For Season 2 of 2015, the iRacing.com IndyCar Oval Series and the IndyCar Road Series have joined together to create a combined series with six oval weeks and six road weeks, with the series alternating week-to week. Week One of the new 2015 Season 2 iRacing.com IndyCar Combined Series sent the series Michigan International Speedway. A total of 249 sim-racers took to the track in the Irish Hills throughout the week that saw aero-push, cautions, lapped traffic, relative newcomers, pit strategy, and tire wear emerge as the storylines.
Brandon Trost (Pennsylvania) started on pole with Connor Cross (Ohio) on his outside. Matt Pawelski (Pennsylvania) occupied the second row Terry Matthiensen (California) while Brandon Traino (New Jersey) rounded-out the top five starting positions.
The inside line had an excellent start as Cross fell in line behind Pawelski. Pawelski promptly assed Trost to lead the first lap of the season even as Traino swept by both Trost and Cross into second. Pawelski quickly dropped back as Traino and Trost traded the lead repeatedly while the bulk of the field remained single file. The battle for the lead ended when Trost had to focus on fending-off a surging Matthiensen. Meanwhile, Chad Simpson (Texas) picked his way up through the field, passing Pawelski for fourth.
Nor was Simpson the only mover: Tim Holgate (Ohio) started dead-last in twenty-first and was fighting his way through the field. By Lap Eight, Holgate was stuck on the bottom and locked in a five-way battle for fourtheenth with Gary Borkenhagen (Midwest), Austin Espitee (New England), Joe Hassert (Midwest), and Derek M Murray (UK and I). Holgate lost his momentum when he nearly pushed up into Borkenhagen, and fell back into the clutches of Matt A Kingsbury (New England). Undaunted, Holgate reloaded and continued to climb through the hornets’ nest as he passed Adam Dock (Texas) for twelfth and latched onto the middle of the back. Holgate finally broke into the top 10 on Lap 18 as he passed Toni Helminen (Finland).
By Lap 20 the field had begun spreading out, although Holgate continued to run down and pass other sim-racers before the caution waved on Lap 23: Pawelski checked-up to avoid running into Murray, only to be rear-ended by a closely-following Chris Cahoe (Indiana). Cahoe spun into the infield as Pawelski fought to control his Dallara DW12 before finally spinning halfway down the backstretch. Miraculously no one hit the Pawelski as he rotated in front of the field; less surprisingly, everyone pitted elected to pit under the resulting caution.
Traino emerged from the pits in the lead only to make a poor restart and fall behind Trost and Rob Unglenieks (Michigan). Unglenieks quickly began fighting Trost on the outside for control of the lead as Holgate cracked the top five and joined the battle for the lead. Holgate made quick work of Unglenieks and began sparring with Trost for P1. But before Holgate could take control, Traino and Espitee made contact, sending Espitee spinning head-on into the Turn Three wall. All but Hassert, Murray, and Kingsbury pitted under the caution.
The top three had an excellent restarts, gapping Trost by several car lengths. Trost dropped back as he decided to take an alternative fuel strategy that soon saw him pit on Lap 45. Trost rejoined the race just behind the three leaders, and one lap behind. Holgate easily passed Trost and went to work on the leaders. He made quick work of Kingsbury and starting hounding Murray and Hassert for the lead, eventually taking the top spot on Lap 53.
As those on older tires began dropping through the field. At the same time, Traino attempt to pass Trost and made contact. Traino was unfazed as Trost successfully fought to regain control through Turns One and Two, forcing as several following cars to take evasive action. Kingsbury was the big loser in this exchange, dropping from seventh back to eleventh.
Green flag stops commenced a few laps later when Murray was the first to duck onto pit road. Helminen was next onto pit road as the strategies greatly varied. The cycle continued over the next fifteen laps until Marco Aurelio Brasil (Brazil) pushed into Borkenhagen, sending the latter into the wall, and bringing out the caution with several competitors including Matthiensen and Seth Eggert (Carolina) yet to make their final stops. Eggert and most of the field pitted as Matthiensen, Helminen, Holgate, and a handful of others stayed on track.
Matthiensen had an excellent start, however, on old tires he struggled to control his car in Turns One and Two. Helminen dove to the bottom lane to avoid Matthiensen, but over-steered as well, enabling Holgate to split the two sim-racers down the middle. Matthiensen dropped quickly as Helminen fought back against Holgate. The battle for the lead allowed Traino to join the party. When Holgate cleared Helminen, Traino followed through for second. Not content with P2, Traino soon took the lead from Holgate. Undeterred, Holgate dove underneath Traino in Turn Three, making slight contact. Holgate dropped back, jumped onto Traino’s outside then then crossed-over to take the lead coming to the white flag. Traino retaliated on the outside, using the momentum to his advantage and the pair crossed the line in a photo-finish, with Traino snatching the win.
Traino’s official margin of victory over Holgate was .008s, earning him 255 points for the 4029 Strength of Field win. Helminen finished third with Cross fourth and Unglenieks rounding out the top five. “Hard charger” of the race was Holgate who nearly won after starting last, while the “tough break” of the race goes to Pawelski who ended-up twentieth after starting third.
All told, 24 sim-racers took home a checkered flag at MIS with Miguel Angel Martinez (Iberia) and Eggert each collecting a week-high four victories before the series packed up from the Irish Hills of Michigan for a virtual trip west, across Lake Michigan to the twists and turns of Road America.