BMW’s dominance in the IMSA iRacing Pro Invitational Series is over.
Porsche factory driver Nick Tandy saw to that with a strong performance throughout Thursday’s 90-minute WeatherTech Presents IMSA iRacing at Road America event in the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR. Tandy credited a strong performance in qualifying – an Achilles’ Heel in his previous two starts this season at the virtual WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course – as a key contributor to his success.
“It was just one of those races where everything fell our way,” Tandy said. “We managed to bag a really good lap in qualy which kept us out of trouble at the start, which was my main issue at Laguna and Ohio was just having a clean run without getting in other people’s incidents.”
Tandy and teammate, Ayhancan Guven – a Porsche Junior from Turkey and one of the world’s best sim racers – made their way to the front of the field following the midrace pit stop sequence and it appeared the race would come down to a battle between them for the victory. Unfortunately for Guven, he collected Matt Campbell’s spinning Ferrari in Turn 13 with just under 20 minutes to go, eliminating his No. 913 Porsche from contention.
The Guven-Campbell incident also eliminated any serious late-race challenge for the victory. Tandy went on to win by 2.916 seconds over Bruno Spengler in the No. 7 BMW IMSA Team Red entry.
“The concentration level needed for me to drive on the sim, it’s so much greater than when I’m driving in reality,” Tandy said. “I think it’s because the driving in reality, it’s kind of in your subconscious. You can think about what goes on with stuff while it’s happening, whereas with sim racing, it’s still kind of a bit fraught. I definitely felt my wrists after the race from just grabbing and holding the steering wheel so tight trying to not make a mistake. It’s pretty painful.”
The runner-up result gave Spengler his third top-two result in four IMSA iRacing Pro Series races this season. The France-domiciled Canadian won the opening two rounds of the season – March’s Sebring SuperSaturday and Round 2 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca last month – and returned to the head of the points table after dropping out of the lead with a sixth-place showing last time out at the virtual Mid-Ohio.
“It was a great race,” Spengler said. “It started a bit more difficult than the other races. I’d say our opponents had more pace, for example the Porsche was very, very strong here, Ford as well. But we had a good setup and a good car.
“It was very difficult to overtake; everybody was behind each other. At the end, we pitted a bit earlier and we decided to take a bit of a risk and only change two tires which worked. At the beginning we wanted to take a big risk and double stint the tires, but I don’t think we would have made it. We decided to just change the left side which made me gain a lot of time on the pit stop. With that, then I could make a lot of ground. The car was so good even though the right tires were the old ones.”
Spengler now leads erstwhile points leader Nicky Catsburg by eight points, 127-119, with four of six races complete. Catsburg had a three-race podium streak – topped by a victory at Mid-Ohio – snapped with a ninth-place outing tonight in the No. 10 BMW IMSA Team Black M8.
Third place went to Philipp Eng in the No. 26 Team Austria BMW. It was a hard-earned first podium of the IMSA iRacing Pro Series season for Eng, who lost a likely victory at WeatherTech Raceway due to a late-race incident with a lapped car while leading the race and charged from 35th on the starting grid to finish fourth at Mid-Ohio.
Tonight’s podium wasn’t without adventure, either. Eng was in the right place at the right time when separate incidents wiped out John Edwards’ BMW and the Ford GTs of Richard Heistand and Kenton Koch.
“The level of competition was very, very high today,” Eng said. “I think we could see in qualifying that everybody was super close. We knew in the race, we just didn’t have the pace to potentially win it, but we were in a good position. Like Bruno said, it was all about tires and all about fuel management.
“I had a good battle with Kenton and the other Ford and with John for the last spot for the podium. I think it was exciting to watch. I was a bit unlucky at Laguna Seca where I got taken out from the lead then a good charge in Mid-Ohio finishing fourth and now on the podium. But really good, thanks to the team.”
Fourth place went to Shinya Michimi in the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Porsche. Edwards recovered from his late-race incident with Heistand to finish fifth in the No. 23 BMW IMSA Team Black entry.
As he did at WeatherTech Raceway, Rodrigo Pflucker led the first half of the race after starting on the pole position aboard the No. 47 Ford GT. Unfortunately, a slow pit stop once again cost the Peruvian dearly and he wound up in 14th place.
IMSA iRacing Challenge Series – Round 1 at Road America
Earlier today in the inaugural race for the IMSA iRacing Challenge Series, Michael Cooper took the win in the No. 10 Flying Lizard Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport. Cooper was part of a lengthy battle for the lead with JDC Motorsports’ Scott Andrews until with 10 laps to go, Andrews made door-to-door contact with Cooper in Turn 5 and was sent spinning into the wall.
Ben Waddell finished second with Forty7 Motorsports and Max Root finished third with Wright Motorsports. The two earned their positions on the final lap when two of the top-five drivers had to pit for fuel coming to the white flag.
Next up for the IMSA iRacing Pro Invitational Series is the penultimate round of the six-race season, a 90-minute battle on the virtual VIRginia International Raceway on Thursday, May 28. The IMSA iRacing Challenge Series will once again precede the Pro Series race that afternoon.