Week One of the 2014 Season 3 iRacing.com IndyCar Oval Series started off with a bang as the series utilized the new Dallara DW12 for the first time. Week One sent the series to Michigan International Speedway. A record 378 sim-racers participated in online races throughout the week. Fuel conservation, the draft, and pit strategy were just a handful of the stories throughout the week.
Mitch McCracken (Indiana) started on pole with Rhawn Black (California) on his outside. Cary Bettenhausen (Indiana) started third with Danno Brookins (Florida) fourth and Adam Dock (Texas) rounding out the top five starting positions.
McCracken had an excellent start as Brookins was slow on the draw. Brookins’ leisurely launch enabled McCracken, Black, Bettenhausen and Dock to open up a four car breakaway over the rest of the field. The breakaway did not last however, as Brandon Trost (Pennsylvania), Brookins and others slowly reeled in the leaders. As most stayed single file in the draft, Ryan Norton (Florida) quickly made his way up from tenth, taking the lead on lap 11.
The race then took on a fuel-saving strategy as many tried to conserve as much virtual ethanol as possible, knowing that a full tank of fuel could only last about 41 of the 84 laps. Several sim-racers even lost the draft in their attempt to save fuel. As the laps counted down and the field got closer to green-flag pit stops, Chad Peterson (California) started developing handling problems. On lap 39, those issues finally got the best of him as he was unable to keep up with his weight jacker adjustments, and spun into the outside wall, bringing out the caution. Everyone elected to pit knowing they would be close to making the distance on fuel, with Norton easily beating the field off pit road to maintain the lead.
Norton had an excellent restart as Bettenhausen was slow to get up to speed. Both Vick Caudill (Michigan) and Dock followed Norton past Bettenhausen on the inside, and the leaders quickly made a four car breakaway over Bettenhausen and the rest of the field. Caudill immediately started battling Norton for the lead as Black, Michael Armstong2 (Indiana) and others were able to drove back up to the leaders thanks to the draft.
The race quickly took on a torrid pace as the top twelve jockeyed for position. As McCracken and Norton battled for the lead, Dock and the field behind him slowly lost the draft. Black, quickly dropped back and even lost the draft in an attempt to avoid the inevitable. Unfortunately for Black, it wasn’t meant to be.
The inevitable finally did happen on lap 58 as Ron Meier Jr. (Midwest), thought he was clear, came down and barely clipped the nose of Bettenhausen. Both drivers spun, and with the huge closing rate of the Dallara DW12 and no time to react, Matt Pawelski (Pennsylvania) slammed into the wreck. Brendan Litchenberg (Midwest) darted up the track attempting to avoid the carnage before slamming the wall himself. Brookins also plowed into the wreck, launching off of Pawelski’s car and over the catchfence. Black nearly got through the wreck before being clipped by Pawelski. When the dust had settled, six totaled cars littered the Turn Four area of the track and the resulting caution allowed the entire field to easily make the rest of the distance on fuel.
Both McCracken and Norton made good restarts and crossed start-finish line dead even. The battle for the lead continued its fierce pace with Armstrong sneaking-up through the middle in an attempt to take the top spot. As McCracken and Armstrong battled, Norton attempted to defend his position from a hard charging Dock. Norton clipped the apron and drifted up — nearly hitting Dock — and quickly dropped back owing to the resulting loss of momentum.
The battle for the lead continued as both Dock and Trost joined the fun and — as the four leaders battled — Caudill and Norton soon joined the fray. The six leaders continued to swap positions as they closed in on the checkered flag. Armstrong continually attempted to pass McCracken on the outside. As they entered turn three for the final time, McCracken pushed up the race track, sending Armstrong up and into the outside wall. Trost, attempting to clear Caudill clipped his nose coming to the line, putting Caudill into the grass.
McCracken won by 0.069 seconds over Trost with Caudill third ahead of Dock and Norton. McCracken earned 245 points for win in the 3900 Strength of Field, the highest SoF of the week, and the highest for an official iRacing.com IndyCar Oval Series race in recent memory. A total of 36 sim-racers scored victories throughout the week with Paul Jennings (Carolina) earning the most wins throughout the week, visiting victory seven times.