Week Three, Season Three of the iRacing V8 Supercar Series by Bigpond Sport saw the field arrive at Watkins Glen.
Reality and its virtual counterpart were colliding in many meaningful ways. It was less than a week since Aussie Marcos Ambrose scored his maiden Sprint Cup win at the same (real world) venue. Meanwhile, iRacers Shane Van Gisbergen and Scott McLaughlin had hit the podium at least once in the weekend just gone, at the Queensland Raceway V8 Supercar round.
The rolling green hills of The Glen were made even greener by no less than four Nfinity Esports Falcons in Mitch McLeod, Rens Broekman, Scott Andrews (another real world V8 racer) and Scott U’Ren.
Van Gisbergen was missing from this round, as was Peter Read. McLeod was on pole, scraping into the 1 min 10’s. His Nfinity Esports teammate Broekman was alongside him on the front row. Scott Andrews, also for Nfinity Esports, was third alongside Mick Claridge.
“Just 0.3 off the pace and it puts you a long way back” -Madison Down
Next up was McLaughlin in the Hyper Stimulator machine and alongside him, amazingly, was Madison Down, unaccustomed to such a “lowly” grid position. Next was XSG’s Shay Griffith, Dylan Gulson, Stuart Wood and Simon Madden.
The qualifying times were “just plain silly” according to George Fullerton, who wrung the neck of his Moffat/Ickx tribute Falcon, setting a personal best with a new setup, but was 18th on the grid! McLeod attributed the Nfinity express to lots of practice. “You can’t half tell we’re pushing the set ups to the limits…we were all within .03 of each other in qualifying.”
When the starter said “go”, McLeod got the jump, while Andrews managed to trump Broekman for second into the esses. It compromised Broekman up the hill, and McLaughlin duly snuck past him to spoil Nfinity’s 1-2-3.
Shay Griffith had some contact with Claridge into the bus stop, spinning into the sandtrap and out.
On Lap Three, Dylan Gulson looped it out of Turn One into the path of the field and was collected by McCabe. It was a virtual crashfest eerily reminiscent of the real one at the scene of Ambrose’s victory the week before. It spreadeagled the rest of a wide-eyed field. Fullerton snuck through the carnage with some deft avoidance which George humbly described as “a complete and utter fluke…”. The comparisons to Days of Thunder and other hilarities carried on in the post-race chat.
Gulson and McCabe weren’t filled with quite as much mirth. “I must have walked under a ladder or something” said McCabe, putting the last nail into the coffin of XSG’s meeting.
Lap Eight, McLaughlin was getting keen to further spoil Nfinity’s party. He was all over Andrews, leaning on him out of the carousel, and giving him a tap into the bus stop a lap later. Andrews survived, in fact McLaughlin dropped back into the clutches of Broekman as a result, but slight damage eventually took the edge off Andrews’ Nfinity Falcon. Broekman worked over McLaughlin intensely for a few laps, with no success.
Out in front, McLeod extended his lead.”All I had to do was keep focus and not make a mistake like I did at round 1..”. Easier said than done.
Three laps later, the McLaughlin-Broekman battle re-caught Andrews and resumed the three-way negotiations over second place.
Around three seconds back was Claridge, with Down after him.
Another four seconds behind them were Stuart Wood and Scott U’Ren in the fourth Nfinity Esports car. A similar gap behind was Joshua Muggleton and Craig Woodhouse, squabbling for tenth place. They were dancing in pairs all through the field.
By Lap 15, the McLaughlin-Broekman battle had pulled up to Andrews’ bumper again. McLaughlin nailed Andrews under brakes into the bus stop. Leaving the Nfinity pair behind him to swap positions, Broekman sliding through Andrews at Turn One a lap later.
Gradually, McLaughlin set about eating into McLeod’s lead, which at that point was around four and a bit seconds.
Meanwhile on lap 18 U’Ren stole seventh place from Wood under brakes into Turn One. Wood “…ended up conceding rather than blowing a top 10 finish”, rightly chuffed at his best drive yet.
Lap 19, Down challenged Claridge, going side by side into the treacherous esses, until Claridge favoured survival and conceded fifth place to the Season Two champ. Down set off after Andrews.
McLaughlin’s pursuit of leader McLeod had halted, and Broekman was back on his tail by Lap 22. They were glued together, nose to tail, for the duration of the closing laps. The battle was fierce, with McLaughlin covering his line more than once or twice, and Broekman communicating his response via morse-code.
On Lap 27 Muggleton had a spectacular lose exiting Turn Six with clouds of smoke and curses, but carried on in ninth. George Fullerton was behind him, in his rightful top ten position. Claridge spun in the esses and retired after another solid drive.
By the penultimate lap, Down had caught Andrews and was working him over furiously. Broekman had all kinds of lunges at McLaughlin into the final corners. It was all happening.
Travelling serenely by comparison, McLeod cruised to his first victory in what must have seemed like an eternity, but for a late-season win at Mosport in Season Two. He was six seconds ahead.
The status quo was preserved behind him, but not for lack of drama. McLaughlin second from a sideways Broekman, Andrews, Down, U’Ren, Wood, Woodhouse, Muggleton, and George “Tom Cruise” Fullerton.
In a record 101 entries across 5 splits, the other split winners were Cal Whatmore, Stephen Jones, Nick Percat (yet another real-world racer in the V8 Supercar series) and Kane Baxter-Smith.
Screenshots courtesy of Bigpond Sport
OVERALL DIVISION STANDINGS (includes all divsiions)
|25||Miguel Vinatea Bueno||3||Iberia||311|
|31||Ray Butcher||3||California Club||290|
|33||Mertol Shahin||2||Central-Eastern Europe||286|