Nine-time iRacing.com V8 Supercars champion, Madison Down, knows full well that it’s never too cloudy to have a good race. With 274 career road-racing wins from 551 starts, Down is no stranger to victory lane. Indeed, even the overcast and gloomy conditions combined with the twists and turns of Virginia International Raceway did little to put a damper on the mood of Down and the other sim-racers as they arrived ready to race for Week 10 of the iRacing.com V8 Supercars Americas series.
The qualifying session proved to be a battle in itself as the top drivers found themselves in a fight to be on top once the smoke cleared. As expected, the young SDC Motorsports prodigy, Ethan Grigg-Gault, was found towards the front after it was all said and done. However, with only moments remaining in the 10 minute pre-race qualifying session, V8 Supercars Americas defending champion, Marlon McMullen, battled back and forth with Down as they consistently topped each other’s fastest time. In the end, it was McMullen who edged-out the seasoned veteran by an impossible .001s with a time of 1:45.801. With Down taking a close second, Grigg-Gault slotted into third as Down’s Trans-Tasman Racing (TT-R) teammate, Shaun Kelly, completed the second row ahead of former champion, Mitchell McLeod.
As the 23-lap online race got underway, the leaders wasted no time as they began a fierce battle for the lead which seemed to last for the duration of the event. Off the line, Grigg-Gault appeared to have gotten a better start and was able to get on the inside of Down and contest second position. Although Grigg-Gault initially made this happen by himself, he may or may not have been given a little boast in his effort from Down’s teammate, Kelly, who went into the Turn 1 Horseshoe too hot and collided with the nine-time champion.
The hit wasn’t catastrophic, however, as both Down and Kelly were able to recover. Despite their quick recovery, the impact was all Grigg-Gault needed to complete the pass for second and begin challenging for the lead as Down filled his rear-view mirror in third.
Down’s downward slide proved to be short-lived, however, as ‘nine-time’ managed to round up Grigg-Gault at the Horseshoe at the beginning of Lap 2. After reclaiming his second position, Down now set his sights on McMullen. Closing the gap, Down replicated the move he had previously exectued on Grigg-Gault and passed McMullen on the inside at the Horseshoe at the start of Lap 3 and assumed control of the race.
It could be argued, however, that McMullen was simply playing it smart. With Down not being a regular driver in the V8 Supercars Americas series, McMullen more then likely didn’t contest the pass since Down is not currently a championship contender.
Battle for the Top-Five
Further back, the SDC Motorsport captain, Martin Carroll, was having a strong run after starting in seventh. Getting the jump off the line on McLeod, Carroll and SDC teammate, Michael Fulcher, he pounced on the former champion who lost two spots before the first corner. One lap later, Carroll made the move on Fulcher which put him in fifth. However, this pass seemed to have put Fulcher in a bit of a bind.
Although McLeod didn’t have the start he wanted, he was soon able to recover one of his lost spots. As the SDC cars of Carroll and Fulcher battled in front of him, McLeod got on the back bumper of Carroll as the latter started his run around Fulcher. When the door opened for Carroll to make the pass on his teammate, McLeod came along for the ride and was able to capitalize on the opportunity. After successfully overtaking Fulcher, McLeod settled-in for the long haul as he pursued Carroll.
Chasing Down Mr. Down
Back up front, there was a four-way battle going on for the lead between Down, McMullen, Grigg-Gault and Kelly. As the laps ticked away, McMullen began to realize he had the pace to pass Down. Biding his time, McMullen made his move on Lap 12 going into the Horseshoe. Taking Down on the inside, McMullen appeared to have gotten the job done only for Down to go on the offensive. Not giving McMullen any room to turn out of the Horseshoe, Down soon found himself on the inside at NASCAR bend. Although he tried to hold on, the grip just wasn’t there for McMullen and he was forced to abandon his effort for the time being.
After several more attempts over the course of the next several laps, McMullen put a little too much on the table and made a costly mistake on Lap 18. Trying to shoot down the inside of the leader going into the Horseshoe, McMullen locked the rear wheels and slid into Down in the same manner as Kelly did on the opening lap. Although Down barely felt the impact and was able to drive away, McMullen lost a lot of time which Grigg-Gault, who had had been waiting patiently behind him, was keen to capitalize on.
Firing his Holden Commodore down the inside at Left Hook which heads into the Snake, Grigg-Gault completed the pass on McMullen for second. As this battle unfolded, however, the leader made the most of the argument going on behind him and put the loud pedal down to further extend his lead. By the time the checkered flag was waving, Down had extended his lead to over 2.5s and crossed the line to take the Week 10 win.
McMullen vs. Grigg-Gault
Although McMullen and Grigg-Gault would joust back-and-forth for the remainder of the race, the young SDC driver remained calm and collected. With the race winding down, Grigg-Gault held-on to finish ahead of McMullen despite tremendous pressure from the defending champion.
After the first lap incident, Kelly stayed out of trouble to finish the race where he started — in fourth. Several seconds behind him, however, the fight for the final spot in the top-five took a turn for the worse.
Carroll, who was previously in front of McLeod, was overtaken at the Horseshoe on Lap 20 by the former champion. Carroll would remain behind McLeod for the duration of the race as the latter took fifth but not before Carroll had an off on the final turn of the final lap. In what appeared to be an over-correction, Carroll’s Ford Falcon lost control as the back end kicked out. Now going sideways, gravity led him towards the closest object which happened to be the tire barrier just before the pit-lane entrance.
Despite taking heavy damage, Carroll fought on and limped across the finish line in seventh after losing one spot to his teammate, Fulcher, during the shunt. It was an unfortunate end to an otherwise fantastic drive by the SDC outfit.
With this race having a Strength of Field (SoF) of 3957, the second split (SoF 1857) was won by Tony Kloosterman. Dale Neish and Jason Quire took the remaining steps on the podium as Alexander Hebert and Graeme “Bones” Phyland completed the top-five.
Here are the results from the Monday SoF race:
Split 1/SoF 2850
Split 2/SoF 1272
|1-Chad Chastain||1-Adam Hyland|
|2-Steven Humbert||2-Nicholas Parker|
|3-Ethan Grigg-Gault||3-Jarod Tapsell|
|4-David A Moore||4-Sam McLeod|
|5-Ian Ford||5-Clifford Chapman|
Now on the last leg of the U.S. tour, the V8 Supercars series heads to treacherous Sonoma Raceway for 25 laps around the NASCAR Cup configuration. A difficult and very technical track, Sonoma is the last stop before the Season 2 finale at Phillip Island. A favorite for some, hated by others, the 1.99 mile circuit is as hard on the brakes as it is on the drivers. With several blind turns and various elevation changes, Sonoma will be a true test which will help determine who is worthy to be crowned the 2015 Season 2 iRacing.com V8 Supercars champion.