Undoubtedly among the most prestigious race tracks in the world, let alone the United States, Daytona International Speedway hosted the first week of iRacing’s exhilarating Grand Touring Cup racing. The vehicles in contention? The FWD, 170hp German Volkswagen Jetta TDI cup sedans, the classic Japanese 170hp Mazda MX-5 Cup cars and the popular 177hp American Coupe Pontiac Solstices, guaranteed to produce plenty of action from flag-to-flag. With cars this close, the racing was as unpredictable as Florida’s weather.
The famous 3.56 mile road course used in the running of the Rolex 24 offers some unique and challenging corners; 12 to be exact. Most challenging of all for the sim-racers in Week One seemed to be the Bus Stop chicane on the backstretch, and Turn One, which flows down into the infield off of the tri-oval, running at top speed. Suddenly, drivers must perform under heavy braking to make the semi-sharp left hander.
The 25 minute races began with rolling starts which become a little hairy if a driver in the faster Jetta class starts at the back behind the slower Mazdas and Pontiacs. As the competition sweeps into Turn One for the first time, the action picks-up dramatically towards the back with the MX5s and Solstices always creating some nail-biting scenarios while, up front, the Jettas engage in a kämpfen for the top spot. The race is usually completed in 12 circuits around the high banks and inner twists of Daytona.
As the results became official when the series left sunny Daytona, Ryan Field from Massachusetts leads the Jetta overall standings by 48 points, followed by Kevin Parish from Indiana and Alexandru Raileanu in the Central-Eastern Europe club. Mika T Savonen and Terry Nightingale JR finish-out the top five, separated by a mere two points for the fourth spot.
The fight for the title in the MX-5 cup class is a lot tighter than the Jetta points at this early stage, with the top five separated by a total of just 16 points. Anthony Goodale from Western Canada leads the way ahead of Danny Conlon, Carl Williamson, Konrad Hutten and Kenville Inniss. In contrast, Joni Bäckman (Finland) sets the bar high in the Solstices, enjoying a 50 point lead over Danny Conlon, Chris Hughson, Ryan Field, and Andrey Loginov.
Field took the pole in Solstices with a 2:12.295 over Conlon’s 2:12.619. Meanwhile in the VWs, Raileanu rocked the time board with a 2:08.538 as Savonen trailed by four tenths with a 2:08.950. The battle for the pole in the Mazda class was (once again) closer, as Williamson (2:13.814) beat Conlon (2:13.991) only by about two tenths.
It just keeps getting hotter and hotter for the Grand Touring cup as the series travels across the US to compete at twisty and slick 2.53 mile Sonoma Raceway. The drive in Wine Country promises as much electrifying racing as the Daytona beaches surely delivered . . . albeit without the (virtual) ocean breeze.