January 27th, 2016 by Corey Davis
Last week’s ITSR Power Series race in Kentucky ended in dramatic fashion when a final-lap bump knocked-out the top two drivers and let the third-place runner steal his first series win. Not to be outdone, this week’s online racing event at Chicagoland Speedway featured more late contact between the leaders and yet another first-time winner.
Long before the race-ending fireworks, the qualifying session saw close competition at the front of the field. Tim Johnston edged Bobby Terrell and Marcus Napier for the pole by less than one one-hundredth of a second. Bryan Harvey qualified in fourth and Saif Faries was fifth in the starting field of 22 sim racers.
The race was slowed by an early caution on Lap 1 when David Camarra got loose in Turn 3 and collected three other cars. After the restart, the top five drivers raced two-wide around the mile-and-a-half oval, with Johnston eventually relinquishing the lead to Faries on Lap 10.
That green-flag run continued until Lap 20, when contact mid-field brought out the race’s second caution. After pit stops and another quick caution following the restart, Faries held the top spot and stretched his lead to two seconds after 25 green-flag laps in the run that followed.
However, that lead nearly evaporated on Lap 47 when he slid exiting Turn 2 and caught the infield grass. Although Faries saved the car and re-joined the track, Mike Kelley caught up and took over the lead less than 10 laps later.
The race’s first round of green-flag pit stops followed shortly thereafter, and during the cycle of stops, Brian Motisko led two laps in his return to the series after recent heart surgery. Once he pitted, Johnston emerged with the lead and slowly distanced himself from Kelley and Napier.
As the long run continued, the leaders again hit pit road around Lap 90 of the 150-lap race. Johnston was the last of the leaders to pit, so a few extra laps on old tires plus contact with the Turn-4 wall on his out lap dropped him back to fifth place. Despite some right-front fender damage, Johnston moved up to second place and re-took the lead from Kelley during a third round of green-flag stops.
After 100 straight laps of green flag sim racing, the race’s fourth and final caution came out on Lap 129 when Faries spun from third place. A quick four-tire stop put Johnston back up front for the restart with race-long foes Kelley and Napier right behind.
With nine laps to go, Napier passed Kelley for second place and set his sights on Johnston and the race lead. With only three laps remaining, Napier made a move to the inside entering Turn 3, but his #18 Camry pushed up the track mid-corner, knocking Johnston into the wall.
From there, Napier had to defend a hard charge from points leader Scott Simley, but he crossed the line a car length ahead to score his first Power Series victory. Simley was second, followed by Kelley, Johnston, and Faries. The rest of the top ten featured Brad Collins, Terry McCuin, Motisko, Bradley McLamb, and Jeff S. Davis.
While Napier celebrated his long-awaited first win, a heated Johnston made his displeasure known in the garage. “Some people, you just can’t race around,” he said after the race.
Despite the late contact, Johnston’s top-five finish moved him up to third in points, and Napier climbed to fifth place. With his third top-five in as many races, Simley stayed atop the standings for another week.
Point leads and hot tempers will next have to survive short-track racing at the flat Milwaukee Mile using the world’s best racing simulator. If the recent late-race drama is any indication, the Power Series’ first visit to the track could be one of the more memorable in the circuit’s long history.