April 2nd, 2016 by Jeff Jacobs
An amazing display of parity amongst MX-5 sim-racers has produced a thrilling championship points battle going into the final two weeks of the XtremeMotorsports99.com road series on iRacing.com. The week 9 race at Donington gave Giuseppe Iannucci his first class win in the Mazda, while week 10 at VIR saw Travis Schwenke take his first win. Eight different drivers have now claimed wins in the ST class this season. The GS class continued to be dominated by Liam Hackwith and Tyler Shifflett, each adding a win at Donington and VIR, respectively. None of the other Mustang sim-racers can challenge them for the top two podium spots, but the class championship is not yet settled between them.
With 10 weeks complete, the drivers now get into drop weeks since the points championship is determined by the best 10 of 12 races. The ST class continues to be impossible to call with eight different winners over the first 10 races. Defending class champion John Allen holds the points lead at 277, but Robert Hartley trails by only four points. Travis Schwenke’s VIR win helped him to climb into third at 249 points and that score is carrying zero points for missing the week 9 race at Donington. Michael Key has no wins but his consistently solid performances have earned him fourth place overall with 232 points. Brian Cartier is only two points behind to complete the top five in the ST class.
In the GS class, while Shifflett is technically in the second spot at 298 points to Hackwith’s 304 points, that includes zero points scored for missing week 8 at Road America. A top three finish in either of the final two races would put Shifflett back atop the GS standings for the season, unless Hackwith can win the final two races. Two victories would give Hackwith the championship by a single point. Jeff Jacobs continues to have a comfortable hold on third at 284 points, while the battle for the final positions in the top five is very much up for grabs amongst Kevin Ford (252), Russell Rudduck (242), and Travis Davis (236) – with several potential spoilers in striking distance due to missed races they hope to make up in the final two weeks.
The week 9 race at Donington Park Racing Circuit challenged the league members with a 90-minute endurance race. GS class driver Hackwith was looking to make it back-to-back wins and started strong by qualifying on the pole and staying there for the opening 23 laps. After temporarily handing the lead to Chad Osborn for a pit stop on lap 24, Hackwith resumed the lead two laps later. He stayed in front until he pitted for the final time on lap 47. Once again, when the pit stop cycle completed, Hackwith was back in front all the way to the finish. The situation behind him was much more turbulent. Shifflett got around second qualifier Ford on the opening lap and held second place until Ford re-passed on lap eight. Behind them Jacobs and Clint Vigus battled in the early laps until Jacobs damaged his car’s front suspension at the chicane and had to pit for repairs. The battle for second place changed on lap 12 when Ford caught too much curbing in the chicane, sending his Mustang nose-first into the wall and costing him several laps in repairs. Osborn was running his strongest race of the season and even led two laps during the pit stop cycles, but mid-race he crashed in the chicane ending his shot at a podium finish. At the end of the final lap, Hackwith took the win, followed by Shifflett, Vigus, Davis and Rudduck.
In the ST class, Andre Saunders set the top qualifying time at Donington, just ahead of Allen. On lap five, Allen completed a pass on Saunders to take the lead. But on the very next lap a self-induced spin in turn four left Allen facing backwards in the middle of the track. Mazdas scattered in all directions but Nicolas Taeymans had nowhere to go and hit Allen head-on. Iannucci started fifth but by lap three was third. He inherited second with Allen’s problem in turn four and pressed hard to challenge Saunders for the lead. Hartley moved up to third when Taeymans’ car did not survive the collision with Allen. Turn four continued to be a perilous one for the ST leaders when on lap 11 Saunders also had a self-induced spin but slid into the grass allowing Iannucci to take the lead cleanly. Hartley now stalked closely behind Saunders for second and third place, with Brian Cartier and Jordie Fike rounding out the top five. Connection problems for Saunders on lap 27 caused him to lose several laps, dropping from second to seventh. Turn four struck again on lap 35, when Fike helped himself to a spin and trip through the Donington lawn. The final third of the race was comparatively uneventful to the finish, with Iannucci taking the win, followed by Hartley, Cartier, Key, and Saunders.
The following week at Virginia International Raceway provided more excitement in the Mazda class. ST pole sitter Hartley led the class to the green flag and all the way to the back straight where Hille made an inside move to grab the lead just before the Roller Coaster. The battle at the front continued to intensify through the opening laps. On lap five, Taeymans got alongside Hartley in turn one to challenge for second place, but the cars made door-to-door contact sending Hartley off track. Turn one would claim its next victim on lap six, when Taeymans spun off track dropping from second to sixth place and promoting Schwenke to second. Hille led the top five ST cars, all running within three seconds every lap, until he pitted on lap 14.
After the pit cycle, Hille resumed the lead with Allen in pursuit and Schwenke in third. Things started to unravel for Hille on lap 18 when he dropped a wheel off the outside of Nascar Bend causing him to spin into the grass and allowing Allen to take over the lead. Still running second on lap 20, Hille had a connection problem at the top of Roller Coaster, running off through the grass but miraculously hitting nothing until he was able to reconnect and resume from fifth place. In the closing 10 laps, it appeared that Allen was in prime position for another victory with Schwenke, Hartley and Saunders several seconds back. But tricky VIR was not done wreaking havoc in the ST class. On the final lap with a several second lead over Schwenke, Allen missed his braking entering the crucial Oak Tree turn sending him sliding through the grass and perilously close to the tire wall. Allen avoided contact but the agricultural excursion allowed Schwenke to scoot past and take the win. Hille recovered from his mid-race problems to take third. Taeymans and Saunders finished fourth and fifth.
In the GS class, Shifflett qualified on pole and led into turn one as Jacobs challenged Ford, the two drivers running door-to-door all the way through Nascar Bend. Osborn stepped into the mix on the opening lap, going door-to-door with Jacobs through the next three turns before tucking in behind for the charge through the Esses. Vigus and Davis remained in the hunt looking for any opportunity to jump into the top three. After working his way around Davis and Osborn, on lap five Vigus made a move on the inside of Jacobs entering turn one but locked up his brakes and slid into Ford’s rear fender. Ford added to the damage to his car with a trip through the grass on lap eight, the combined damage impairing the handling but nevertheless holding onto second place under heavy pressure from Jacobs and Davis. Shifflett and Jacobs pitted on lap 15, while Ford and Davis stayed out for another lap.
After the class had completed pit stops, the new running order was Shifflett with Jacobs three seconds back, followed by Ford another two seconds behind. A fierce battle for fourth ensued among Vigus, Osborn and Davis over a dozen laps. It all unraveled on the Mustang drivers at South Bend where Vigus spun into the wall on lap 20 and Osborn did the same on lap 21. That left Davis free to hunt down Ford, who was fading due to the damage on his car from the early laps. Meanwhile Jacobs had closed the gap to be right on Shifflett’s bumper for the final eight laps. However Shifflett refused to be rattled and remained mistake free, providing no opening for Jacobs to slip past. Shifflett took the win by 0.4 sec over Jacobs, followed by Davis, Ford and Rudduck.
The last two events of the online racing season feature the challenging GP configuration of COTA followed by series-favorite Road Atlanta. Both hour-long races will test the sim racers’ concentration and patience under the pressure of their final opportunities to hold onto or improve their points standings for the season. All races are available for spectating through the “Hosted Sessions” section on the iRacing.com web page. iRacing.com members interested in joining the series should visit the League page on iRacing, the webpage www.XtremeMotorsports99.com, or e-mail Kevin Ford at Kevin@xtrememotorsports99.com.