March 7th, 2016 by Daniel Vining
The K7 Creations Cup Series presented by HPP Simulation began its West Coast Swing in the Nevada desert with 107 laps of sim racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Josh Jones went all-in and scored big, claiming his first Cup victory in his first Cup start with iROC.
“The setup was a little snug for my liking, but that’s just a product of fixed setup racing,” said race winner Jones. “I was able to run the white line in one and two and use it to help the car turn and I believe that enabled me to save the right front a little better than most guys. It payed off because I ended up being the fastest of the guys going with the short-pit strategy, which ultimately got me the lead.”
Jones’ run to the lead started with Last Car Loaded Motorsports teammate Chris Westerfield winning the True Power Motor Oil Pole Award.
“I was pleasantly surprised with qualifying,” said Westerfield. “I was hoping for a top 10 starting spot. The car rotated really well through three and four, which propelled me to fast time.”
The race began cleanly, with Westerfield leading the opening 22 circuits before the losing the top spot to Allan Young, the first of 15 lead changes on the day. Westerfield would see plenty of time out front, leading 47 laps, the most of the day.
“I was very comfortable with the car all night long,” said Westerfield. “Race strategy has been a weakness of mine that I hope to improve moving forward this season. I felt like I let that one get away.”
While Westerfield led the most laps, he finished fifth after the final round of green flag stops put him a little farther back than he would’ve liked, followed by a late race caution that froze the running order, and ended the race under the yellow flag.
With an iROC record 100 green flag laps to open the event, having a good feel for the setup, being able to manage tire wear, and capitalizing on pit strategy were the keys to having a solid run.
“The recent changes to the tire model and the aero package that iRacing has supplied has really changed the dynamic of the races,” said Bryce Whitson, who led 33 laps on the day, but finished 15th after a late-race accident. “The fall off that the most recent tires have makes pit strategy more important than just going through a fuel run. It really made the entire race fun to watch and experience.”
Second-place finisher Michael Chrobok, along with teammate Whitson, used a three-stop strategy on the day.
“Some people were on a four-stop strategy, pitting every 20 laps,” said Chrobok. “Bryce and I felt that while those folks would have fast tires, stopping only three times would be a net time gain. That calculated risk was about to pay huge dividends, as we were running one/two and checking out from the rest of the field with seven laps to go.”
Some sim racers capitalized on the four-stop strategy. iROC newcomer Dylan Ackart made the trip from Shady Hill, FL to race with the K7 Cup Series in Vegas, finishing third in his debut.
“The car was tight for the whole race but we were able to keep it under control and not push as much as the other competition,” he said. “We also played a bold move with stopping four times for fuel and tires. We played our cards right and brought home a third place finish.”
Last Car Loaded Motorsports was well represented in this race. Jones won the race, and Westerfield led the most laps. Gabriel Solis place a solid fourth place and maintains his points lead in the season standings.
“I was very pleased with the way this race played out,” he said. “The LCLM Toyota had trouble in practice finding speed and we were fortunate enough to run our fastest lap during qualifying. The setup itself was pretty balanced if you took care of it, but was way too tight for my driving style. I was fortunate enough to get behind some faster guys during practice to help me find a solid line.”
“Overall, LCLM is optimistic at improved finishes in the coming weeks,” he added. “The boys back at the shop have a lot to prove in iROC.”
The final seven laps saw two cautions to close out the race. The tight setup didn’t take to one driver well at all, resulting in a frustrating end to a frustrating day. On lap 100, Bobby Barney lost control of his car off of turn four, bringing out the first yellow.
“I was fast,” said Barney. “I started from the back and drove through the field to the front. The setup was horrible and the handling characteristics of the car frustrated me beyond belief. Even though I was on par to finish in the top five I was ready to quit just because of how angry I was at the handling of the car. This led to me slamming my hand on my wheel, which broke the mounts to the table and the wheel fell into my lap resulting in my crash with seven laps to go. Needless to say, I was happy to get out of that car.”
Barney’s crash setup up the only round of pit stops under yellow, which resulted in various pit strategies.
“When that caution came out and it changed everything,” said Chrobok. “I was getting aero-tight in traffic behind Bryce, so I figured the best way to get around him would to beat him off pit road. I took two tires to his four, which gave me the track position I wanted, but some guys chose to stay out. That was a tempting call too — I’ve been bit on green white checkers before. When we went back green, we were coming for that #40 car, but then the yellow came out again and ended it.”
The resulting restart with less the five laps to go led to a massive crash in turn one, triggered by mismatched tires amongst the front-runners.
“The real cause of that final caution was guys on old tires that stayed out and couldn’t get going on the start,” said Whitson. “Those of us that took tires got a big run and we just had nowhere to go. This is also part of the reason we don’t do one lap shootouts.”
While the end of the race was spectacular for the wrong reasons, the race as whole was spectacular in the sense that it showed the skill of the iROC driver base and let strategy trump pure speed for a change. Drivers had to drive their cars, manage their tires, and know to pit, and when not to pit. In the end, Josh Jones found himself in the right place at the right time and had enough skill, and a little luck, to score big in Vegas.
The West Coast Swing continues on March 15th at Phoenix International Raceway for 125 laps under the Arizona sun.