December 23rd, 2015 by Jeff Jacobs
As ten weeks of sim racing competition came to a close at Road Atlanta, Tyler Shifflett and John D Allen successfully defended their respective class championships in Season 3 of the XtremeMotorsports99.com Continental Tire Road Racing Series. Despite coming into the final event trailing by seven points, Shifflett took the GS class championship in his #13 Ford Mustang FR500S with a crucial victory in Atlanta. Allen needed no such heroics to defend his title in the ST class featuring the Mazda MX-5 Cup car since he came into the final week with an insurmountable 28-point advantage earned with five race victories in the opening weeks. The third season of this iRacing.com league featured 15 different GS class drivers challenging Shifflett for the title. The ST class drew 17 members scoring points in Season 3. “Throughout 2015 the Xtrememotorsports Continental Tire Series continued its growth in membership and our final Season of the year was the most exciting we have seen yet,” said league administrator Kevin Ford. “We are so fortunate to have such respectful and professional mannered drivers.”
Season 1 GS class champion Liam Hackwith led the points on the strength of three race victories and four other podium finishes in the first nine races. Shifflett’s title defense had been going well with three victories and four other podium finishes, too, until back-to-back disasters at Bathurst and Road America in weeks seven and eight caused him to fall seven points behind. His chances of defending his Season 2 title looked even bleaker with Mustang hot-shoe Kevin Ford trailing by only two points built upon three race victories and two podiums of his own. With the championship determined by the best eight finishes of ten races, all three sim racers knew winning in the final race at Atlanta would determine the winner as between Hackwith and Shifflett. Ford would need to win and have the other two drivers finish off the podium to steal the season championship.
Mustang qualifying at Road Atlanta finished with Ford on the pole, just a tenth of a second faster than Shifflett. Hackwith and Jeff Jacobs lined up in the second row all within three tenths of Ford’s top time. As the pony cars thundered down the front straight on the green flag lap, Shifflett mistimed the start allowing Ford to jump ahead to a two car length advantage and Hackwith to steal the inside line behind Ford going into turn one. Jacobs also jumped to the inside line for turn one looking for an opportunity while fending off pressure from Leon Wright, Clint Vigus and Chad Osborn. Ford’s lead would not be large enough, however, as Hackwith slowly closed the gap until making the pass for the lead on lap six going into turn 10. Their battle allowed Shifflett and Jacobs to make it a four-way battle in the front. On lap 10 a bad exit off turn seven by Ford allowed Shifflett to motor past, taking over second place.
For the next 10 laps, Shifflett shadowed Hackwith around the track until both drivers pitted for fuel and tires on lap 20, handing the lead to Ford. Shifflett nailed a perfect stop within his pit box and his pit crew rewarded him with a stop nearly two seconds faster than Hackwith, allowing Shifflett to jump ahead exiting back onto the track. Two laps later Ford surrendered the lead while making his own pit stop. When the pit stop cycles were complete, Shifflett led the pack with Hackwith less than two second back, followed closely by Ford in his draft. The three leaders worked through lapped traffic while running this close formation for the next 12 laps. On lap 35, Hackwith had closed to within inches of Shifflett’s bumper when a distraction from lapped traffic approaching turn 10 caused him to slightly miss his braking point and tap Shifflett’s bumper. But Shifflett managed the save while Hackwith ran wide, surrendering second place to Ford. Two laps later, Hackwith repassed Ford for second place and set his sights again on the leader. But with only four minutes remaining the race, Shifflett put in an error-free final two laps to seal the victory and the GS Class Championship. Hackwith finished second and only three points out of the championship spot. Ford finished third and took the final podium spot in the season standings, eight points behind Hackwith. Jacobs’ fourth place finish at Atlanta earned him fourth for the season, followed by Wright, Vigus and Osborn.
In the ST class, Allen’s five victories gave him a points advantage that no other Mazda sim racer could overcome in the final race at Road Atlanta, but the battle for the remaining podium spots remained a five-way battle. Travis Schwenke’s five second-place finishes over the season put him in the second spot, but only 13 points ahead of Jordie Fike, who took the opening week win at Daytona. Just outside the podium before Atlanta, Drees Nice had five podium finishes including two victories for the season showing he would be a factor in the final dash for the championship podium. Brian Howard and George Johnson had also strung together a series of solid finishes all season long to be in position to jump into the top three if the others slipped in finishing order at Road Atlanta.
Nice set the top qualifying time for the Mazdas, edging out Allen by just 0.079sec. Schwenke qualified third only 0.009sec behind Allen, while Brian Cartier completed the second row. When the green flag flew the top four quickly fell into a line down the front straight looking to put away many of the opening minutes of the hour-long race before the dicing for position would begin. It only took a momentary bobble by Allen at the top of The Esses for Schwenke to slip past on lap nine. But Allen kept the pressure on until lap 11 when he capitalized on the draft down the back straight to make the pass going into turn 10 and retake second place.
The battle between Allen and Schwenke allowed Nice to open a significant gap going into the pit stop window for the ST class. Pitting on lap 18, Nice surrendered the lead to Allen and dropped to fourth in class behind Schwenke and Fike. After, Schwenke and Fike pitted on lap 19, Nice trailed only Allen who had yet to pit – and has a bit of infamy in the series for running his fuel strategy a bit too close for comfort. When Allen finally pitted on lap 22, Nice was able to zip past to take the lead by four seconds. However, Allen was able to exit the pits just ahead of a charging Schwenke to retain second place. As the Mazda class leaders contended with Mustang traffic working past, it appeared the running order would remain the same for the final 15 laps of the race. On the white-flag lap, perhaps it was a momentary lapse in concentration, or maybe it was fatigue from trying to chase down Nice, but for the second time in the race Allen got out of shape at the top of The Esses. However this mistake sent Allen’s MX-5 into a smoky spin across the track, and just as it seemed he had recovered, it snapped the other direction, sending the car sliding into gentle contact with the tire wall. Despite having fallen farther behind in the closing laps, Schwenke’s relentless pursuit was rewarded as he sped by to take second place, while Allen removed his car from the dirt in time to salvage third place. Jordie Fike and Brian Cartier rounded out the top five at Road Atlanta.
Allen’s last-lap spin at Road Atlanta didn’t prevent him from taking the ST Class Championship, but it was crucial to the final two podium positions. The second place points Schwenke earned due to Allen’s spin gave him a one-point-margin over Nice for second place in the championship standings. Schwenke finished with 243 points to Nice’s 242 points. Jordie Fike finished one spot off the podium, only 19 points behind Nice. Brian Howard completed the top five for the season another 17 points back.
League members wait with anticipation for the upcoming announcement of the schedule for Season 4. League administrators Ford and Hackwith are expected to return to a 12-race schedule with two drop weeks in the championship scoring. “For 2016 we hope to have both Class Divisions full by our Season 1 kickoff in Mid-January,” explained Ford. Races are typically 60 minutes, however, prior seasons have featured at least two endurance races of 75 to 90 minutes. The races are every Monday evening and are available for spectating through the “Hosted Sessions” section on the iRacing.com web page.
“We have a handful of entries available in both ST Class (Mazda MX-5) & GS Class (Mustang FR500),” said Ford, “so iRacing.com members interested in joining the series should visit the League webpage www.xtrememotorsports99.com, or e-mail Kevin Ford at Kevin@xtrememotorsports99.com.
“It is our drivers that have made this league so successful and the staff at Xtrememotorsports would like to thank each of them for such a wonderful year of racing in 2015,” added Ford.