The July 4th Holiday in the United States seemed to put a damper on participation in Week 10 of the iRacing.com Mustang Cup, but the races that did go official had no shortage of fireworks between the sim-racers. With the series visiting Barber Motorsports Park for the first time in two years, those who did participate discovered a great track for Ford’s Mustang FR500S. Many who came back from vacation on the last day of the week and tried the track regretted the missed opportunity and hoped for a return visit next season: “I LOVE THIS CAR ON THIS TRACK!! I have been out all week and just practiced, qualified and raced. Great combo this,” exclaimed Northwest driver Mike Baures.
Typical of the intensity even a slow week can produce in this highly-competitive series, the July 5th 2:15 GMT race was decided on the last lap by a light tap between two of series’ top drivers. As the top qualifier in the race, Randolph Chenowth started on the pole with Olivier Sackhouse lining up to his side. With the drop of the green flag, those two drivers jumped out to a sizable lead over the rest of the field and stayed well ahead the entire race. Back in the field, the racing for third through tenth place was bumper-to-bumper, two- and three-wide at times, but super clean through the first five laps. As tires started to get greasy and concentration waivered, mistakes and incidents mounted. Virginia driver Michael Sarver seemed to have a “hit me” bumper sticker, as he took shots to the rear bumper on three successive laps before the third one ended his race. The tricky off camber T5 and the narrow corkscrew at T7-8-9 also claimed their victims over 15 laps.
Up front, by Lap 11 Chenowth had built up a 10 car length lead over Sackhouse and seemed to be cruising for the win. But each successive lap showed Sackhouse closing the gap in half, and half again, until on lap 14 the cars were nose-to-tail hurtling through T3 and up the hill to T4. Chenowth buckled down to maintain his lead across the start/finish line to begin lap 15, but Sackhouse was closer going into T1 than he had been at any time in the race…and perhaps that was where the problem started. On every lap, Sackhouse’s line through T1 was an aggressive pitch left that took him over the apex curbing, bouncing the car but carrying speed. Chenowth took a smoother line, slowing just a bit more to brush past the curbing but allowing him to be back on throttle earlier. In such close proximity, Sackhouse’s extra speed over the curbing brought his nose right up to the rear fender of the leader, producing just a slight tap.
At first it appeared both drivers would emerge unscathed. But behind the wheel, Chenowth was struggling desperately to regain his car’s balance as he drifted just a bit onto the grass at the exit of T1. Despite his efforts, a long, smokey slide ensued as if in slow motion across the track and just in front of the nose of Sackhouse’s car. It was agonizing for both drivers as Chenowth surrendered the lead (but recovered to finish second) and Sackhouse, who worked hard through 14 laps of clean racing to get close enough to try to earn the win with a clean pass, made one small misjudgment that changed the outcome of the race. Video of the race is posted in the series forum at this link.
By the end of the week, only 53 drivers turned a virtual-wheel in at least one of seven races producing 6 different winners. Canadian driver Troy Michaud was the only two-race winner, also taking a third place podium spot in his third race of the week. In qualifying, the usual suspects were at the top of list until Brian Strodtbeck made a surprise appearance and whacked the field by a half-second with a 1:36.681. Next best were series points leader Todd Honczarenko (1:37.146) and Vedran Broz (1:37.154).
However Strodtbeck never found an official race to see if he could take advantage of the quick qualifying. Instead the top points earner for the week was Dan Rasch (143) followed by Olivier Sackhouse (135), Honczarenko (125), Chenowth (123), Paul Clark2 (121), Broz (119), Michaud (112), and Patrick Bieri (111). Notably both Honczarenko and Chenowth earned the third and fourth highest points for the week even without winning a race due to their second-place finishes in stronger fields.
Week 11 takes the iRacing Mustang Cup series to Pocono, but the drivers won’t be making just left turns around the track like IndyCar this past weekend. Instead, sim-racers will be challenged with Pocono’s East Course – a small and narrow configuration that demands great car control, 21 laps of intense concentration, and lots of patience to avoid collecting other competitors or spending time spinning wheels in the grass. While likely not to be the most popular track of Season 2, it does reward a strong qualifying effort and may provide a golden opportunity for those trying to close the gap on points leader Honczarenko. Be sure to read the tips, watch the videos, and download the replays and setups on the series Forum.