The iROC HPP Simulation Truck Series rolled onto the worn surface of the 1.54-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway last Wednesday. Under threatening clouds that made the usually-slick Georgia track cool and full of grip, forty sim racers each hoped to secure a win and punch their ticket to the ‘Pursuit of the Pedals’ championship chase. When the skies finally opened up after the checkered flag, they could not dampen the joys of the race winner: Aaron Kleinhans, an underdog owner-driver who operates a single-truck team.
The race’s qualifying session was all about flat-footing it, and Dizzy Motorsports driver Brody Hays did that the best, securing the True Power Motor Oil Pole Award with a lap of 29.454 seconds. Milt Matice slotted in P2, with Kleinhans, Jeffrey Belt, and Michael Chrobok rounding out the top five in the starting lineup.
When the green flag dropped, Hays jumped out to a sizeable lead. Close-quarters racing through the field resulted in some vehicles getting aero-loose early on, forcing both Bob Bieber and Jordan Erickson to put to use their skills in saving out-of-control trucks. Luck was not on JJ Day’s side, however, and the driver of the bright #96 Day Towing/Gravel Motorsports Chevrolet tangled with Alpha Tango Racing driver Jonathan Holstein in turn one to bring out the event’s first caution.
The ensuing restart produced a tremendous battle for second between Aaron Kleinhans and Michael Chrobok, with the former ultimately eking out an advantage. The night quickly took a turn for the worse for Chrobok, as a cut right-front tire on Travis McQuistion’s Toyota set off a chain-reaction accident off turn two that took out several front-runners and damaged the #7 HPP Simulation machine beyond repair.
The rest of the field hit pit road for fresh tires, and the #37 Toyota crew did its part to keep Brody Hays out front. Although a challenge was mounted by the #85 of Kleinhans on the restart, Hays maintained command of the field as the race entered a long green flag run.
With 30 laps to go and the fuel window open, the race leaders began to duck off the track for service. Allan Young, in the #24 LA Simsport Chevrolet, made a risky yet impressive move to out-brake Aaron Kleinhans coming to pit road. Nick Kohan, teammate to race leader Brody Hays, elected to take two tires to gain track position, a strategy call that also moved him up the running order.
Steven Whetten spun on the backstretch with 23 laps remaining, bringing out the caution flag and changing the complexion of the race dramatically. Brody Hays and Danny Rodgers were the only two drivers that did not get fresh rubber, a move that would prove costly. Rodgers was shuffled back on the restart; Hays held on to the point, but saw the #85 of Aaron Kleinhans quickly growing in his rear-view mirror.
With eight laps to go, a rare mistake by Brody Hays off of turn two opened the door for Kleinhans, who took his truck to the top of the scoreboard for the first time all night. He pulled away from Hays’ wounded machine to secure the win and earn a spot in the season-ending playoffs.
As Kleinhans emerged from his truck in Victory Lane, the astonishment was evident on the Ohio driver’s face.
“Going into this one, I honestly thought we didn’t stand a chance. Last time we were at Atlanta in the Trucks, we didn’t even make the cut in qualifying. Just got lucky with the weather tonight,” Kleinhans said.
“We bolted on rights for the last stop, when Hays stayed out, and that’s what did the trick. Brody put up a tough fight but I knew we could get around him eventually. My guess is that he was watching his mirror instead of the windshield, and that allowed us to get him. The pressure is off now, so it’s all about having fun until the Pursuit of the Pedals starts!”
Brody Hays finished second, enough to maintain control of the points lead. Allan Young came home in third. Jamie Moore and Nick Kohan rounded out the top five. Kohan, along with Jackie Palmore, earned the M-SPEC Hard Charger of the Race Award.
The HPP Simulation Truck Series returns to the track on March 16th from the Auto Club Speedway, but its companion division, the Grand National Series, is back in action this Wednesday night at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Can point leader Bryce Whitson finally cash in to score his first win of the season, or will an underdog driver once again hit the jackpot? Find out on March 2nd at 9pm ET on iRacing Live and the Global SimRacing Channel.
Until then, you can learn more about the series and its drivers by visiting RaceiROC.com!