The last 30 laps of the 2013 ISOWC Michigan 400 lived up to reputation, by delivering it all. Excitement, confusion, drama, and high emotions. Who could expect less from the track where over the two years previous, no driver could be certain of their finishing position until the last corner of the last lap? The first 345 miles of the 400 mile race went without caution, beating the series record of 309.8 miles set in 2012 at Twin Ring Motegi, and becoming only the third race in series history to go green for more than 300 miles. To say that it wasn’t eventful however would be a lie, as drivers had to get the job done over three rounds of pit stops, separating and bringing the field together over numerous occasions.
For Aero X’s Randy Crossno, getting to the lead and staying there was the order of the day. The most successful sim-racer in the ISOWC at Michigan had finished in the top 2 on both previous visits to the 2 mile speedway, losing out by less than 0.001 on the latter occasion. Randy led the most laps and set the fastest lap in the race, but his day was ended prematurely after a bad spotter call caused an incident between himself and Eric Vanek.
Points leader Denis Garese struggled early on, running outside the Top 10 for much of the first half of the race. After being one of a number of drivers to lose the draft to the lead pack in the early stages, he had to rely on help from Jon Porzuc to move forward, showing the fact that at Michigan, even rivals will put their team colors to one side to achieve the common goal of working their way to the front. Denis was able to stay on the lead lap for much of the race, before losing out in the fourth round of pit stops.
Garese’s biggest challenger in the points, Dave Judson was running at the front of the pack for most of the day, before disaster struck, and he was given a stop and hold penalty for an unsafe pit exit. Race control deemed him to have had two wheels above the yellow line before the safe merge point, and many thought his day was done as he fell a lap down. He said the following about his race:
“Tristan kept asking us on TS, to do a nice line. It was hard to do it with the other cars around us . . .” – Dave Judson
“Our cars lack of speed with full tank and we were forming a group behind, with Bram and Pierre. During our efforts to form a line Eric had an unfortunate contact with Pierre. we had to be more careful to finish the race. Tristan kept asking us on TS, to do a nice line. It was hard to do it with the other cars around us and we were losing time on the lead group. In fact it seems that Jon was there to make it even harder so we can not catch up. Anyway there were still a lot of laps do do.”
Elsewhere, Jon Goke showed his form once again, being towards the front of the group, and despite a bad 2nd pitstop, was closing in on Randy Crossno. Luck was on his side on his fourth pit stop, able to get out just ahead of the pacecar as the yellow flew, and was able to stay on the lead lap, enabling him to fight on for the win. Jon Porzuc was having a tough day, falling back on the first pitstop, then having to find help where it came, first with Garese, then with Broken Aero’s Gary Borkenhagen. Eric Vanek also was strong early on, before pit issues.
Friends off the racetrack, friendly rivals on, Wil Vincent and James McClure spent much of the day in a stalemate, after both making mistakes in their first pitstop. Vincent overshot his pitbox, losing the draft, and spent the entire second stint 1.9 seconds behind McClure as the two were lapping identically. Vincent said after the race:
“Stint 1 was great, was able to run out front, but couldn’t quite get the lead on the high lane. Then I messed up my first pit stop and me and James were Pretty equal in clean air, then it was downhill with more pit woes. I tried my hardest to stay on the lead lap, but was involved in a big battle with TM Hauser, and Randy slipped by whilst we were fighting for position”.
The Last 30 Laps
After over 170 laps of racing, the first caution of the day flew whilst a number of cars were on pit road. Race control froze the order as they were when the flag flew, so Goke was able to luck out and get the race lead, with just a handful of cars remaining on the lead lap, and half the field scored one lap down. Things were always going to be difficult on the restart, with the single file rule and guys on different fuel loads meaning that drivers had to get going perfectly, or risk losing the pack. Unfortunately for Randy Crossno, and Eric Vanek, a bad spotter call meant that the two came together, putting them both out of the race, and causing the second caution of the day.
The one victor out of this was Dave Judson, who stayed out under the previous caution to get back onto the lead lap, and was able to top up with Sonoco race gas, meaning he was good to go till the end. TM Hauser was able to get up to second in line, before the caution came out, and was the biggest loser, having to line up behind all the lead lap cars, and costing him the opportunity at getting back on the lead lap. ISOWC/iRacing rules state that if a caution means there is less than 10 laps of Green Flag racing before the end of the race, then the previous rule of lapped down cars starting “In Line” is negated, to allow all drivers on the lead lap to race for victory. In the case here, it was to prove the start of a very unfortunate period of the race to TM, and his Vortex team.
“I was praying for a yellow from lap 10 after I re-arranged the front suspension and aero package slightly.” – Bram Venneman
Approaching the Green Flag for the restart, TM spun his tyres, and his car shot across the racetrack, into the outside SAFER barrier, just missing his Vortex Team Mates and Wil Vincent. Expecting the caution to come out immediately, Denis Garese and Eric Luval both slowed down, but the caution didn’t come for another 10 seconds, placing Vincent ahead. Despite the claims of bias, race control held their ground, and it was now Vincent leading the charge of cars one lap down.
There were however just four cars on the lead lap of the 13 still running, namely 3 Banshee Autosport drivers and 1 Panther Online Racing driver. A couple of the cars remaining in the race had suffered some minor damage, most notably Bram Venneman, who commented:
“I was praying for a yellow from lap 10 after I re-arranged the front suspension and aero package slightly, typical that we get 170 laps of green just as I needed a yellow badly.”
On the final restart, the top four drivers all got a good restart, and fell into a four car pack, with Vincent about a further half second back, but able to break away from the other cars a lap down. Coming to the white flag, it was still anyone’s race, and through Turns 3 and 4 it looked as though Jon Porzuc might sneak by at the line. Jon Goke however kept the momentum on the inside out of Turn 4, and with James McClure behind him, was able to use the draft to take victory by 0.059, once again providing the close finish Michigan had become famous for.
Goke becomes the first double winner in the 2013 ISOWC, having previously won the Spring race at Pocono, and shoots up to third place in the championship. After the race, we caught up with him: (URL to MP3: http://www.isowc.org/uploads/mich400goke.mp3)
Dave Judson was able to close the gap to Denis Garese in the championship by coming home two places ahead of the Frenchman, however, one of the stand out drives had to goto McClure who was in potentially foreign territory the last 20 laps, but still came home third. Denis Garese kept the championship points standings with a 6th place finish, and after the race had the following to say:
“Was hoping Dave would try to take the inside on the last lap, as I felt I could get a run on the outside. He stayed high and I was able to get under him through the corner. Coming to the line, the wide open space below the white line looked really inviting and instinctively started to move down there, but didn’t want to be that guy. Couldn’t be happier with a podium finish in a great league!”
This week, the series moves on to Phoenix International Raceway, and the last oval race of the first Mini Championship. Goke and Judson have it all to do before Laguna Seca, as the Vortex driver of Garese has been much stronger on the road courses. With 250 laps of action, on a track which never allows drivers time to breathe, it will surely be yet another interesting race.