ISRA are delighted to welcome back O’Neil PC Systems as the title sponsor for the Grand American Championship. This marks the second consecutive season that O’Neil PC Systems has supported ISRA’s premier series and ISRA and all our competitors are proud to be associated with this industry leader in top quality PC’s for simulation, gaming and home use.
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey California was the site of the opening round of Season 2 of the ISRA – Grand American Championship (GAC) Presented by O’Neil PC Systems. The virtual pits were stretched to capacity as a massive field descended on the track for the highly anticipated first round of this online racing season. As the regular sim racers bid farewell to their trusty Daytona Prototypes and Corvette C6.Rs this new season would offer up three very different racing machines.
The GT class choice this season is the Ford Falcon V8 Supercar. With its 5.0L Ford Boss 302 motor mounted in a production-based body shell this 3000lb ballistic missile tears up the asphalt with over 600 virtual horsepower at the wheels. This car has attracted an impressive lineup of drivers and the rivalry looks to be fierce.
In the GS class another Ford sees its debut in the series. The Ford Mustang FR500S weighs in at 3600lbs and puts down around 325hp to the wheels. Designed as an entry level pro racing car for the Ford Racing Mustang Challenge series this vehicle is a perfect choice for multi-class racing. The Mustang field filled-up within hours of the series announcement; quite a testament to its popularity! Many GAC regulars including both defending series champions have chosen this car as their ride for the season. They will have tough competition from a host of newcomers who are looking to make their mark on the series.
Rounding-out the trio of cars, the ST class choice is the Mazda MX-5. As raced in the SCCA Mazda MX-5 Cup, this car weighs in at a svelte 2600lbs with 200hp on tap. The MX-5/Miata is the most popular sports car ever made with over 500,000 cars sold since 1989. Spec Miata is the most popular sports car racing class in North America and the first step for Spec Miata racers into the pro ranks is often with the Mazda MX-5 Cup. Many iRacers have sampled this car in real life and on a personal note, as a former Spec Miata racer myself, this car provides the best avenue to bring hardcore, fender-rubbing grassroots racing to the iRacing service. Needless to say, this is my personal choice for the season and the choice for 14 other racers who will wrestle this fantastic handling car in an effort to extract everything is has to offer.
The GAC offers a unique qualifying format for road racing. Taking a page from the oval racing book, qualifying takes place over two or three hot laps on an empty track. This format puts incredible pressure on the drivers and it takes a high level of concentration to pull out that one hot lap. A poor qualifying performance can spell disaster. Laguna Seca is a very challenging track to qualify on as it’s incredibly easy to drop a wheel pushing for that last tenth. That would not stop the drivers putting in some great performances. Grabbing pole in the GT class was David Sirois, continuing his tradition of strong qualifying performances. GS pole sitter was Marc Payne, our current C6.R champion. Daniel Graulty clinched the top spot in ST in the first outing for the MX-5.
The pace lap at a tight, twisting track at Laguna Seca can be fraught so the field was a little strung out as the green flag dropped. The V8 Supercars, however, had no such issues and blasted off into the distance. Chris Damron Jr. immediately got the jump on Kevin Savoie and slotted into second place. As Sirois pulled away Savoie had to make the pass on Damron quickly or he’d be facing an uphill struggle to take the battle to Sirois. Under intense pressure Damron ran wide at Turn Four allowing Savoie to work his way back into second.
It would take only to Lap Five for the V8s to catch up to the MX-5s. That’s when the fun really started and the race-craft of the V8 drivers started to come into play. Passing cars which are 40mph slower on the straight presented a real challenge for the racers but they were equal to the task. Using the traffic to his advantage, by Lap 11 Savoie had closed the gap to Sirois and was firmly planted on his bumper. As soon as the opportunity presented itself he made the pass for position and held onto the advantage. Further back in the field Patrick Spence had qualified lower in the order than expected so he faced a tough race with lots of traffic to work through. Passing Jonell Hart early, he then engaged in a fantastic battle with R C Vigus which lasted until Lap 16 when Vigus conceded the position through Turn Four. The same lap the pressure from Savoie finally paid off and he was able to muscle his way past Sirois on the Rahal Straight.
Following the pit-stops Sirois was putting pressure on Savoie when, on Lap 27, the race was effectively decided when Sirois got together with Spence, spinning and losing eight seconds in the process. This put him out of contention for the win. The fight for second place though, would turn out to be a great one. Sirois conceded second place to Damron on Lap 29, then mounted an epic battle to reclaim the position, weaving through traffic and fighting to regain the second spot on the podium. On Lap 33 Damron got held-up by a Mustang and Sirois slipped past. Damron would push till the end but just could not get back around Sirois. Ahead of the battling duo Savoie stretched his advantage and would not be challenged. At the checkered flag he led the field home with a 17 second margin over Sirios in second place and Damron right on his heels closing out the podium.
“So I had to work at it to get to David. I was able to make a pass on him relatively easily and get a nice gap as well. I decided to run a bit more than half way to pit and I was sure David would have pitted earlier, but I ended up pitting just a lap later and kept the gap.” said an elated Savoie.
It might only be the first race, but it has been an epic one and I cannot wait for next week’s race.”
In the GS class, the competition was stout and the drivers fought hard for every position. On Lap One Chuck Chambliss quickly dispatched Jim McInnis for fourth position in class and asserting his intention to the rest of the field. Once that pass was made the Mustang drivers found it difficult to make up further positions on the opposition. The lap times are so close it can take a big mistake from a driver or an incident on track to give the other drivers the opportunity to pass.
At the head of the field Marc Payne laid down his fastest times of the race early on as he worked to build a solid gap. Scott Kennedy and Mike Young held on as best they could but could not prevent the field getting spread out. Kennedy made a strategic call and pitted for tires on Lap 10 — a bold and risky strategy as the Mustang is hard on the tires. Kennedy would need to nurse his tires for the next 30 laps to have any hope of catching the flying Payne by the end of the race.
As the pit stops cycled through the order remained unchanged as the top three maintained station, with Chambliss and Jim McGinnis pushing hard to finish on the podium. Lap 34 almost spelled disaster for Payne as an out of control car slid by in the Corkscrew with inches to spare, almost taking out both Payne and GT class leader Savoie.
No matter how hard he pushed,Kennedy could not reel-in Payne. As the race entered its final stages his early pit stop took its toll on the tires and Kennedy had to settle into a rhythm to conserve rubber and hold Young back in third place. Payne took him the win in emphatic style with Kennedy second and Young third.
Wow, fantastic for ISRA to put together a field of 35 cars. THAT is multi-class racing.”
A tremendous experience to be in a Mustang getting lapped and doing some lapping ourselves.” said Payne. “I got a great start leading the class off the line with my InsideSimRacing Mustang and basically never saw another Mustang again for the entire race except for the occasional lapped car. Feels good to get a class win.”
As expected the ST class was tight and competitive. As the field streaked away at the green flag the only casualty of the busy first lap was Daniel Quaroni who tangled with Alex Ulleri, ending his race. It was an unfortunate end to a promising race for Quaroni who had qualified third on the grid.
MX-5 racing is often characterized by long draft trains as the aero on these cars makes running in a pack very beneficial. Two cars running together are always faster than a lone car, which keeps the racing close and action-packed! Making full use of the draft, Graulty and Colin MacLean would pull away from the rest of the field. MacLean made his move on Lap Five, executing a textbook pass into the Andretti Hairpin. Graulty didn’t contest the pass and latched onto MacLean’s bumper.
The MX-5s soon had to contend with the hard-charging GT class leaders. Graulty would falter on Lap 11 when a lurid slide through Turn 11 dropped him back four seconds from the leader and broke the draft.
While MacLean and Graulty battled for the lead Mitchell Weirich was the man on the move. Starting dead last in the field after incidents in qualifying he had quite the mountain to climb to try and claw his way up to the podium. By Lap Six, Weirich had claimed fourth place in the field with a beautiful pass on Jerry Knitter around the outside in Turn 11. Weirich next set Ulleri’s podium spot firmly in his sights. The relentless pressure from Weirich would pay off Lap 15 when Ulleri lost control in the Andretti Hairpin trying to keep his MX-5 ahead of the chasing pack.
On Lap 18 Graulty brought his MX-5 into pit lane in an attempt to lay down some fast laps ahead of MacLean’s pit stop and perhaps close the gap. With his tires rapidly wearing,MacLean was forced to pit five laps later. As MacLean sat in pit lane,Graulty could see the gap dropping and had his fingers crossed that he could leap-frog MacLean as he exited pit lane. It was not to be. Graulty had made up some time but not enough to grab the lead. MacLean returned to the track ahead of Ulleri, who had yet to stop, and Graulty a mere four seconds behind. Graulty would be unable to reign in the flying MacLean. leaving the battle on track for the final podium spot.
As MacLean pulled out of pit lane Ulleri and Weirich were still in a dog-fight for third place. Ulleri had worked his way back to the bumper of Weirich and finally made the move with a brave dive down the inside into Turn Five. The two raced side-by-side through the Corkscrew and Rainey Curve before Weirich seized the moment and pulled into the pits for his mandatory stop, a smart tactical move. In response, Ulleri stayed out on his original set of tires in an effort to build up a big enough of a gap to make a late stop with just a stop-and-go.
Feeling the pressure, Weirich would run wide exiting Turn Six on Lap 32, losing him a valuable five seconds. Sensing an opening, Ulleri brought his MX-5 onto pit road for a splash-and-dash, gaining him valuable time over Weirich who had stopped for both fuel and tires. Ulleri exited pit road three seconds ahead of Weirich.
Seeing Ulleri ahead, Weirich pushed hard. A little too hard it turned out with a big off exiting Turn Six ending his podium hopes. And so the finishing order was set. MacLean took the win, Graulty finished second and a hard-fought third spot went to Ulleri.
“What a fantastic way to start the new season!” smiled MacLean. “Daniel and I had an exciting race today and I look forward to the next one.
Everyone did a fantastic job out there; it really is a testament to the quality of drivers in our league.”
As the drivers look ahead there’s no doubt that expectations are high for a solid repeat performance at our next race across the ocean at Phillip Island. Phillip Island is a fast, sweeping track that will suit the V8 Supercarss. The MX-5 and Mustang pilots better have their wits about them as the V8 Supercars will have the chance to stretch their legs on the blazing fast front straight. It’s sure to be an exciting race, log on to inRacingNews next week to read all about it!
Visit http://www.israleague.com to get involved and to get in line for a coveted race seat. There are always one or two slots open at each race so sign up to the waiting list and 15 minutes before the race starts you will receive a “fill the grid” notification. You can then join in what is rapidly becoming the premier iRacing hosted multi-class racing series. See you on track!