Week 19 of the iRacing Pro Series Oval blew the iRacing Pros to the Windy City of Chicago. The high banked, one and a half mile oval promised to be exciting for the competitors, but nobody could have expected what Wednesday night had in store for them.
Wednesday night, which is usually the most popular race of the week, only saw 32 drivers this time around. That means one “Super Split”, stacked with names like Brad Davies, Josh Parker, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Josh Berry and all the other top pros.
Jim Caudill Jr. led the field to the green, with Theo Olson accompanying him on the front row. The race started off relatively smoothly, with two-wide action for the first few laps then stringing out single file. With the high level of grip, and the high amount of draft, it figured to be a pure chess match to the finish.
The first caution came out on Lap Six when Jesse Atchison and Florian Godard made contact while running in the top 10. Jake Swanson got caught up in the resulting mess, but Luke McLean and Jameson Spies were barely able to sneak past. Early as it was, the caution would affect the remainder of the race as, in the ensuing pit stops, half the field took-on two tires, while the other half opted to take four.
The green flag flew on Lap 11 and the field spread out as much as they did all race, which was barely at all. Many drivers complained about the ridiculous amount of draft, making it extremely hard for anybody to race and resulting in “Follow the Leader” racing for the majority of the event. After the restart, the race went green for 50 laps before Patrick Fogel had trouble getting onto pit road and brought out a second caution. This hung a half dozen drivers, who had opted to short pit, a lap down. Fogel later apologized, saying he forgot to change his brake bias, and locked-up his tires.
After another long run, the caution flew with 11 laps to go when Kyle Hadcock made contact with Ray Alfalla. Again, the resulting pit stops saw different strategies. Many drivers opted to take just right side tires in order to gain track position, even though their left sides had upwards of 40 laps on them. This triggered an eight lap brawl to the finish.
Having controlled most of the race, Caudill led the field to the final restart. Parker got underneath him into Turn One, while Berry threw his nose in between the two of them. Parker, Caudill and Berry came down the backstretch three wide with three laps to go. Going through Turn Four Parker got the advantage on Berry, while Caudill fell back to third. At that moment Marcus Caton made heavy contact with Thomas Hazard, bringing out the caution and ending the race. Atchison, who has been stuck mid-pack after his incident with Godard, took two tires on the final stop and held on for fourth, while iPSO points leader Davies grabbed fifth.
This large split provided an excellent points day for the top finishers, with Parker taking home 340 points for his win, while Davies’ 296 points for fifth is more than some past winners have gotten.
Saturday night saw two splits. In the top split Derek Wood took the win over Olson, giving him a needed 308 points, while Olson got 294 points for his second place finish. The other split saw iPSO points leader Davies win an almost blemish-free race, The only caution flew when two laps cars wrecked near the leaders, resulting in the race ending under caution. Davies got 302 points for his win, while for much of the rest of the top five (Caudill, Richard Towler, Parker and Bryan Blackford) it was a drop.
The big story of the week was the draft. Many drivers complained that it is extremely overdone, and as a competitor, I fully agree. Nobody could break away with this large draft in effect, and the best place to be was not out front but second, or anywhere you could take advantage of the car in front punching a hole in the air.
“It’s more super-speedway racing than the super-speedways,” said Caudill. “In real life, it pays big to be out front. On iRacing, leading is the WORST place to be. Everybody has to sit back in the draft and wait until the tires are 40 laps old to make a move.”
Rumors are swirling that iRacing will have these problems figured out in time for the iDWC. Many of the top pros are praying for this, it would provide for better, more realistic racing action.
Next week the pros will go to the short track and high-banks of Bristol Motor Speedway. It will be the iPSO’s second visit to Bristol, and John Gorlinsky, Josh Berry, Ray Alfalla, Thomas Hazard and Brian Schoenburg hope to have similar results as their first visit to The World’s Fastest Half-Mile.