February 5th, 2016 by Jeff Jacobs
The fourth season of road racing in the XtremeMotorsports99 Continental Tire series kicked off under the virtual Florida sun of iRacing.com’s Daytona and Sebring road courses with exciting sim races in both car classes. Defending ST class champion John Allen returned to the grid in his Mazda MX-5 but dug himself an early hole with a 6th place finish at Daytona, followed by an early retirement at Sebring. In the Ford Mustang FR500S field, defending GS class champion Tyler Shifflett had better luck in his quest to three-peat the championship by finishing third at Daytona and taking the win at Sebring. However, based on the first two races all eyes will be on some of the series rookies who ran at or near the front in both classes.
John Allen came into the season opening race at Daytona with impressive back-to-back ST class championships to his name. Qualifying provided the first sign that another championship would be no cakewalk. Series rookie Brad Wootton set the top Mazda qualifying time at 2:12.003, just 0.147sec faster than Allen. Of course, describing Wootton as a “rookie” hardly seems fair since the sim-racer has multiple series championships in the MX-5 and Solstice on iRacing.com. Close behind in the second row of the grid were the ever-speedy Drees Nice and Travis Schwenke.
Mechanical gremlins caused mischief in the field of 16 Mazdas before the green flag flew. Series newcomer Giuseppe Iannucci had a software problem that caused him to lose control of his car during the pace lap, inflicting damage on the cars of fellow rookie Robert Kranz and Daniel Krueger. When the online race finally started, Wootton led the pack into turn 1 while Nice made a move inside Allen to take over second place. Another series rookie, Robert Hartley, dove inside Schwenke to take over fourth behind Allen. Making moves early on in the 60-minute race, Nice took the lead from Wootton on lap 2 and Allen followed him by to claim second. The order would remain Nice, Allen, Wootton and Hartley for several laps with Schwenke falling outside the draft in fifth place. The top four battled for position on nearly every lap until the pit stops started on lap 15.
During the pit stop, Wootton overshot his pit box causing a delay to his fueling and tire change. Hartley took advantage to take over the lead at pit exit, followed by Nice, Wootton and Allen. The four resumed their multi-lap battle in that order. By the final lap, Nice had taken over the lead and put a three-car-length margin over Wootton and Harley. The two pursing drivers worked the draft together with a great run out of the bus stop, closing inch by inch as the three cars sped toward the finish line. The draft would not be enough. Nice held on to take the victory, with Wootton and Hartley right on his bumper at the line. Schwenke and Jordie Fike completed the top five while Allen dropped to sixth.
Of the 15 sim-racers in the GS class at Daytona, Jeff Jacobs took the pole position with a qualifying lap of 2:03.261, just one tenth faster than Kevin Ford. Season 1 champion Liam Hackwith lined up in the second row alongside Russell Rudduck. Series rookies Bob Herra and Travis Davis grabbed spots in the third row, relegating two-time defending champ Shifflett to seventh on the grid. As the pony cars thundered into turn 1 on the opening lap, Jacobs held the inside line with Hackwith sticking close to his bumper as Ford ran wide, dropping to third. Herra charged aggressively into fourth slotting in ahead of Rudduck. In the next several laps, Jacobs and Hackwith worked in tandem to break away from the pack by several seconds. The cars behind battled side-by-side and nose-to-tail for several laps, until Ford was forced into an early pit stop for fuel after starting the race on qualifying fuel. Ford would fall from 3rd to 13th on the early pit stop.
Jacobs pitted on Lap 15, handing the lead to Hackwith who stayed out. A fast lap coupled with a great pit stop allowed Hackwith to emerge from the pits on the following lap with a 2.5 second lead over Jacobs – just enough to deny Jacobs a draft which can be critical to passing at Daytona. Meanwhile, Shifflett had been putting down blistering laps and a perfect pit stop to jump all the way up from seventh on the opening lap to third in the closing lap, pressuring Jacobs for second place. On the final lap, Shifflett kept close to Jacobs on the infield but had a bad exit from the bus stop, preventing a final challenge for second place at the checkered flag. Hackwith took the win by 6.6 seconds over Jacobs, followed by Shifflett, Davis, and Ford making an impressive comeback from 13th to 5th.
The following week at Sebring looked to be Ford’s race to dominate, taking the pole position by nearly four tenths over Shifflett. Hackwith and Jacobs lined up in the second row followed by the rest of the 13-Mustang field. Ford started the race with full fuel this time and combined that with a blistering pace to lead the first 16 of 25 laps. Unfortunately Ford wouldn’t need all of his fuel this race once his motor failed on lap 17, surrendering the lead to Shifflett. Behind them, Hackwith and Jacobs raced closely for third place until the pit stops on lap 13. Jacobs got the faster pit stop this week, but then exceeded the pit lane speed on exit, forcing him to come in for a 15 second penalty on the ensuing lap. The penalty stop dropped Jacobs from 4th to 9th. Two laps later Hackwith inherited second place when Ford retired, moving Clint Vigus up to third. Motor problems struck again on the next-to-last lap when Hackwith’s Mustang let loose in a cloud of smoke on the front straight starting the final lap. Shifflett took the checkered flag in the lead, followed by Vigus, Davis, Rudduck and Jacobs.
In the ST class, while all the Mazdas survived the pace lap this week, disaster struck in the final turn of the opening lap. Allen tapped the bumper of Nice at exactly the wrong moment, sending Nice into a spin that ended his day with wall contact and damaged the cars of Schwenke and Hartley. In a show of sportsmanship, Allen retired a lap later as a self-imposed penalty for the contact. Meanwhile Wootton was getting lonely at the front of the ST field, having qualified fasted and inheriting a 10 second lead after the opening lap melee in Sunset Bend. He would never be challenged, leading from green to checker.
Behind him, an exciting race ensued between Iannucci, Brian Cartier, and Jordie Fike. On lap 13, Fike jumped ahead of Iannucci and Cartier for second place when they pitted, only to slip back to third when he pitted on the next lap. Iannucci drove away from Fike, but Cartier was applying pressure for third place when overtaking Mustang traffic forced Cartier to take evasive action resulting in a stop-and-go penalty for course cutting. Despite the penalty stop, Cartier recovered to finish 5th, just behind series rookie Robert Kranz. Fike took third behind Iannucci, with Wootton taking the win in dominating fashion.
Week 3 will take place at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, followed by an extended 90-minute endurance race in Week 4 at Monza. All races are available for spectating through the “Hosted Sessions” section on the iRacing.com web page. The league road series on iRacing.com provides sim-racers an opportunity to mirror the real-life Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge driving their choice of the Ford Mustang FR500S in the GS class, or the Mazda MX-5 Cup in the ST class. With events hosted every Monday night, the league’s 12-week schedule features most of the tracks that will be visited by the real-life series during the year, plus two special races at popular tracks outside the U.S. There are still open positions in both cars for drivers looking to race the MX-5 or Mustang in a competitive and fun series in the world’s best driving game. iRacing.com members interested in joining the series should visit the League page on iRacing, the webpage www.XtremeMotorsports99.com, or e-mail Kevin Ford at Kevin@xtrememotorsports99.com.