February 22nd, 2016 by Michael Chrobok
Forty-four skilled sim racers thundered onto the high banks of the Daytona International Speedway on Wednesday evening to kick off the 2016 iRacing Online Championship HPP Simulation Truck Series. With only 40 spots available in the starting lineup, qualifying for the event proved to be the first challenge for drivers and their teams.
With the pressure to make the race high – intensified by the fact that NASCAR competitor and long-time iRacer Josh Berry was in the spotter’s stand – series newcomer Jordan Erickson roared to the True Power Motor Oil Pole Position, turning an impressive lap of 50.039 seconds in his #88 JE Motorsports Chevrolet. Dizzy Motorsports driver Brody Hays clocked in second, circling the 2.5 mile oval in 50.070 seconds.
When the green flag dropped, Hays rocketed out to an early lead, thanks to a push from Aaron Kleinhans. After swapping control of the field for several laps with Hays, Jordan Erickson prevailed on the bottom line, taking his Chevrolet to the point as the field lined up single file behind him.
Sparks flew and sheet metal tore apart on lap seven – the first of the race’s only two cautions. Riding comfortably in the top five in front of the #13 HPP Simulation Chevrolet of Gary Whitson, Josh Tanner experienced a heat-related engine failure aboard his #84 Toyota. As Tanner’s vehicle slowed rapidly amidst a 200 mile per hour pack, many competitors had nowhere to go. Tanner was sent for a spin off the front bumper of Whitson’s Chevrolet in turn one, in the process clipping birthday boy Aaron Kleinhans’ #85 machine and presumably ruining any cake that this driver was towing in his flatbed. The chain-reaction crash that ensued took out at least 15 competitors, including SpeedWerx Racing team president Ken Rodriguez and five of the seven drivers running under the Whitson Motorsports / WM South banner.
The yellow flag period that resulted from this incident set up pit strategy that proved decisive in determining the outcome of the race. Race leader Jordan Erickson brought his Chevrolet to the attention of his crew for fuel, and drivers Brody Hays, Gary Whitson, and Robert Barney all followed suit. Several teams, however, felt that it was too early for service. Travis McQuistion, Sam Maxwell, Cody Speicher, and Norm Pelletier all left their vehicles out on the track, with McQuistion leading the field back to green in his #93 AlphaTango Racing Toyota.
With 48 laps remaining, Jordan Erickson charged back to the lead on the high side, thanks to a tremendous push from Brody Hays. A lap later, Robert Barney moved his #16 Purple Dino Racing Toyota to the top of the scoring pylon. He swapped command of the race with Hays for several laps, before Erickson ultimately prevailed over both sim racers and the top six drivers broke away from the rest of the pack.
The four competitors who had stayed out on the lap seven caution – now running just behind the leaders – stopped for gas with 34 laps to go, too soon to make it to the end on just one stop. Eight laps later, when the fuel window finally opened up, Steven Whetten in the #94 SpeedWerx Racing Chevrolet brought the lead group down pit road.
Whetten’s rapid service got him out well in front of his rivals, but with no drafting help, his truck was a sitting duck on the track. Jordan Erickson led a freight train past Whetten and retook the point.
With 10 to go, Travis McQuistion and others who elected not to pit early had to stop for fuel again, causing them to lose a lap. That left Jordan Erickson, Brody Hays, Robert Barney, and Gary Whitson to duke it out for the win in the closing circuits, and that they did.
Barney disposed of Erickson, but the latter made a run again on the high side. The “Purple Dino” slid up to block, opening a third lane on the bottom for Gary Whitson to sneak through. The wily veteran’s move came at just the right time, as a caution with five laps remaining for an incident involving the #17 of Jackie Palmore froze the field and handed the race victory to Whitson.
Robert Barney came home in second, followed by Jordan Erickson, Brody Hays, and Steven Whetten. The season-opening race saw 18 lead changes among six drivers, setting the stage for a competitive season to come. Barney also picked up the M-SPEC Hard Charger of the Race Award for advancing 21 positions from his starting spot.
The HPP Simulation Truck Series returns to the track next Wednesday night for the SIMRacingApps 125 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. As always, you can catch all the action at 9pm Eastern on iRacing Live and the Global SimRacing Channel.
For more information on the HPP Simulation Series, visit RaceiROC.com.