Week 3 of the iRacing IndyCar Road Series saw the drivers take to what is arguably the most storied circuit in America. Watkins Glen International was built in 1956 after safety concerns necessitated a move away from the original post-World War II circuit using the public roads and village streets around the upstate New York hamlet. Soon after, it became the host of the US Grand Prix from 1961-1980, and also the site of the 6 Hours of the Glen. The circuit hosted IndyCar for a number of years after 2006 as well. Currently, it plays host to an annual NASCAR Sprint Cup series event as well as the annual 6 Hour race for Tudor United SportCar Championship.
The circuit has seen drivers like Clark, Stewart, Hill, Gurney, Andretti, Hunt, Lauda, Jones, Gordon, Johnson, NASCAR’s Stewart, Ickx and two generations of Earnhardt, to name a few. It is known as an American road racing mecca, and has a place in the heart of thousands of fans. It is fast, relatively simple, but still an absolute blast to drive. Ever corner, with the exception of the connecting hairpin between The Boot and the old layout, is cambered in some way, allowing drivers to go full attack when driving the circuit.
The SOF race of the week saw Steve Honan start on pole alongside Carlo Labati with Naruko Ishida in third. Honan made a great start as the field plummeted into the first turn, and Ishida managed to clear Labati on the way into the corner. Unfortunately for Ishida, when he went to hit his push to pass, he engaged his pit limiter instead. As a result, he did not accelerate off the corner, much to the surprise of Labati. Labati was caught out, and had nowhere to go as he piled into Ishida’s gearbox. Ishida, realizing his error, tried to disengage the limiter but to no avail as he went spinning into the tire wall.
Labati’s momentary lack of acceleration opened the door for Riccardo Schiavon as the field climbed the Esses. Schiavon quickly decided discretion was the better part of valor, and promptly backed out as he realized that a pass in the Esses would more than likely end with both him and Labati in the trademark blue guardrail, and likely collecting others in the bargain.
Ishida’s self-inflicted problem dropped him to the rear of a field, with damage to his car as well. Honan, meanwhile, took advantage of Labati and Schiavon battling into the Bus Stop, and continued building his lead as the field took to the fast chicane. Further back in the field, Ishida was beginning his climb back to the front as he passed two cars on his way out of the Boot.
Up front, the gaps from first to second and second to third had begun to stabilize as all three Dallara DW12s ran similar lap times. Honan could not pull much of a gap on Labati, who was still caught-up in his battle with Schiavon. However, Labati and Honan soon engaged in a long range game of high speed chess, as one gained the advantage one lap, only to lose it the next. The gap between the top two was rubber banding, with the battle swaying back and forth with each passing lap.
Eventually, Honan started pulling a gap on Labati, and the two began running their own races with pit stops on the horizon.
On Lap 16, Honan led the top three to pit road. Schiavon made-up his entire gap to Labati and exited the pits right on the latter’s gearbox. Labati, however, soon pulled away from Schiavon, ending that battle for the moment. Within a lap, however, Schiavon was back in Labati’s tow after Labati had an issue clearing a lapped car. Once again, though. Labati pulled the gap back out on Schiavon who stayed out of striking distance for much of the remainder of the race. However, with a couple of laps to go, he began cutting huge swaths out of Labati’s margin. Too little, too late. Labati retained the runner-up spot as Honan took a simply dominant victory. Schiavon of course stayed third ahead of Valerio Pianezza and Alexandre Pillerault.
Week 4 saw series take to Suzuka Circuit, always a driver favorite. Suzuka’s extremely technical Esses section, several hard kinks and a few fast sweepers — combined with a high speed left at 130r — makes the circuit a true test of driver skill. It is beyond a doubt most famous for the political drama surrounding Prost and Senna in 1989 after the two collided into the chicane, and the (whether it was deliberate or not is up to you) contact between the two the following year at the same race. Both events decided the World Championship in those years.
Friday race saw Schiavon take the victory by almost six seconds over Honan, with Dennis Hirschka in third. The race also saw series favorite Naruko Ishida come to grief with five laps remaining, resulting in a DNF. The race’s fastest lap belonged to Honan, with Hirschka going the distance with the fewest incidents among the top three finishers.