided his blog update we called it a day and planned to regroup Friday morning.
An early wake-up and straight to the track to check on our cars and get some interviews for 3 Wide Life, a racing show for which iRacing is the primary sponsor. We were pleasantly surprised to learn the 99 team was able to repair the car over the night after Jimmie Johnson used his personal helicopter and jet to shuttle parts to the track. In fact, the car was already on track when we arrived! Things were looking up for iRacing!
A few more driver interviews were completed including Jimmie Johnson and Alex Gurney, and then it was time for the Continental Challenge race. We were lucky enough to get to the grid in time to wish Andrew luck and then watched the race from the pit stall with the rest of the team. What a great place to watch a race! Caddell made a clean start and the race was going well until the first caution. Upon the restart the car developed a problem, it was down on power. It turns out it was due to a cracked header. The car was still handling well and Andrew managed to hold onto a top ten finish, which is a testament to his driving ability.
After the Continental Race, we headed to the Gainsco corporate party where we were demoing our software to Gainsco employees and the drivers of the 99 car – Jimmie Johnson, Alex Gurney (a long-time iRacer), Jon Fogarty and Jimmy Vasser. After some brief words by Bob Stallings (team owner) and a Q&A session with the drivers the driving competition began. Obviously we were running the DP at Daytona. Bob Stallings posted a time of 1:59.802. Jimmie went next laid down a really quick time right off the bat, he posted a 1:43.703 on his first flying lap. Jon Fogarty went third and put up a time of 1:54.122. Alex then posted the fast lap of the driver competition, a 1:42.537 and the crowd went wild. It was a lot of fun coaching these world class drivers and all of them noted how great the software was.
Saturday morning was another early day to the track. Our mission was to track down another iRacer competing in the Rolex 24, Justin Wilson. We wanted to get a quick interview for 3 Wide Life and managed to meet up with Justin at his RV. The interview took place on the walk from the RV lot to the drivers meeting. It was sheer madness fighting through the crowded infield while trying to keep the camera and mic focused on Justin. Kudos to the crew from 3 Wide Life!
At 3:30 pm the race got underway and the 99 car was running well. The team settled into a comfortable fifth place. Positions changed as cars adopted different pit stop strategies but the car was in a good spot when we left for the evening. I wasn’t about to attempt the all nighter! In the middle of the night the car did head to the garage for some minor work which put it down a couple of laps but, when we arrived at the track in the morning, things were still looking good for a possible podium finish for the Red Dragon. Unfortunately that all changed around noon, when there was less than 4 hours to go. Jimmy Vasser reported on the team radio that he was showing zero oil pressure. He pulled it off the track and it was towed back the garage where the team ultimately diagnosed an oil pump belt failure. The race was over for the 99 team.
While we were certainly hoping for a victory in the Rolex 24 (I was secretly hoping for a new watch) the entire event was a huge success for iRacing regardless of the finish. We got tons of exposure to racing fans both at the track and around the world, and three of the top four finishing cars had iRacers on their driving teams (P1 – Joao Barbosa/Action Express, P2 -Justin Wilson/Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, P-4 Colin Braun/Krohn Racing). Being part of the race weekend was a fantastic way to connect to motorsport fans. Daytona really is the place to be this time of year!