One of the oldest paved tracks in North America, Martinsville Speedway provides one of the biggest challenges that the iRacing.com Sprint Car Series has to face this season. With tight unforgiving turns complete with curbs and slippery straights, only the most consistent would survive to see the checkered flag when the official race nights rolled around. With the three nights that hosted official races during Week 4, no splits were seen, which meant that those participating would be grouped together making for large fields at a track where passing cleanly is quite the achievement. With that in mind, three different winners visited victory lane during the week, beating fields of up to twenty cars – the maximum field size for a iRacing.com sprint car race.
During the qualifying sessions throughout the week, PJ Stergios, a longtime veteran of the iSCS, grabbed the pole position for the week with his 17.887s fast lap. Stergios was the only driver to hit the .8 mark in qualifying times. Fred Lampela had the second fastest time of the week with his commendable 17.913s lap, and would start on the pole in races that Stergios did not attend. With attendance lower than usual and some of the bigger names missing from the features, the 46 entries that took to their grids during the week’s stay at the famous “Paperclip” were hard-pressed to earn championship points and catch up to the leaders.
Tuesday hosted the first event with a full field of 20 drivers, making up the strongest SOF race rating of the week (2433). Leading the pack to the green flag was Stergios, but not long after the caution flag flew for the first time after Dustin Herner spun out on the front stretch. After the restart, Andrew Barman lost control on Lap 8, which brought out the next yellow flag condition. A longer green flag session was held after the second restart, but ended when Fritz Kletke and veteran iSCS racer Chet Wheeler tangled, bringing out the third caution. Two more cautions were displayed during the event bringing the total yellow flag count to five – a sight not uncommon to this famous short track. When the smoke cleared, PJ Stergios took the checkered flag under caution leading all 50 laps including the 25 laps run under yellow. Visiting driver Brodie Kostecki finished in second, and past iSCS champion Vinnie Sansone completed the podium in third. Familiar front-runner Joe Quinn crossed the finish line in fourth, and Steve Linder captured his first top 5 of the week in fifth place.
“Martinsville is a very humbling place.” – Eric Nordhoff
While holding a smaller field of ten drivers, Wednesday’s official race saw just only one caution period for four laps – quite the difference from Tuesday’s event. Leading all 50 laps to the checkers, Fred Lampela collected a win for the week with Steve Linder less than one second behind him at the finish line. Cap Henry found himself on the podium in third, while Andrew Barman scored a respectable fourth place finish. Mark Hephner scored another Top 5 finish for the second week in a row with his fifth place result. The top six drivers, albeit two a lap down, crossed the finish line without any incidents marring their showing.
Thursday held the last official race of the week, with 16 drivers making the grid. Lampela roared to the green flag to begin the event. One lap was almost in the books before the first incident occurred; Michael Willard2 slid up the track on entry into T3 and made contact with Leila Wilson, spinning himself out and collecting Henry with others. Wilson was able to continue on without needing repairs to her vehicle. On Lap 17, Marcus Dean and Eric Nordhoff made contact and spun on the front stretch, bringing out the caution for the second time. After the restart, Sansone began to challenge Lampela hard for the top spot, trying to make any sort of hole to blaze through going into the turns. On Lap 40, trouble struck the leaders as Sansone dove into T1 hard and drifted up the track into Lampela, sending both cars into a spin. Watching the action unfold in front of him, Linder drove right between the two spinning sprints to gain the top spot before the caution came out. As the field slowed down behind the initial crash, some weren’t able to slow down in time; Nordhoff spun up the banking behind the crash, and while Wilson was slowed down to avoid the crash, Wheeler dove into the turn behind her and was not able to slow down, sending both cars into the wall. With four laps to go when the last restart took place, it was Linder’s race to lose. When Nordhoff spun again to bring out the final yellow flag, Linder crossed the line under caution to win the official event. Sansone was able to limp his car around the track for a second-place finish, and Ryan Steele completed the podium in third. Mark Hephner got his second Top 5 finish of the week with his fourth place result, and Craig Mintz completed the top five.
While the week was filled with incident points, drivers seemed to take it in stride. Many joked about the events post-race, and others were very complimentary, especially about Wednesday’s event. Andrew Barman had this to say: “Wednesday night had half the field [of Tuesday] and one caution. You do the math. Everybody used their heads! Actually had some clean side by side racing.” Nordhoff quoted a sentiment echoed by many, “Martinsville is a very humbling place.” Hephner was quite happy with how his week went: “I just did my best to be smooth and consistent. It certainly paid off over the duration of the race and was my highest points paying finish for my Sprint Car career.”
Next week, the field returns to a familiar and friendly sight – Lanier National Speedway. Putting the carnage behind them, drivers looked forward to a track where it didn’t feel as if you had to fight it. The fight for the lead in the points standings has become tight between Sansone and Lampela, with others in hot pursuit of the top position as well. Tune in soon to iRN to find out who took the checkers at Lanier, as you can expect the participation to soar during Week 5 of the iRacing.com Sprint Car Series!
iSCS 2013 S2 CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS
1. Vinnie Sansone (607)
2. Fred Lampela (-6)
3. Steve Linder (-55)
4. Cap Henry (-159)
5. Michael Willard2 (-205)